After a long break BTCC finally returned this week. There was chaos at Snetterton, and our BTCC Correspondent has got stuck into the big debate about driving standards. Which side of the fence are you on about it?
The British Touring Car Championship returned at Snetterton following the traditional mid-season six week break and oh boy, it returned alright! Where to start? Three different winners? The first red flag? The second red flag? The camera gantry being rolled into by a flying Hunter Abbott? Drivers complaining about standards? The media complaining about safety?
It would be sensible to remind ourselves at the start of this article that, as Tim Harvey quite rightly pointed out on ITV’s coverage, all tickets state, ‘Motorsport is dangerous.’ Correct, it is. I don’t want to see anyone injured, whether it be minor or serious, nor do I want the unthinkable to happen and a driver be killed or anyone else for that matter. However, we must ask ourselves, why are we fans of the BTCC? Why are we fans of motorsport? We watch it because we want to see close, hard and fair racing. To achieve this, it naturally brings an element of risk and danger and it is something we have to accept if we want to watch motor racing. The debate to be had is how we control this danger. Has it become too dangerous?
Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s first race would suggest not. Qualifying saw Gordon Shedden take pole by the smallest of margins, 0.015s, from Colin Turkington who in turn was the smallest of margins, 0.013s, ahead of Adam Morgan. The gaps were amazingly small on what is the longest lap of the season. In addition to the amazingly close gaps, it was also amazing that it was the first Honda pole in over three years, since Donington Park in 2013.
Race One (1st Turkington, 2nd Shedden, 3rd Jackson)
Turkington got away well from the line, but couldn’t quite take advantage of his start as Shedden retained the lead, but Mat Jackson was able to jump into 3rd. Andrew Jordan’s issues in qualifying were compounded by being pushed out onto the grass at the first corner, but he wasn’t the only one to experience trouble. Morgan was knocked sideways, but retained 5th, Alex Martin went off and Aron Smith picked up a problem to go with his ‘eye-catching’ new livery.
The opening laps saw Turkington keep Shedden honest and Morgan climbed back into 4th. Five drivers, including Turkington, were soon under investigation for a potential false-start, but none were found guilty come the end of the race. Half way through the race, Shedden still needed to be incredibly defensive to stave off Turkington’s attacks, but on lap 8 he could no longer repel the Ulsterman, as he made an outstanding move over several corners flipping from the inside to the outside and back to the inside again. Turkington’s move almost allowed Jackson to overtake Shedden too, but he couldn’t find a way by. Similarly to Turkington, Jason Plato felt as though he’d been held up by Tom Ingram and performed a similar move to his teammate on Ingram to take 5th.
Once Turkington reached the front, he built a sizeable lead and came home a comfortable victor for his third opening race win in the last three rounds. Joining Turkington and Plato in the top 10 were their other teammates in Warren Scott, with a career best 9th, and James Cole in 10th. It was a great achievement for the Subarus who only three race meetings ago had to withdraw on safety grounds.
Race Two (Jackson, Turkington, Neal)
The major drama of the second race came after only half a lap. Turkington made a decent start, but Jackson jumped Shedden and then after an uncharacteristic Turkington mistake, Jackson took the lead, but his joy was to be short-lived as carnage ensued behind.
At the first corner, Scott was sideways which led to many taking evasive action and then Kelvin Fletcher skidded off the track and was collected by Aron Smith who suffered front end damage. As the train of cars entered the back straight, Ollie Jackson and Dan Welch’s battle became more physical, which resulted in Welch’s car being sideways and with the resultant dust in the air, it meant that Ash Sutton had no chance of avoiding Welch, who was a sitting duck. Welch’s car was a complete wreck and undoubtedly will be a write-off, but Martin and a highly frustrated Hunter Abbott were also victims of the incident. With five cars and debris everywhere, there was no choice but to bring out the red flag.
After a reasonable delay, luckily all involved were given the all-clear by the medical team, but were unable to take part in the re-start. Jack Goff was also unable to take part in the re-start as he suffered a prop-shaft failure on the green flag lap, similar to Cole on the original green lap flag. The second start was similar to the first with Jackson jumping Shedden and then after half a lap taking the lead from Turkington. Lap 2 saw several of the front runners with bent panels as Shedden rammed Turkington as he tried to take 2nd, but then Morgan rammed into Shedden too. Entering the back straight, Scott and Jordan had their own Welch/Jackson moment, but luckily without the serious consequences as previously seen.
