Excitement in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is at fever-pitch today, Sunday, 27th August, with the official confirmation Handy Motorsport is bringing the legendary Alfa Romeo brand back to the UK’s biggest and best motor racing series.
Making huge waves in the BTCC paddock, today’s announcement during the eighth race meeting of the current season at Rockingham in Northamptonshire marks a major development for top team Handy as it joins forces with the Alfa Romeo Dealer Council to reunite the championship with one of the globe’s most popular automotive marques.
The Swindon-based team, which is headed-up and owned by former BTCC driver Simon Belcher, will field a front-wheel drive Alfa Romeo Giulietta from the 2018 season forward which will be piloted, to great delight, by the squad’s hugely successful fan-favourite driver Rob Austin.
Behind the scenes, work on the project has been ongoing for some time and the completion of the deal for Handy to run the Giulietta model – which will contest the outright championship and Independents Trophy – comes through a partnership with the Alfa Romeo Dealer Council and is supported by the UK’s premier Alfa Romeo dealers.
“It has been a long project to bring Alfa Romeo back to the BTCC, with many people working on this exciting development for some time – it’s incredible to have brought everything to fruition and an honour to be running the Alfa Romeo marque”, said team principal Belcher at the launch.
“Alfa Romeo is a passionate brand, steeped in heritage, and we have already started building our first bodyshell. Not only is this huge for Handy Motorsport, and fantastic for Alfa to have the latest Giulietta represented on the BTCC grid, it’s also massive for the BTCC as a whole.”
Synonymous with motorsport throughout its history, Alfa Romeo – which is owned by the FIAT group – hasn’t been represented on a BTCC grid since 2007 so with Handy Motorsport bringing the Giulietta into the championship from next year it is mouth-watering news for ‘Alfisti’ across the UK.
On two occasions Alfa Romeo has won the coveted BTCC title, the first with Andy Rouse in 1983 at the wheel of an Alfetta GTV6 and the second coming in 1994 with Italian ace Gabriele Tarquini piloting an Alfa Romeo 155.
Commenting on the news that an Alfa Romeo will return to the grid with Handy Motorsport, Alfa Romeo UK Dealer Council representative Peter James said: “It is fantastic to see Alfa Romeo return to the BTCC especially at such an exciting time for the brand. Alfa Romeo returning to the BTCC has been driven by the desire of the Dealer Council to see the marque back on the grid.”
Paul Doick, General Sales Manager for TH White Swindon, one of the Alfa Romeo brand centres, added: “I have known Simon [Belcher] for many years and we have been working together to deliver this project. I am confident now that working with Handy Motorsport will raise the brand awareness of Alfa Romeo and deliver incremental sales for the brand. There are very exciting times ahead…”
‘Next logical step’ for Handy Motorsport
Today’s announcement marks another huge step forward for Handy Motorsport which has, since its debut in the BTCC in 2014, become one of the most popular and respected teams in the paddock – not least since joining forces with fan-favourite driver Rob Austin ahead of the 2016 season.
Initially running team boss Belcher for two seasons, following his graduation into the world of touring cars from the Renault UK Clio Cup where he was a two-time Masters Cup Champion, the team set out its intentions to become serious challengers when signing BTCC race winner Austin.
During his maiden season with Handy in 2016, Austin’s first year racing front-wheel drive in the championship, the Evesham driver secured the squad’s debut BTCC podium at Snetterton as well as Handy’s maiden Independents Trophy victory.
This season, Austin is currently just outside the top 10 in the overall championship and has one podium to his credit along with one pole position. In the Independents Trophy he has achieved one victory, three second places and four other podium finishes and is fourth in the class standings.
For Belcher, the move to an Alfa Romeo for 2018 again confirms the intent which Handy Motorsport has to become a consistent and regular podium finishing and race winning force in the BTCC and he says the partnership with the Dealer Council is the ‘next logical step’ for the team.
“We want to win, we have a great team and that passion runs deep in it”, added Belcher, “In an Alfa Romeo we will have a car which is born from that same passion and I am looking forward to this being an instrumental part of our team’s future. This is undoubtedly the next logical step for us and I am absolutely delighted to be able to announce this exciting partnership today.”
Hugely popular touring car ace Austin is, understandably, equally as elated as team boss Belcher to be working the with legendary Alfa Romeo marque as the beginning of another new chapter in his exciting and successful BTCC career.
“Driving an Alfa Romeo in the British Touring Car Championship next season? It doesn’t get much more exciting than that does it!”, said the multiple BTCC race winner, “I genuinely love the Alfa Romeo brand, I had an Alfa when I was younger and I loved that car. Early on, when Simon [Belcher] and I started talking before I joined the team, working towards this deal was part of the plan.
“Ever since my engineer Matt and I had the Audi, we talked about what we’d love to do working from a blank sheet of paper and that’s what we can do now with the Giulietta. We’ve always wanted this opportunity and we’ve got enough time ahead of next season to do this job properly. The car is well suited to the BTCC regulations, we’re going to build a work of art as much as a racing car!”
Welcoming the announcement, BTCC Series Director Alan Gow said: “What a great name to welcome back! Alfa Romeo has a great history in the BTCC, particularly having won it twice before, and everyone loves the Alfa Romeo brand. Handy Motorsport have been working on this project for the last couple of years and they’ve put their heart and soul into it.
“To have the support of the Alfa Romeo UK Dealer Council means a great deal to them and it means a great deal to me and everyone involved in the BTCC. It goes to show that the people at the sharp end in selling Alfa Romeos see the fantastic value in the BTCC. I’ve even lost count as to exactly how many marques we’ve got in this championship right now, which is also testament to the success of our regulations and the BTCC as a whole.”