There’s something very appropriate about the weather on my first ever BTCC drive. Sunny, but cold and greasy on what is – by British standards – a fairly reasonable November day, these are the very conditions that the British Touring Car Championship thrives on. Unpredictable enough to add drama to the already nail-biting racing, yet with enough sun to enjoy a beer and sausage roll or two in the stands.
However, I’d rather have had it hot, sticky and bone dry for today’s exploits. The Team Dynamics Civic Type R may be based on a friendly and predictable Honda family hatch, but there’s precious little of that remaining once it’s BTCC ready. A regular track day, this is not.
Sighting laps over, the ingress procedure for the BTCC CTR is, like many purpose-built racing cars, not pretty. Quite how Matt Neal – long-time Team Dynamics helmsman and professional tall person – manages to eloquently squeeze his 6′ 6″ frame in I have no idea…
Scratch that, I do. The mechanics titter as I need every cushion going wedged in behind my backside to reach the pedals. No matter, though, as the rest of the controls are spot on. Dead ahead, the worn, circular steering wheel is just the right size and delivers a clear view of the LCD readout behind, giving gear, speed and temperature info – not to mention three separate readouts for the gearshift lights. Then there’s the gear stick itself. It might look like an old railway lever frame, but its positioning relative to the rest of the controls is a joy.
Like your Civic Type R road car, there’s a number of different ‘driving modes’ to choose from. Predictably, not one resembles anything close to ‘Comfort’, yet there is a setting for cooling the car down after a hard session on track. Activate it, and the throttle automatically blips repeatedly like a robotic boy racer sitting at the lights. One of the modes is even indicated by a winky face emoji sticker – no prizes for guesses what that does.
As go time approaches, I consider what Team Manager James Rodgers would do to me if this goes pear-shaped and he’s forced to enter only one car into the following year’s season. With such sobering thoughts whizzing around my head, I slot the car into gear and creep out of the pit box, the razor-sharp clutch doing its best to make me look a fool. Trundling, and occasionally juddering (this thing really doesn’t like going slowly) down the pitlane, I steer right for pit exit.
Staring ahead at the regular Civic dashboard fascia, it’s a timely reminder of what this incredible machine started life as in Swindon – a mere shell on the production line destined for the brilliant black tarmac of Silver stone, with the fate of those around it far less exciting. And although the production version of the CTR may share little with its BTCC cousin, there can surely be no coincidence that both are at the top of their respective fields. One, a front-running entry in one of the most competitive racing series on the planet, the other, a peerless road-going hot-hatch that makes it all possible.