Lap 3 saw Jackson ahead with clean air from Turkington, Morgan and Neal. Rob Collard, who’d qualified poorly again, was all over Plato and over consecutive laps made his way ahead of Plato and then Morgan, who in turn had been passed by Neal. With three laps remaining, Collard took the fight to Neal for the final podium position and despite a great attempt around the outside from Collard; Neal held position as the duo caught the front pair. However, they ran out of laps and Jackson took the top step of the podium for the third time this season.
Race Three (Shedden, Collard, Austin)
Some of the cars hadn’t even crossed the start-finish line after the starting lights had gone out when the most concerning incident of the day, and for a long time, occurred. Reverse-grid pole man, Sam Tordoff, Ingram and Plato got away well, but down the pack, a tagged Martin headed straight on into the pit wall. Mark Howard was quick to take evasive action, but consequently the hapless Abbott caught his front wheel which launched him into several rolls next to the track barriers. Unfortunately, his final roll and a shunt from Ollie Jackson assisted him in collecting a television scaffolding camera gantry and it was sent toppling over. Luckily the camera man and all others were left shaken, but generally unharmed. Naturally, the incident brought out the red flag.
Like Cole and Goff before him, pole sitter Tordoff was the next to suffer on the green flag lap and he pulled into the pits at the end of the lap. That allowed Plato to take the lead from Ingram as the race re-started, but there was yet more panel rubbing between several cars on the new opening lap, something that Rob Austin took full advantage of as he moved up the field. The top 4 were all over each other, with Collard using his superior pace to move to the front of the field on the second lap. Shedden was also on a charge and made several positions in the opening laps as he made his way up to 2nd by the start of lap 4.
At half distance, Jordan was still all over the back of Turkington in 5th, who was defending like mad, and a couple of laps later Plato had caught Austin in 3rd. However, despite looking racy Plato couldn’t find a way to get ahead of Austin, although Jordan’s patience finally paid off with a great move down the inside of Turkington. Shedden, meanwhile, was continuing to catch Collard at the front.
Entering the final lap, Shedden had brought the gap down to around half a second and soon he forgot to use the brake pedal and eased Collard out of the way before running him wide. Collard though is never one to shirk a battle and came back at Shedden with a tap of his own, but Shedden controlled the slide and raced home to victory to become the third different winner of the day. There was delight for Austin with his first podium of the year and his first in front wheel drive car for many years. However, in many ways the successful parts of the day’s racing were overshadowed by the red flags.
What caused the incidents? It depends who you want to listen to and believe. You have some drivers blaming each other for poor standards of driving and calling fellow competitors ‘idiots.’ – See Jordan about Scott. You have some people saying that the track itself isn’t safe enough and you have some people putting it down as racing incidents. These reasons need to be explored in further detail.
Jordan was adamant that Scott was an ‘idiot’ following their incident in the second race and went on to say that he wasn’t the only one who concerns him when racing. Jordan wasn’t the only driver in complaining about the standards of others, to be fair to him. However, at Snetterton there was a 31 car grid and in those cars were 31 drivers who wanted to win a race. Realistically, maybe 10 had a genuine chance, but what’s the point in being a racer if you don’t want to win? To get into the BTCC, having heavy financial backing is essential. This naturally means that there are better drivers out there, but they simply can’t afford it. Some of the people involved in the day’s incidents will be struggling to get out at Knockhill in 2 weeks’ time because of a lack of resources due to the cost.
In addition to this, if you’ve spent a fortune in achieving a dream of racing in the BTCC, you want to showcase your talents, you want to get to the front of the pack, you want to get television time to promote your sponsors and if this means a bit of panel rubbing then so be it. Of course, there has to be a limit to this and that’s where part of the problem lies. There is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable contact. If we want to watch a series where contact seriously scuppers your chances, then we’ll watch Formula One, but BTCC has always been about hard and fair racing with an acceptable amount of contact.
