The British Touring Car Championship has been the pinnacle of domestic motorsport for decades and a showcase for manufacturers to sell their cars to race fans – ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ as the old adage goes.
When a new manufacturer joins the championship it’s big news and can have a dramatic effect on sales simply through exposure. Infiniti – Nissan‘s luxury and sports brand – has done just that for 2015 with the Support Our Paras racing team and in honour of this carwow has been on a special roadtrip.
With an Infiniti Q50 underneath us, we’re visiting every BTCC circuit in the space of a single day, to end up at Brands Hatch for the opening round of the championship. How did we – and the car – get on? Read on to find out…
Stage 1 – Knockhill to Croft
With BTCC tracks spread around the UK, Knockhill is something of an outlier, a few miles North of the Forth Road Bridge in Kinross-shire, Scotland. This makes it the natural start point so, at 6.38am as the sun peeks over the Lomond Hills, the Q50 starts its day-long journey.
When we reviewed the Q50 hybrid back in February we liked the looks and it still looks handsome in the rising sun as we set off for England. We don’t have a hybrid this time round, rather the regular 2.0 petrol turbo model and, while we’ve only got 12 miles of country roads separating us from the motorway network, the lighter weight car feels a little more planted.
Getting a fix on the car’s handling at this point is a little difficult though with so little distance and we’re soon on the M876 heading south. Still, that means we get to assess the motorway manners and it seems to be a nicely comfortable cruiser – the two hours disappears in the blink of an eye and soon we’re heading east over the Pennines on the A66.
It seems more at home here than the Hybrid did. Without lugging the extra weight of batteries or driving the front wheels, it’s a little more taut and a great deal less jiggly – there’s a significant performance difference, but it’s not a slow car by any means and soon we’re at our first waypoint…
Stage 2 – Croft to Oulton Park
The longest single leg of our journey – at a little over 200 miles – is done with our arrival at Croft Circuit and a quick driver change is in order for leg two to Oulton Park. More motorway beckons so, to pass the time as we head out to Cheshire, we’re looking into the Infiniti entry to BTCC.
Like us, the Infiniti team is using a Q50 chassis with a 2.0 turbo petrol engine, but there’s a few key differences. Firstly, the race car is actually a stripped out diesel model – the £28k 2.2 diesel is the cheapest Q50 on sale – and while it’s carrying an engine that’s notionally the same type and capacity, the team gets “NGTC” touring car engines from TOCA Swindon. This means that while we’re making do with 211hp in a 1.5 tonne car, the racers have nearly twice the power and much closer to a one tonne weight.
Soon though, Manchester gets in our way and the Q50’s sat-nav warns us that our intended M62 route is snarled up and we have to duck under the bottom of the city instead of over the top. This adds on unnecessary mileage and time – and that becomes a theme of our Westernmost destination, sitting 20 miles away from the motorway network. All the time we saved over the estimate on the way to Croft has been lost – and then some…
Stage 3 – Oulton Park to Donington Park
It’s taken us over 3 hours to do this leg of the journey and rolling through rural Cheshire at lunchtime on a Saturday doesn’t help matters. On the bright side though, it’s a chance to test out the Q50’s optional safety equipment.
This particular model has the Safety Shield pack selected and, though disconcerting, it’s a great tool in the stop-start traffic through the towns and roadworks that mark this leg of the journey. The various systems allow you to effectively drive without touching anything (please don’t do this) because the car will not only slow you down to a complete stop and regain speed up to the cruise setting when clear, but endeavour to keep you in the lane too. This last system is very odd indeed on the Q50 – it has drive-by-wire steering, so the position of the wheel doesn’t change even though the direction of travel does.
Despite this leg being the only one with no motorway use whatsoever and the severe delays that Cheshire and Staffordshire have caused us, the Q50 says it’s returning fuel economy of just over 35mpg.
