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Simon Belcher - BTCC Toyota AvensisDunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship newcomer Simon Belcher, who will make his race debut in the UK’s biggest motor racing category next year, made his first track appearance at the wheel of his newly acquired Toyota Avensis at Silverstone today, Wednesday, 4th December.

Just a fortnight since announcing his graduation from the BTCC-supporting Renault UK Clio Cup, the Swindon racer thoroughly enjoyed his eagerly awaited first run in the Speedworks Motorsport built 2.0-litre Toyota and reported a very encouraging day at the Northamptonshire venue.

Although an issue with the ECU during the damp opening session hampered the KÄRCHER supported driver’s early laps, the three subsequent sessions were dry and afforded the 2012 and 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Masters Cup’ title winner a good opportunity to adapt to the Toyota.

“It’s been a brilliant day, it was everything I expected”, said the 39-year-old, “I’d never even sat in a touring car before today and we weren’t a million miles away by the end, so I’m really pleased. We made some good progress and I really enjoyed working with the Speedworks guys for the first time.

“I wondered how the speed of the car would feel and compare to the Clio I’ve been racing the past two years, and the touring car does have so much more power. What needed getting used to the most, though, was the brakes – you really have to stand on them.”

Belcher added: “When you’re strapped into the car it doesn’t feel that much bigger, but the steering is harder work and everything is just that bit heavier. The more aggressive you drive a touring car, the smoother it feels, so you really have to grab it by the throat to get the most out of it. That’s different to what I’ve been used to with the Clio and something to work on over the winter.”

With the initial shakedown of his Toyota now complete, the next appearance of the car – which will run under the ‘Handy Motorsport’ banner in the BTCC – is scheduled to be at Birmingham’s NEC in January where the 2014 livery will be unveiled during the annual Autosport International Show. The event runs over four days, between Thursday, 9th January, and Sunday, 12th January.

Following a programme of winter testing during the early part of 2014, Belcher’s first ‘official’ BTCC appearance will come during the pre-season Media Day at Donington Park in the East Midlands on Tuesday, 18th March.

The championship itself will get underway less than two weeks later, on 29th/30th March, at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent and will travel the length and breadth of the country before reaching its conclusion back at Brands Hatch, on the longer Grand Prix Circuit, on 11th/12th October.

Photo by George McNeil.

Simon BelcherRounds one and two of the 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup at Brands Hatch this weekend, 30th/31st March, proved a great deal more challenging than expected for reigning ‘Masters’ class Champion Simon Belcher as contact in both races spoiled his hopes of beginning the campaign in winning ways.

Qualifying on the Masters pole for both races, 15th on the overall grid for round one and 14th for race two, Belcher was within just 0.6 seconds of the outright pace and confident of battling up towards the coveted top 10 in each encounter.

Bitterly disappointed to be forced out of the season-opener on Sunday morning mere yards from the start, after being pitched into the barrier following a tangle with Masters Cup rival Ronnie Klos, the Swindon driver did manage to bounce back in race two to open his account with second in class.

Putting the aforementioned retirement firmly behind him, the KÄRCHER and No Fear Energy-supported driver was determined for a better run in the afternoon’s race – broadcast live on ITV4 and ITV4 HD – and despite picking up some damage he was in the fight for the class win.

Scorching away from the line, Belcher threaded his way through to the cusp of the top 10 but a slight knock to the rear of his Handy Motorsport-run Clio soon after led to understeer problems from that point forward. Even so, Belcher drove around the issue as best he could and during the final few laps he managed to latch on to the tail of Masters class leader Finlay Crocker.

Sizing up a potential pass during the last couple of laps, the Wiltshire driver made his move on the final tour at Druids Hairpin but as he went to the outside, the pursuing James Nutbrown – not a threat in the Masters Cup – dived inside and manage to edge ahead. Belcher, therefore, had to settle for second in class but was pleased to get some points in the bag.

