Ciceley Motorsport took on the 2021 season with a pair of new BMWs looking to bounce back into competitive form – so how did they perform?
Ciceley Motorsport were amongst a few teams in 2020 who ran with cars which left the production line for many years.
All touring cars are based on road-going equivalents which are seen out on the roads.
This means motorsport has long-held the responsibility to keep up with the car industry with new models and the new hybrid powertrain regulations.
Ciceley’s Mercedes-Benz A Class from 2017-20 had claimed its own successes in the form of intermittent podiums and race wins.
For the 2021 campaign, the team were the first ‘non-works’ team to race the BMW 330i M Sport which had proven victorious by WSR and four-time champion Colin Turkington.
It may come as no surprise to count it as an upgrade for Ciceley, but how much of an upgrade was it?
Looking at the team’s results
Once we compare the outright results between the two seasons, it becomes apparent the BMW was a new package to Ciceley and that the Mercedes performed well – contrary to the prejudice such an old car would perform badly.
In 2020, it was Adam Morgan in one car and Jack Butel in the other.
With the Mercedes, Morgan drew more points-consistent finishes with just three DNFs preventing him from a full-sweep of points finishes during the season.
The opening round at Donington Park began strongly for Morgan after claiming 10th during qualifying.
Unfortunately for him, the surrounding Honda Civic Type Rs of Team Dynamics’ Matt Neal and BTC Racing’s Tom Chilton got the better from him which resulted in a P12 finish.
The next two races were more successful and marked a strong opening to the 2020 season.
With so many years in the Mercedes package, Ciceley Motorsport enabled it to produce fair results for a model of that age.
In 2021, it was a more challenging start at the Thruxton opener for both Morgan and newcomer Tom Chilton.
Qualifying proved a challenge for Tom Chilton’s first outing in a rear-wheel drive car with P20 at his best single-lap pace, and Morgan’s 1m20.763s for P14.
The two regular WSR drivers – Turkington and Tom Oliphant – were at the sharp end in P3 and P6. Stephen Jelley returned to the team and went from a BMW 1 Series, and outqualified Chilton.
They were unable to assert instant pace, but it proved half the story when the WSR duo upfront each ran into their own dramas.
At the opening race, both Chilton and Morgan finished six places higher and were able to make the most of the action.
Due to the drama, it illustrated how the BMW was able to keep composure at Thruxton’s high speed complexes and to grant the drivers a package to take opportunity of others’ misfortunes, a characteristic the Mercedes struggled to do.
Referring back to the 2020 season, Morgan ran consistent points finishes to keep a steady place in the standings apart from one retirement. At the ninth round at Oulton Park, he secured an eighth career win for both himself and the Mercedes-Benz A Class.
To paint the scenario, Morgan ran a smooth opening two races with P7 and P9 finishes and grabbing a healthy points finish in the rain. His ninth-place finish put him on pole position for the final (reverse grid) race.
Immediately, Morgan was tasked to fend off Oliphant’s BMW.
The Mercedes was out of its comfort zone having to defend itself.
WSR’s BMW could jump onto the throttle earlier than the A Class which was stronger on corner entry.
Oulton Park is a fast, narrow circuit with sweeping turns which allowed Morgan to put up a strong defence. The most recent example of defence-work at Oulton Park was from Dan Rowbottom last year.
The fight at the front featured Morgan, Oliphant, Turkington and Sutton all within a second of each other.
An incident on the 11th lap put an end to the action, therefore securing the win for Morgan – just.
The Ciceley Motorsport BMW also gained its first win at the ninth round in 2021, at Brands Hatch Indy.
Where the Mercedes struggled to defend, the BMW was more commanding against its competitors.
It may be no surprise about the BMW 3 Series’ abilities, but Morgan and Ciceley Motorsport optimised the setup well for the dramatic elevation changes at Brands Hatch.
Identically, he started on pole for the final race of the day. Unlike the 2020 win, he commanded the race from the start after a strong getaway and run an uneventful race.
The following two rounds at Oulton Park were podium finishes, implying the pace from the race prior was not a one-hit-wonder.
He claimed one more victory last year at the high speed Thruxton complex.
His teammate Chilton struggled more for much of the season as he was unable to unlock the BMW’s potential. In fairness, Morgan’s final three weekends were less than ideal after running outside the points and getting involved in an incident.
By the end of the two seasons, both the BMW and the Mercedes-Benz DNF’d thrice as the A Class struggled to get points before 2020.
The overall competitiveness of the two cars
Each of these models have their own strengths and weaknesses on the basis of their dimensions and handling capabilities.
The Mercedes-Benz A Class was a more compact package which is favoured in the BTCC due to the intense racing involved, therefore utmost maneuverability is key.
However, its shorter wheelbase is unable to match the rear wheel drive BMW which can assert its power onto the back of the car whilst the front wheels are left to steer; obvious characteristics but vital to distinguish them.
The BMW has only had a short life thus far compared to its predecessor so reliability is still a judging factor, especially as the era of hybrid powertrains begins this year.
The Mercedes-Benz was capable for the BTCC circuits despite its age, though reliability was a hindering factor at several races pre-2020.
But the BMW gave Chilton and Morgan less championship points than their previous package, as well as lower positions in the standings order: from 10th in 2020 to 19th, and 8th to 13th.
It is clear the BMW is an upgrade for the long-term and a new package still being adapted to.
With only the WSR and MB Motorsport representing at least three other BMWs on the grid, Ciceley Motorsport will need to be opportune this year and carry the momentum all-way through the year. And they need the cooperation of both drivers.
The 3 Series lived up to the competitive reputation it already built up from WSR’s success.
However, the A Class was competitive at the front-wheel drive-favoured circuits, therefore carried its own weight to success.
The answer on how they fared with the new package is not a definitive one, but the competitiveness over the results suggest and that performance has yet to be fully exploited.