Northern Ireland team to enter BTCC for first time following acquisition

Chris Smiley.
Chris Smiley.
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A Northern Irish-owned team will enter the British Touring Car Championship [BTCC] for the first time in 2017, following the acquisition of BTC Racing by Belfast-based private equity group, Norlin.

The new ‘BTC Norlin Racing’ team will enter the grid in 2017 with two Chevrolet Cruze cars. Further strengthening the Northern Ireland connection with the BTCC, the team has announced its first driver as 24-year-old Carrickfergus man Chris Smiley. A second driver is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

The acquisition of BTC Racing, which joined the BTCC in 2006 following a series of high-profile wins in some of the UK’s leading national racing series, is a first for Norlin – a leading hotel development company. Chief Executive Richard Irwin said that acquisition presented a strong opportunity to showcase the Norlin brand.

“With ITV and online viewing figures of BTCC growing year-on-year, coupled with trackside audiences of up to 60,000 people at each circuit, this is an exciting time for a Northern Ireland team to be joining the Championship,” he said.

“For years, Northern Ireland sportsmen and teams have been challenging the leader board at a global level, and motorsport is no different. Norlin’s acquisition of the BTC team is very much a strong vote of confidence from us not only in the team, but in Northern Ireland’s ability to extend its global reputation as a key player in sport further into the world of motorsport.

“We are proud to announce one of our greatest home-grown talents in Chris Smiley as our first driver. Led by Bert Taylor and supported by a highly-experienced technical staff, we believe we have an extremely strong team.

“We want to build a brand that our fellow sponsors, Propiteer, our team, and indeed Northern Ireland are proud to be associated with. Our aim over the next seasons will be to challenge for the independent drivers’ championship, and we look forward to kick-starting a very competitive 2017 season in the coming weeks.

BTC Norlin Racing Boss Bert Taylor welcomed the signing of Smiley, saying: “Having worked with Chris Smiley in the past, I have seen first-hand what an outstanding talent he is. He is utterly committed to his career and focused entirely on winning, possessing the strong passion for motorsport that permeates throughout the entire BTC Norlin Racing team.

“As well as bringing on board two high-calibre drivers, we have invested heavily in recruiting highly-experienced backroom staff and mechanical engineers who have worked with the likes of RML and Triple Eight.

“Furthermore, we have invested in two Chevrolet Cruze cars, which we know well having run them before, and have proven to be highly-competitive in recent years. The cars are currently being prepared at our Bicester base, and Chris has already tested the first car at Donnington Park.

“We are very confident in saying that all of this puts us in a very strong position going forward.”

Chris Smiley – a former Mini Challenge champion – said: “The BTCC is very much the pinnacle of UK motorsport and I am honoured to be entering the Championship as part of a Northern Irish owned team. To have the backing of Norlin adds a huge amount of weight to the team and really strengthens to our bid to take the championship as independent drivers.

“We will be working hard as team to quickly establish a firm position in the top 10 to start with and then build from there. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be expecting podiums and strong results from reversed-grid races over the latter part of the season.”

Carrickfergus man Smiley – a former pupil of Downshire School in the town – began racing at the age of six. In 2006 he finished third in the BRDC Stars of Tomorrow Karting Championship. In 2013 he was the British Champion in the UK Mini Challenge. In 2014 he finished fourth in the European Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup and was the only driver ever to win a round of the championship at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.