BTCC 2017 | Croft – what did we learn? | Plus, exclusive photos |

Last weekend saw the British Touring Car Championship make the actual trip to the North East. EngageSportMode dispatched our BTCC Correspondent, ably assisted by Uncle Steve, to cover things on the ground as they happened. 

2017 BTCC Croft (C) BTCC

Shedden arrived at Croft leading the championship table (C) BTCC

On Sunday, BTCC fans woke to the worrying news of the injuries suffered by Luke Davenport, Jeff Smith and Aron Taylor-Smith after the horrifying crash in Saturday’s qualifying. With oil on a wet track, they were simply passengers as events unfolded. It has been a worrying time for the series and support races, as a whole, with some serious crashes in recent weeks. It’s strange to write about because this is something that we have not become accustomed to. It also shows the strength of the cars and the general safety of the series that when an event like this happens, we are so shocked, worried and surprised.

Ever since the eleven, or twelve depending on who you believe, car pile-up occurred on Saturday, I’ve been racking my brains to think of the last BTCC driver to suffer broken bones as a result of a crash. Yes, plenty have been hospitalised over the years, but to break a bone? The best I could come up with was Charlie Cox from 1995, but research suggests he suffered severe concussion rather than broken bones. I know Matt Neal drove towards the end of one of the recent seasons with a broken bone in his hand, but that wasn’t a result of a BTCC crash. Either way, the injuries suffered by Taylor-Smith (broken leg), Smith (multiple chest and shoulder injuries in addition to a broken arm) and Davenport (multiple chest injuries, lung damage, broken arm, leg and pelvis) are horrific, but thankfully rare. ESM would obviously like to send all three our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

With the traditional summer break now upon us, there is an outside chance that Taylor-Smith may be fit to race at Snetterton in seven weeks. However, you feel that it could well be the end of the season for Smith and Davenport.

Following the weekend’s action at Croft, the championship is starting to form a clearer picture. Astonishingly, championship leader, Gordon Shedden, suffered his worst result of the season in Race 15, a not so lowly ninth. However, of course he suffered a disqualification at Donington, a race that he had won. Eleven points behind him is Rob Collard who, given his past reputation, has surprisingly scored points in every single race this season and achieved a podium at each track. This new, steady approach from Collard is proving greatly effective and he will be hoping it continues for the rest of the season as he looks to win his first title. Behind Collard, are the two stars of Croft.

Colin Turkington, ‘The King of Croft’, is a point behind Collard and a further eight points behind is Ash Sutton, who is fast becoming ‘The Prince of Croft’. Sutton continued his excellent Oulton Park form by securing pole position in the truncated qualifying session and made an outstanding start to the opening race as the top six got away in order.

How Sutton defended from Turkington was simply outstanding, and this was on top of having the option tyre on. Race two was a carbon copy, but this time it was Turkington, who’d got the jump off the line, defending from Sutton. The pair conducted themselves in a brilliant manner with clean racing. It showed that it can be done – no names mentioned [cough, Honda, cough – Ed]. Although Turkington achieved a very acceptable sixth in the final race, Sutton continued his excellent form by finishing second after chasing down Mat Jackson and challenging him for victory.

In fifth, but now 28 points behind Sutton and 48 behind Shedden, is Tom Ingram. The last two events have been awful for the early season leader. An eighth place in the opening race was at least more than the single point he secured last time out, but still not enough for a championship challenge. Admittedly, the contact with Cook in the middle race was unfortunate, but weekend ruining. 48 points to Shedden is quite a gap, considering his form, and with the momentum currently with Turkington and Sutton combined with Collard’s consistency, it may well be that Ingram now struggles to impose himself on the title challenge.

Had Jackson’s Ford Focus been as effective at the previous tracks as it was a Croft, he would surely have been in the mix too. Croft was very much the arrival of the Fords and Subarus this season. Both Jackson and teammate Martin Depper achieved their best results of the season at Croft, with Jackson securing a double podium, including victory in the final race.

Although Sutton has been having a fantastic season in the Subaru, his teammates have struggled, but all four made the top 10 in qualifying. This was the form we had been expecting from them all season. Despite this, James Cole and Josh Price didn’t earn any points, but their showing was certainly better and deserving of points. Jason Plato, however, finally had a weekend that we know he is capable of with three top 10 finishes, including a season’s best, third.

As we now go into a seven week break, Plato will be hoping that Subaru finally solve the issues he has been having since the crash at Brands Hatch on the opening weekend. It appears that the team are nearly there, but still have tweaks to make with his car. I can’t imagine Sutton will want much on his car to be altered though!

When it comes to Snetterton, let’s hope that we have received positive news about the injured drivers from Croft, especially Davenport and Smith, who remain in hospital at the current time. Let’s also hope that the action at the front of the grid is as intense and clean as it was this weekend.

Championship standings after 15 races out of 30:

1. Gordon Shedden 188 points
2. Rob Collard 177
3. Colin Turkington 176
4. Ash Sutton 168
5. Tom Ingram 140
6. Matt Neal 135

Editor’s Note:
Today, (14/06/2017) we have had an update on Luke Davenport’s condition. Motorbase Performance have confirmed that he remains in the ICU at James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough, and has undergone a number of operations to treat his extensive injuries. Motorbase have also confirmed that, thankfully, Luke does not have signs of any injury to his head, neck or spine. The current plans are to bring Luke out of his induced coma later this week. As noted, at ESM we hope for a quick recovery for Luke and all those who suffered injuries at Croft, and also pay tribute to the excellent work of the marshals, medical team, and others involved.

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