Without doubt, the latest rounds of the British Touring Car Championship from Thruxton proved to be the most entertaining and intriguing of the season so far; crashes, punctures, arguments, withdrawals, shortened race distances, a red flag, it had it all. ESM’s BTCC Correspondent reviews the aftermath.
Saturday’s qualifying session brought the second outright pole in three meetings for Tom Ingram, followed by a stunning effort from Aiden Moffat to take second ahead of a ballast-laden Matt Neal and MG pair Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton.
Race One (1st Morgan, 2nd Ingram, 3rd Jordan)
Quite simply, the best race of the season so far and it’ll take something special to beat this in the remaining races, despite there being plenty still to go. For a first race of the day, it is hard to remember anything as interesting and exciting. It was like a final race of the day.
After the withdrawal of all four Team BMR Subarus on Sunday morning due to safety concerns about their fuel lines, Neal managed to jump Moffat off the line when the lights went out. He immediately pushed Ingram hard into the opening corners, but Moffat soon came back at him around the outside. With Neal down the inside of Ingram at the third corner, Ingram was nudged sideways into Moffat resulting in a half spin that he managed to power around. All of a sudden Neal was leading the race, Josh Cook was challenging Neal and there was a gaggle of cars ready to pounce on any incident from the leaders. And incident there was. Ingram was turned sideways, allowing Adam Morgan through, and then Sutton’s car was turned sideways before heading off into the barriers with what appeared to be a puncture. All this by the end of lap two!
Things had hardly settled down on the third lap as Morgan was able to overtake Cook for 2nd with it being so close at the front. It was astonishing that a fully ballast Neal was driving so aggressively on a track known to be so abrasive, but he was holding his own. That was until the end of the lap, when Morgan was able to get a better exit out of the chicane and overtook Neal on the start-finish line, but Neal didn’t give up. Back he came for almost half a lap, as it bunched up the leaders, resulting in an incredible sight of six abreast around the back of the circuit. This race was anybody’s.
Moffat came back at Neal to reclaim 2nd, but Morgan started to pull away at the front. Following a lap or two’s lull, lap ten brought puncture after puncture in the hot conditions. The first to suffer was Moffat, then Mark Howard and Mat Jackson, whose tyre caused spectacular damage to the front wing of his Ford Focus. However, the punctures continued as Neal was the next victim at the end of the lap, luckily for him, or so it seemed. This didn’t prove to be the case as he couldn’t find a route into the pits as Ingram overtook on his inside, before Cook mounted the rear of Neal, sending them both into spins collecting several cars in the process, most notably Gordon Shedden who ended up spinning into the pit wall. With cars strewn everywhere and concerns over other car’s tyres, the inevitable red flag occurred, allowing Morgan to claim his second victory of the season.
Although helped by events ahead of them, notable mentions must go to Andrew Jordan, who secured his first podium of the season, Jeff Smith and Martin Depper in 4th and 5th who must have achieved their best results in living memory, and Dan Welch in 9th.
Race Two (Jordan, Collard, Morgan)
The second and third races of the day were shortened by four laps on tyre safety grounds, after the amount of late punctures in the opening race. Morgan got away well off the line with Rob Collard the big mover, jumping up to 4th. An eagle-eyed Tim Harvey spotted the slightest of jump starts, as did the officials, from Ingram, something which probably he would have escaped with further down the pack, and it resulted in a drive-through penalty for the Avensis driver. The other BMWs of Jack Goff and Sam Tordoff came through the pack as the BMWs looked ominous in the opening laps.
Jeff Smith had a wild spin after going wide onto the grass, but his Eurotech teammates of Depper and Dan Lloyd were soon in a battle for 6th with Welch’s Proton. Quite amazing, that following at least two years of being in the wilderness, Welch finally had a car to challenge, or rather an engine to challenge.
Mid-race, Morgan found that Jordan was all over his rear end, followed by the BMW trio. It stayed like this for a few laps, with Shedden being the one to watch as he stormed through the grid from 23rd to an eventual finishing place of 4th. With two laps remaining, Jordan managed to overtake Morgan and Collard was also able to find his way past, whilst Depper was the first to suffer a puncture in this race. Jordan was able to hold on for the final lap and secured his first victory for nearly two years, since his victory at Croft in 2014.
Race Three (Jackson, Neal, Morgan)
Welch’s reward for two 9th place finishes in the earlier races was to be drawn on pole for the final race of the day. Welch was unable to retain the lead off the line, as Jackson and Tordoff came through, but Welch gave as good a performance as he could. Tordoff was soon off the road and Goff was on the back of Welch. The race settled down, but on lap 5 Welch went off the track and into the barriers as a steering bolt snapped, ruining what had been his best showing for years.
The day’s next victim of a pesky puncture was the previous race’s winner, Jordan, on lap 7. Meanwhile, Goff and Shedden were in a good battle, but Collard tapped Shedden resulting in slides for both and although they were both able to continue, they lost places to Neal and Morgan, with the former taking 2nd from Goff a lap later.
As the race came to a conclusion, both MGs were able to find a way past Collard and Goff’s back end twitched under braking as Shedden overtook him. Consequently, he lost control and used the side of Shedden to slow him down, damaging the back of the Scotsman’s wheel which eventually he realised at the end of the pit straight as he was forced into a spin.