“The first race was a massive disappointment – Ronnie [Klos] hit me before the first corner and that was it”, said the 39-year-old, “It was partly my fault in as much as I got an atrocious start, I don’t know what I did wrong but whatever it was I didn’t do it in the second race as I got an absolute flyer.

“I made up about five places off the line, things were going well and then I got clipped by somebody on the first lap. I think it bent the rear beam a little bit as I had massive understeer then for the rest of the race, which made it really hard to try and capitalise on any opportunities that came up.”

He added: “Finlay [Crocker] was four or five cars ahead of me in the Masters so I thought that was it, he’d gone, but in the second half of the race he started to come back towards me. Two laps from the end I was right on his bumper, I tried to make a move on the outside at Druids but then [James] Nutbrown got down the inside of me and that was it – I had to settle for second in class then.”

The 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup will resume three weeks from now, over the weekend 20th/21st April, at Donington Park in the East Midlands where Belcher is determined to fight for a Masters Cup double and battle for overall top 10 results.

“We need to forget about this weekend, go to Donington afresh and concentrate on our target of qualifying and finishing in the overall top 10 and taking some Masters wins”, he said, “Maybe this weekend I’ve got all my bad luck out of the way for the season and, hopefully, we’ll be back where we should be at Donington.”

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.

Simon BelcherSimon Belcher has set his sights on a consistently strong start to the new Renault UK Clio Cup season when it gets underway at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit this coming weekend, 30th/31st March – and the Handy Motorsport driver says he won’t be satisfied with anything less than a pair of top 10 finishes.

Returning to the prestigious Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship support class to defend the Masters Cup title he won comfortably during his maiden campaign in 2012, the 39-year-old from Swindon is ideally targeting the overall top six as he aims to build on the experience gained last year.

Having largely dominated the ‘Masters’ division in his debut season, Belcher will undoubtedly be a marked man for many during the 2013 season and he is determined to retain that crown. Having said that, his greater aspiration is to become a regular fixture among the overall front-runners and, off the back of some impressive times in winter testing, he’s confident of achieving that goal.

Acknowledging the impact the arctic weather and freezing temperatures have had on the pre-season testing schedules during recent months, Belcher says a continuation of the current cold spell into the coming weekend could ensure a few surprises during the opening two rounds.

“We had a good schedule in place for pre-season testing but the weather has been totally against us, out of the 10 tests we’ve done we only had two dry days”, explained the KÄRCHER and No Fear Energy-backed racer, “Even when it was dry it was only a few degrees, so it limits what you’re able to do as it’s so hard getting heat into the tyres.

“If the cold weather stays as it has been for the weekend, I think it’s going to be a tough first round and I think there could be some shocks. The conditions could have a big outcome on qualifying but I’m targeting the top six, top eight, something like that. Last year we aimed for the top 10 and the best we qualified was 11th, we need to be moving forward from that this year and I’m sure we can.”

Using the likes of Team Pyro’s title contender Josh Files as a benchmark, Belcher has been highly encouraged by the times he has delivered during the pre-season and reports he is “considerably closer” to the outright pace than during his first year in Clios.

“Testing has been pretty good in the main”, he added, “Unfortunately we did have some big damage at Thruxton, when I ended up in the wall, and at Croft last week something failed on the front-left of the car when I was approaching Tower – as soon as I hit the brakes I got fired into the barrier.

“None of that has been too helpful to our preparations but the rest of testing has been good and we’re a lot closer to the likes of Josh [Files], in fact I’d say considerably closer than we were last year. At Brands Hatch for the first round in 2012 we qualified 15th so I’m certainly looking for much more than that this year. If we can get close to the top eight and be consistent, I’ll be happy with that.”

Pre-event practice for the season-opening Renault UK Clio Cup race meeting, at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent, will take place on Good Friday, 29th March, with qualifying following on Saturday, 30th March. Round one is scheduled for 10.20 on Easter Sunday, 31st March, while round two – which will be broadcast live on ITV4 and ITV4 HD – will take place at 15.35.

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.