Alan Gow has a huge headache in my opinion because some of the contact does seem to have been unacceptable at this race meeting and at others previously. However, several of the incidents have started out fairly and perhaps continued for a second too long and that’s when the problems have occurred. What Gow mustn’t do is ban contact, or start giving out penalties for a slight tap. Penalties are already in place for over-aggressive moves, but maybe the drivers just need to be reminded of the rules or perhaps the severity of the penalties need to be upped slightly? It wouldn’t surprise me that if at Knockhill in a couple of weeks there will be several penalties for contact, to make an example before they start being relaxed again.
Is the Snetterton track to blame? All race tracks are dangerous in their own way, so it’s hard to just blame the track for the incidents, although the narrow start/finish straight perhaps helped contribute to Abbott’s incident as there was less room for drivers to avoid the stricken cars. To counter this argument though, Collard was punished earlier in the season for going on the grass to avoid an accident, which now makes his treatment seem ludicrous, as if it wasn’t already. Abbott would have most definitely accepted the punishment if he had been able to avoid the incident ahead of him, but in reality it was a racing incident that had unfortunate consequences, although they could have been a lot worse.
What could have been improved is the positioning of the camera gantry on a circuit known as being narrow at this point. Could the gantry have been more substantial? Could it have been secured in a better manner? Should there have been, and will there now be, mesh fencing along the pit straight like in oval racing if you wish to have spectators and camera crews there? BTCC used up a lucky star at Snetterton and sensible, but not over the top, precautions must be made in the future, at all tracks, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
When we go racing again, Collard will be leading the championship after a great recovery from a poor qualifying position as things are starting to close up at the top of the championship. 6 points cover the top 3, with Shedden a further 20 points behind. You would suggest that with 12 rounds remaining, the winner will come from Collard, Tordoff, Neal or Shedden. Turkington, in 5th, has done an outstanding job to be so high in a new car and having missed Thruxton, but surely it’s a step too far for him? It’s too close to call between the BMW and Honda pair that I’m not making any predictions just yet!
Championship Standings after Round 18 of 30:
|1. Rob Collard||188 points|
|2. Sam Tordoff||185|
|3. Matt Neal||182|
|4. Gordon Shedden||162|
|5. Colin Turkington||154|
|6. Mat Jackson||153|
Subaru Team BMR – Subaru Levorg GT (Cole, Plato, Scott, Turkington)
The development of this car continues to go from strength to strength as shown by all 4 being in the opening race’s top 10. Turkington is clearly getting the car to work for him the most, but in the final race it did seem like he and Plato were struggling for outright pace. Overall, another very good weekend. 8.5/10
WSR, Team JCT600 with GardX – BMW 125i M Sport (Collard, Tordoff)
WSR, Team IHG Rewards Club – BMW 125i M Sport (Goff)
Collard will be delighted to be leading the championship again after more great moves through the pack. Tordoff is only three points behind, but would have undoubtedly retained the lead had he been able to start the final race of the day, for the second time. It was a nightmare weekend for Goff in reality. 8/10
Halfords Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Type R (Neal, Shedden)
A much better weekend for the Honda duo that at Croft. Shedden, in particular, got his season back on track with a couple of strong drives. 8/10
MG Racing RCIB Insurance – MG6 GT (Cook, Sutton)
Not a great weekend for the MG pair. Punctures for both of them in the opening race had them on the back foot for the rest of the weekend and because of Sutton’s puncture putting him down the grid, he got caught up in the second race’s big incident. They’ll be hoping for much better at Knockhill. 3/10
Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST ( Jackson, Jordan)
It seems that only one car does well in a race and it would be great to see both Jackson and Jordan fighting at the front together. Once again, a better weekend for Jackson, but Jordan did well to fight his way through the pack after starting last in the opening race. 7.5/10
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Morgan)
A much better weekend from Morgan after a poor showing at Croft last time out. He’ll be pleased to get some more points back on the board. 7/10
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Austin)
Austin gradually made his way forward over the weekend and a great bit of opportunistic driving in the final race allowed him to score his best result in a long time and Handy Motorsport’s best-ever position. 8/10
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Ingram)
Another solid weekend for Ingram although there were no podiums this time out. 8/10
Notable mentions: The drivers who expect to be at the front were generally there this weekend, so my notable mentions from Snetterton go to the recovery truck drivers, marshals and medical staff. Well done for clearing the cars and debris away as quickly as possible and for checking that the drivers (and cameraman) were fine. We salute you!
Next up: Knockhill, 14th August.