Jackson, who’d managed the race well, came home victorious for his second win of the season, despite Neal considerably closing the gap on the final lap. An impressive day for Morgan saw him claim 3rd and complete a hat-trick of podiums.
Neal still retains the championship lead, although he is level on points with Collard, with Morgan only three points further behind. It was an excellent day of racing, despite the shortened race distances.
Whilst it is completely understandable that the race distances were shortened on safety grounds, I do feel sorry for the fans that paid good money to go and watch the races. As ESM found out a couple of seasons ago, Thruxton is some distance from our base and we’d have been pretty peeved had we travelled that distance and seen eight laps less, or even twelve if you take into account the first race’s red flag. Twelve laps obviously equalled the length of two of the day’s races. Did the fans miss out on one race then? Luckily for the organisers, the drama of the racing outweighed the length of the races. Could we have had even more entertainment? Possibly. The BMWs, for example, are known to look after their tyres and come to the fore at the end of races, so we could have been denied the chance to see them add more action and from their point of view, championship points.
Thruxton is the only circuit on the calendar where the cars do not race on soft tyres, due to its abrasive surface. Dunlop had developed an acknowledged better tyre for this season, but it still wasn’t good enough. Who’s at fault? Dunlop, Thruxton, the drivers, the teams or something/someone else? Rarely are there problems with Dunlop’s tyres at the other circuits. Dunlop have worked hard to produce a better medium tyre this season, could they produce something even better for this track? It’s something that perhaps has to be looked at for the future. Punctures at Thruxton are as normal as a poor British summer.
The circuit itself needs to take some responsibility. Why are the kerbs so aggressive? Why is the surface so abrasive? Why can’t they change this? We’ve seen in the past that their barriers were sub-standard, see Nick Foster and Simon Belcher, is their circuit sub-standard? Changes to the over aggressive kerbs would ease the pressure on the tyres, but no doubt Thruxton will argue that the drivers know the rules and if they decide to run over the kerbs then it is at their own risk. However, as seen during the races, there is sometimes no choice but to run over the kerbs in the midst of a battle as a driver may have nowhere else to go. We are racing fans, we want to see racing. We don’t want to see a precession of cars going single file so we don’t end up with punctures. Personally, I think a large chunk of blame lies with Thruxton itself.
Is it the teams’ fault? Teams, like drivers, will always push the limits of what is acceptable as they seek an advantage. However, at the end of the day, they need to work within the realms of what is considered to be safe. As pointed out by Harvey during ITV’s coverage, the punctures in the opening race were not as a result as tyres being run at incorrect pressures as recommended by Dunlop. Does this bring it back full circle with the blame at Dunlop’s door? That’s for you to form your own opinion.
Let’s hope that at next month’s meeting at Oulton Park we’re talking about drama and entertainment, but not caused by punctures. The previous couple of years at Oulton haven’t been great, but here’s to hoping.
Championship Standings after Round 9 of 30:
|1. Matt Neal||101 points|
|2. Rob Collard||101|
|3. Adam Morgan||98|
|4. Mat Jackson||90|
|5. Gordon Shedden||86|
|6. Jack Goff||85|
Subaru Team BMR – Subaru Levorg GT (Cole, Plato, Scott, Turkington)
Turkington once again appeared to get the most out of the car in qualifying, but due to safety concerns about a new fuel line part, all cars were withdrawn for Sunday’s races. I think they’d have had a couple of top 10 finishes had they raced. N/A
WSR, Team JCT600 with GardX – BMW 125i M Sport (Collard, Tordoff)
WSR, Team IHG Rewards Club – BMW 125i M Sport (Goff)
Another good weekend for the BMWs. Solid top ten points were spread across the drivers as the BMW seemed better than usual at Thruxton thanks to an improved engine this season. 8/10
Halfords Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Type R (Neal, Shedden)
A rather unfortunate weekend for Honda, especially Shedden who retired twice through no fault of his own. Shedden was able to show the great pace of the car, albeit ballast free, in the second race as he charged through the pack to 4th. Neal, involved in a war of words with Cook, made the most of a bad situation after race one and just retains the championship lead. A low score for them this time, although it was really their fault. 4/10
MG Racing RCIB Insurance – MG6 GT (Cook, Sutton)
The MGs are so much better this season. After looking competitive in the opening race, a double retirement meant that they were always catching up in the other two races. They did their job admirably. 7/10
Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST ( Jackson, Jordan)
A win apiece for Jordan and Jackson will have had Dave Bartrum dancing on the tables on Sunday evening. A puncture apiece will have had Bartrum cursing what could have been. Still an excellent weekend and Motorbase are continuing their form from the end of last season. 8.5/10
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Morgan)
1st, 3rd, 3rd. That says it all. 10/10
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Austin)
Austin improved in each race, finally achieving 7th in race three and his best result of the season so far. 7.5/10
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Ingram)
Copy and paste Brands Hatch and Donington Park: One good race (podium finish) and two poor races. 7/10
Notable mentions: Dan Welch is back in the big time. Well, at least he was this weekend. It’s great credit to his team and himself for not giving up over the last couple of years and he’s finally competitive again. It’s great to see another make of car doing well too. The Eurotech Hondas also had a great weekend, with Dan Lloyd making an impressive second debut in the BTCC. Aiden Moffat was unfortunate this weekend in my opinion, he deserves a lot credit for his qualifying performance especially.
Next up: Oulton Park, 5th June