As it is customary every February, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship gets the season underway with the Media Day, which took place at Donington Park. There are less than two weeks to go until Brands Hatch, where we will really see the revs rise and the action get underway in 2014, however, there were a few surprises ahead of the season opener.
There are seven champions, fan favourites and new racing stars that make up the bumper grid of over 30 NGTC entries for this season. Airwaves Racing's last-minute signing of Mat Jackson this very morning meant that the ink was still wet on the contract, as the 2008 indecent champion made his way to the track to be unveiled.
Robb Holland's Audi S3 was finally ready for its close up, but no track time would see the American sit out the four-hour test, which was open to the general public this afternoon. There was a multitude of interviews and photographs being taken, as well as the cars getting their time in the spotlight as well.
The tyre manufacturer has now re-signed another extension with the series, as Dunlop has been involved in the supply of tyres since the BTCC's inception back in 1958, and remains the Offical Tyre Supplier and Sponsor.
The Sport Maxx brand that is used by the championship will see the Hard compound make its only appearance at Thruxton, whereas the Soft and Medium selections will hit the track in anger this coming Mothering Sunday weekend.
All the teams will continue to be supplied as per normal, which is part of the multi-year agreement that has now been signed, and will hopefully bring more parity in the racing this year. The deal itself sees the always prominent branding on the cars and track signage return, as well as maintaining its consistent branding on the official BTCC website and social media.
So there could be more of a equaliser on the revised soft compounds, as they made the learning curve and strategies that little bit more intense when it came to how both the rear-wheel and front-wheel drive cars handled the compounds at different races last season.
No sooner than the media commitments had finished, that it was time for the drivers and teams to rack up the miles at Donington. The efforts were still fever-like in the pit lane as always, with a few drivers making the top ten incredibly close.
The session saw a lot of wet running for a lot of drivers, with the top ten being split by just over a second, with the defending champion and new Red Bull athlete Jordan topping the time sheets after several red flags and the great British weather keeping to its usual routine.
The top ten saw firstly a plethora of manufacturers begin represented - six in all, as well as former champions and those that have had title success in some of the support packages that provide the path to the BTCC.
Three red flags caused delays in the session itself, with Alain Menu showing a glimpse of what Team BMR may be able to deliver this coming year, but he was soon to be rapidly deposed by Jordan and Honda Yuasa driver Gordon Shedden in the new Civic Tourer. His team mate, Aron Smith, who moved from Airwaves, took seventh in the adverse conditions, with last year's Ginetta GT Supercup champion, Tom Ingram, rounding out the top ten.
Adam Morgan continues to impress with the new WIX Racing Mercedes A-Class, as the former Toyota driver ended up fourth ahead of MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save's Sam Tordoff and Honda's Matt Neal. Colin Turkington was fastest of the eBay Motors BMWs that were in new livery for the forthcoming season, and was ahead of returning team mate Rob Collard. Marc Hynes, who makes his return to the track, was a fraction of a second outside the top ten and covered the most laps in his Triple 888 prepared MG 6 GT.
With several drivers including 2013 Jack Sears Champion Lea Wood, Welch Motorsport's Dan Welch and Ollie Jackson being amongst those not running today, there is still more work to be done to get on the grid for the start.
The teams will now head to Silverstone to carry on the final bouts of testing and making sure that the fine tuning before the season opener gets underway next weekend. We anxiously await the lights to go out next Sunday for the first of thirty races that will decide a champion for the BTCC this year.
It's youth and experience, speed and grip, action and calamities that will bring in the crowds on what appears to be one of the best years for the championship, and it has yet to get underway.