Independents' championship in sight for Dave Newsham as he makes BTCC return with BTC Norlin Racing
WINNING the independents’ championship is a realistic goal for British Touring Car Championship driver Dave Newsham.
The Inverness-based racer is targeting a regular return to the podium with his 2017 team BTC Norlin Racing, as the season gets underway at Brands Hatch this weekend.
Extensive work and testing on the Chevrolet Cruze, acquired from Newsham’s previous team Power Maxed Racing, included a pre-season trip to Catalonia to put the car through its paces.
Newsham feels in the best position he has ever been in to put together a title-winning campaign, starting with securing the independents’ crown.
"Looking at who’s in the independents’ championship, we want to be challenging the likes of Tom Ingram, Matt Jackson and Adam Morgan," said Newsham. "I’ve never had a budget like this to be able to race properly before, so I want to be up there with them.
"We’ll be trying to grab as many podiums as we can. They’ve got big points attached to them and there’s a lot of works cars now that we don’t have to be beating. So if we finish as the first independent, we’ll get maximum points. That’s what we’ve got to be aiming for.
"If we start well we’re only going to get better. A lot of the other teams are probably maxing out their cars already so if we can start well, we should be up there."
BTC Racing are making a return to the championship after a year out and have pushed the boat out for Newsham and his team partner Chris Smiley, with the backing of hoteliers Norlin.
Newsham spent three days with Smiley and BTC at the Parcmotor Castellolí track, which is just under an hour from Barcelona. The team bumped wheels with the works Honda and BMW teams, who were also running the rule over their vehicles for the new season.
"It was a superb track and the engineers got some feedback out of it, for what they could be doing to the car," said Newsham. "The team have put a lot of money into this to make sure we’re in the best possible shape."
Newsham himself hopes to make the most of his return to the BTCC grid. His budget would not permit a full-time drive last year, instead making a few cameo appearances for PMR when regular driver Kelvin Fletcher was on paternity.
He told the Courier in January that he wanted an extended run in the championship, after five seasons of changing teams. From 2011-2015 he drove in five different cars, spending 2016 in PMR’s Rallycross team before that disbanded mid-way through the season.
At 49, the Norscott Vending managing director still feels he has something to offer the championship and is also tipping big things from his team-mate.
"I feel like I have a point to prove – this is my best chance to put a championship-winning drive together over the next few years. They’ve invested heavily and I want to deliver for them," said Newsham.
"Chris will surprise people. He was in a poor car and a struggling team last year but the moment he jumped into this car, he’s been bang on the pace. In Spain he was matching me for lap-times and was in P3 on media day."
Newsham is reluctant to put too much stock in those media-day times a fortnight ago, saying some teams will have been "sand-bagging" to hide the true potential of their cars.
Brands Hatch has been a decent hunting ground for the Carmarthen-born racer, with six top-10 finishes out of 15, including a podium-finish in 2012. With a lot of the "gentleman drivers" weeded out this season, Newsham predicts a fiercely-contested qualifying session tomorrow, ahead of the three races on Sunday.
"It’s going to be extremely competitive," he said. "You tended to get competitive drivers in the top 20 and then gentleman drivers outside that. They’ve all been weeded out and you’ve got real race drivers throughout the grid.
"You’re going to have 32 cars going for one lap in qualifying, so if you don’t pick your pace up you could be nowhere for the first race. We want to be in the top 10 for the first session and we’ll know what we’re up against."
To keep up to date with Dave Newsham’s progress follow him on Twitter @newshamracing.