The annual trip to Scotland produced three entertaining races, helped by more incidents of dubious driving standards. The series left Knockhill with a new leader at the top of the standings, but what else did we learn?
Colin Turkington now leads the way following a hat-trick of thirds from Ash Sutton, while the former leader, Gordon Shedden, sits third and twelve points off top. Saturday’s qualifying saw a Subaru 1-2 with Jason Plato finally producing what we’ve come to expect of him, just ahead of the championship charging Sutton.
Plato duly converted his 50th pole position into a 96th BTCC victory and incredibly his first since the opening race at Knockhill twelve months ago. Although Sutton raced hard, and after a failed switch to try to gain an extra point for leading a lap, this race deservedly belonged to Plato. Their challengers, Turkington and Rob Collard, were a small gap behind the top two, but miles ahead of the rest of the field, which were headed by James Cole, who achieved a career best hat-trick of fifths over the weekend.
The Subaru dominance continued in the second race, although the drivers switched finishing positions, further enhancing Sutton’s title credentials, while the three behind remained the same as before. The main talking point of the second race came within the first twenty seconds as a large crash, triggered by Andrew Jordan, wiped out several drivers. Jordan out-braked himself which meant he rammed Matt Neal, who in turn went into Senna Proctor who then collected Jordan. A few others had to take evasive action and ended up in the gravel trap, ruining their races too.
It was good to see Jordan admit his mistake afterwards, although it didn’t save him from a hefty fine and penalty points on his licence. