Becoming a BTCC driver for a week
Updated: Aug 11
For those of you that have just stumbled across this article while looking for financial advice on how to 'bend the cost curve', you are in the wrong place. But, this place is much, MUCH more exciting. Trust me.
The British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is a race series with competitors tearing up the track in road-legal cars. Also, I just want to clarify from the off - when I say 'becoming a BTCC driver for a week', I mean 'pretending to be a BTCC driver for a week'. And it was hard work pretending. I can only begin to imagine how tough the real deal is... so hats off to all those insanely talented drivers.
Instead of pushing my nerves to the limit on the track, I spent the week tootling around in the Honda Civic Type R BTCC replica on public roads. The most stressful part of this wasn't dealing with the power under the hood, or calculating corner speeds, or the threat of collisions with other drivers on the track that are passing by within a hairs breadth. It was instead trying to finally tear away from strangers that wanted to have endless photos with the car.
To be fair, it is a beautifully obnoxious vehicle to be driving on public roads. If you're going for something subtle, the regular Civic Type R is probably not for you. It's an unapologetically boisterous hot hatch with potentially the most distinctive design to ever appear in the segment. Add to that the GT spec (which comes with a triple exhaust as well as various driver assistance features such as front and rear parking sensors) plus the BTCC gubbins and you've got yourself a glowing neon sign that reads 'LOOK AT ME, AREN'T I FANTASTIC!!!'.
Not once during a week of daily excursions did a stranger or multiple strangers fail to approach me to talk about and/or have photos with the BTCC replica. At one point I was stood by the loading bays of Ikea waiting for my partner and her friend to come out and pack the boot full of cheap furniture, house plants and vegetarian meatballs. An entire family - Mum, Dad and three boys - approached with wide grins and asked if they could have photos with the car. They were euphoric to find out that I was an up-and-coming Welsh racing driver that would soon blow all competition out the water and practically reinvent the way touring cars are driven. It's a plan that I'm still working on...
With every person that wanted a photo came a question along the lines of: "Is this yours?!" Now, I could have quickly explained that I was a lucky journalist simply testing the car for a short while, that I am not Matt Neal, and that I have no racing talent whatsoever. But that wouldn't have been much fun.
The best part of the week I spent with the Type R GT BTCC replica was the drive to a remote eco lodge near Cardigan in Wales. The motorway network in my home country stretches as far as the Prince of Wales bridge to Swansea. After that it is all windy country roads that are 100% guaranteed to re-acquaint car sick travellers with their lunch, and the occasional A road.
The sun was setting across the fields as we blistered through the back roads towards the sea. With no tractors in sight (but plenty of sheep), the Type R GT and its 2.0-litre VTEC turbocharged engine absolutely owned the road. 0 to 62mph is achievable in 5.8 seconds, which is by no means slow, but it somehow just feels so much faster in the Type R.
Perhaps it's the gorgeous engine note, the super-low driving position or the bone-shatteringly stiff chassis. Perhaps it's the ultra sharp brakes, the slick adaptive damper system that illuminates the dash in bright red and delivers even more power and punch to the wheels when in Type R mode, or it could even be the massive spoiler dominating the rear view mirror. 'Gorgeous, super, ultra, slick' - I evidently need to work on my writing skills, but these adjectives highlight the fact that absolutely everything in the Type R GT is finely tuned to make the driver experience as fun as possible. It is the combination of all of the above, coming together in a soulful package of fury and accuracy, that makes the Type R GT stand out.