BTCC is back, and EngageSportMode’s dedicated correspondent has also returned to action. Here’s his rundown of who shined and who flopped on the first weekend of racing.
Six newcomers, various driver changes, a new manufacturer and a major regulation change and the British Touring Car Championship was ready for action in 2016. Once again, the series started at Brands Hatch on the Indy Circuit, which I’ve been less than complimentary about in the past. However, this year was certainly an improvement on the previous snooze-fests we’ve had to endure.
Race One (1st – Ingram, 2nd – Shedden, 3rd – Neal)
Tom Ingram secured pole on Saturday for the first time and made no mistake in the opening race of the day with a lights to flag victory, despite a safety car to recover Alex Martin’s heavily damaged car after taking action to avoid a spinning Hunter Abbott. The mid-race battle for fourth between several cars was certainly entertaining, finally culminating in Ash Sutton emerging as victor ahead of teammate Josh Cook and Rob Collard, who had earlier collided with his teammate, Sam Tordoff. Being a fly on the wall in the WSR garage post-race sounded like the place to be if you believe ITV’s coverage. The opening race of the season was less conservative than normal and brought a new team and driver to the top step of the podium.
Race Two (Shedden, Neal, A Smith) A formidable Honda 1-2 for Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal come the end of the race looks ominous for the rest of the season, as they were rarely troubled and looked in cruise control after the second lap. After scrapping the fastest-lap starting grid used last season, and reverting back to the first race finishing positions, Ingram made another good start as he retained the lead. A fast-starting Collard raced through into second and closed in on Ingram on the second lap. However, as Collard pulled a move down Ingram’s inside, contact took place, sending Collard into a spin and leaving Ingram with damaged suspension. Perhaps a bit more could have been given and taken on both sides. Motorbase duo Andrew Jordan and Mat Jackson worked well together, taking several positions working in tandem. It’ll be interesting to see how they progress over the season. The end of the race was spiced-up by several cars going off the track, some twice, after fluid on the track, but this didn’t stop the Hondas coming through convincingly.Race Three (Morgan, Tordoff, Goff)
The final race of the day was arguably the weakest of the day, as we reverted back to what we have become accustomed to on the Indy Circuit. Tordoff was drawn on pole from Adam Morgan and Jack Goff. As the race got underway, the Motorbase boys were too close for comfort as a tap from Jackson nearly had disastrous consequences for Jordan at Paddock Hill Bend, but he managed to hold the slide, just. However, newcomer Kelvin Fletcher didn’t have much luck a lap later as he couldn’t hold his slide at the same place and the recovery of his Chevrolet needed the safety car. Before Fletcher’s incident, Morgan had made his move on Tordoff to secure the lead with a well-executed move. Lap 9 saw all four Subarus running together, a sight I’m sure the photographers will have enjoyed. For Team BMR, I’m sure they will want to be higher up the grid next time they are photographed line astern. Once again, there was plenty of close racing throughout the race, without much passing. However, towards the end of the race, Neal was just holding on to fourth from Jordan, but he eventually lost out on the final crossing of the line. Teammate Shedden suffered a worse fate though, as a late puncture sent him into the gravel and out. Despite the top 3 running being bumper to bumper for the final laps, Morgan stayed at the front of the pack to secure victory.
All in all, it was a good first round and it was great to see three different winners in the three different cars for the first three events of the season. It’s no surprise to see the Honda duo of Neal and Shedden at the top of the standings, as I believe they are the team to beat. Last year’s nearest challengers, Team BMR, are understandably going to need time to get their new Subaru machines up to a competitive standard. Will the Hondas be too far gone by the time this happens? Probably.
Championship Standings after Round 3 of 30:
|1. Matt Neal||43 points|
|2. Gordon Shedden||38|
|3. Adam Morgan||37|
|4. Aron Smith||32|
|5. Andrew Jordan||32|
|6. Jack Goff||31|
Subaru Team BMR – Subaru Levorg GT (Cole, Plato, Scott, Turkington)
This weekend was basically an extended test session for the team in race conditions. Turkington was by far the best qualifier in 11th, but both he and Plato did pick up points in a race each. I fear they started with the car too late to be seriously competitive this season, despite what the drivers are saying, and they must already be looking at next season to mount a serious challenge. We’ll see how they go! It’s hard to give them a score for the weekend. 6/10? [Yeah, be generous – Ed]
WSR, Team JCT600 with GardX – BMW 125i M Sport (Collard, Tordoff)
WSR, Team IHG Rewards Club – BMW 125i M Sport (Goff)
The BMWs looked really competitive this weekend and only some silly errors cost them more points. A champion could come from this team. Possibly Tordoff. 8/10
Halfords Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Type R (Neal, Neate, Shedden)
The old-guard of Neal and Shedden were out of the traps like the experienced pros that they are and lead the championship already. It’s hard to see past either of these two come the end of the season. Andy Neate returned to the series, but he has a lot of catching up to do to be anywhere near Neal and Shedden as he didn’t even return a point in the same car. 9/10
MG Racing RCIB Insurance – MG6 GT (Cook, Sutton)
Last season was really poor for MG in all honesty, but they seem to have improved massively over the winter on the basis of the opening rounds. They’ve got an inexperienced BTCC line-up, but Cook showed he could battle with the best last season and Sutton has plenty of panel rubbing experience from the Clio Cup. It’ll be interesting to see how they do as the season progresses. 8/10
Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST ( Jackson, Jordan)
A good performance from the team in the opening rounds. Jordan will be pleased with a couple of 4ths and Jackson would have been well placed in the final race had it not been for a puncture. It’s great to have Motorbase here for a whole season this time and it’ll be interesting to see how the Focus copes over the season with weight. 8/10
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Morgan)
9th, 8th and 1st and overall 3rd in the championship. Morgan would have taken that before the weekend started. He’s improved year on year and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so further this year. 9/10
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Austin)
The first weekend in a front wheel drive for Austin, now ‘just’ a driver. He had the wrong set-up in qualifying and after a first race retirement, made up plenty of places to secure 2 low points scoring finishes. His development this season will be interesting to watch. 6/10
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Ingram)
A great weekend for Ingram, yet it could have been even better if he’d allowed Collard more room in the second race. Fastest in a practice session, fastest in qualifying and winner of the first race meant that despite a retirement and a 17th, it was still a rewarding weekend for Speedworks and Ingram. 8.5/10
Notable mentions: Great to see Dan Welch finally going around the circuit after two woeful seasons, now he has an engine that works. He’s already got 5 points, 4 more than last season. Aron Smith carried on his good work with the VW CC, although it’s with the new Team BKR, with support from BMR. Curiously, he’s driving Turkington’s old car, not the one he campaigned himself.
Next up: Donington Park, 17th Apri