THE Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is set to thrill an expectant bank holiday crowd at Thruxton this weekend as Britain’s top motorsport series makes its annual visit to Hampshire.

Billed as one of the most highly anticipated seasons in the series’ illustrious history after announcing a huge 31-car grid – including seven former champions – the BTCC has already made an impact in 2014 after events at Brands Hatch and Donington Par.

The Hampshire speed bowl of Thruxton poses an altogether different challenge, however, as it’s the fastest and most daunting circuit on the BTCC calendar for the fixture this Saturday and Sunday.

Wheel-to-wheel racing at more than 140mph is not for the faint-hearted, which is why the event attracts so many fans from across the country. The high speed flat-out nature of the circuit highlights the thrills and spills of top-level touring car racing in all its glory.

It’s little wonder that the event is renowned as one of the biggest on the Hampshire sporting calendar.

The opening rounds of the BTCC season have already produced five different winners from just six races.

Four of the seven former champions on the grid have stood on the top step of the podium so far, as has MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save young gun Sam Tordoff, who won at Donington Park on his 25th birthday weekend.

The pre-season favourites are at the sharp end of the standings with battle lines beginning to take shape. Reigning champion Andrew Jordan and MG’s Jason Plato are tied at the top having both enjoyed one stellar weekend apiece. The Honda Civic of Jordan took pole position and two race victories at Brands Hatch, while Plato just fell short of repeating the feat at Donington with a pole, a win and a second place finish.

The top two are just a point ahead of 2012 champion Gordon Shedden, who produced a heart-stopping final corner move on the BMW of Colin Turkington last time out at Donington. It was a moment that will go down in BTCC folklore as both cars slid off the track and into gravel before the Scotsman hauled his Honda Civic Tourer back on to the tarmac just ahead of the Ulsterman to take the win. The result also made history as it was the first time an ‘estate’ style car won a BTCC race.

Shedden’s team-mate Matt Neal is just a few points behind fourth placed Turkington.