Stage 4 – Donington Park to Rockingham
A quick flit from the West Midlands to the East Midlands is our shortest part of the journey at only 50 miles and also sees the halfway mark passing by – roughly 440 miles in a little over seven hours.
This leg more than the rest is typical of what a Q50’s daily life will be – a short hop from town to motorway and then a patch of A-road on the other side. The car is still coping better than the drivers – who are now resorting to fuelling up on pork pies – but the sat-nav which has been reliable to this point throws a six when confronted by a bit of the A43 it doesn’t know exists yet. Neither, though, does Google Maps, so the back-up Android phone is just as tetchy.
Stage 5 – Rockingham to Snetterton
It’s another cross-country dash – Snetterton is not ideally placed for anything and sits in a county with no motorways of any kind, though the roads to the track are at least now all dual carriageway.
This gives us a little time to cover the team Infiniti has chosen to run its cars in BTCC. The Support Our Paras team, based at Mallory Park, is a non-profit outfit that primarily seeks to employ injured members of the Parachute Regiment to prepare (and, given BTCC’s reputation, repair) their race cars
While the drivers themselves – Derek Palmer and Richard Hawken – and the team principle Derek Palmer senior aren’t paras, the rest of the guys you’ll find in the pit garages are. They carry a variety of life-changing injuries that affect mobility and daily life, many from tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and alongside their training in getting the Infiniti Q50 racing every week there is a longer term goal to get the ex-paras driving racing cars themselves.
Our 10 hours on the road seems somewhat trivial in that context, but another driver change once we reach Snetterton keeps us fresh for the downhill stretch.
Stage 6 – Snetterton to Silverstone
It’s back to the Midlands to one of the most famous race tracks in the world. BTCC won’t come here until September, but it’s all in a day’s driving for the roadgoing Q50.
Snetterton’s remoteness means this leg is almost as long as the first one, rocking in at just under 2 hours. We’re in need of fuel at last too – the petrol versions of the Q50 have the largest fuel tank at 80 litres and ours is starting to panic at about 600 miles.
That tallies closely with the 36mpg on the car’s driving information screens that we’ve been playing with all day – the twin touchscreens in the Q50 are a nice bit of flair in the cabin and the roundabouts of Norfolk give plenty of opportunity to stretch the G-meter’s range of operation.
The light is fading fast as we reach the home of F1 – we’d hoped to do this all in daylight, but the rapidly setting sun might have put paid to that.
Stage 7 – Silverstone to Thruxton
There’s only two BTCC circuits that sit south of the M25’s upper reaches and we’re heading to the furthest south option first. Thruxton sits out 15 miles south of Swindon and getting there is another cross-country affair on A-roads.
Despite the heavy fuel tank – there’s another 55kg sloshing about in it now – the Infiniti feels little different than before and it’s still happy to tackle the winding and undulating roads as we head down the Downs. Thruxton might be a little out of the way, but it has one of the best entrance signs we’ve seen all day – albeit captured with the Q50’s standard LED headlights, as we’ve run out of sunlight.
Stage 8 – Thruxton to Brands Hatch
With the coffee and pork pie supplies now exhausted along with all hope of sunlight greeting us in Kent, we let the Infiniti take the strain for the final leg of the journey. Alongside the forward emergency braking, our Q50 has adaptive intelligent cruise control which allows for a leisurely and stressless drive towards Brands.
Even on its most rep-like tailgating setting, it’s not keen to let us close to within less than three seconds of the car ahead, so keen anticipation is needed to get the lane changes right and prevent the Q50 from slowing itself down unnecessarily.
While the sat-nav proved surprisingly pessimistic about our chances of even making it to Brands Hatch the same day we set off – calling it a 1am job at one point – we rolled up to the circuit entrance just after 11pm.
With 855 miles done in just under 16.5 hours, we’d managed an average speed of 52mph with a pretty reasonable average fuel economy of 36.5mpg. More importantly though, we’d achieved what we’d set out to do and given Infiniti and its team of injured military personnel something novel to mark their racing debut.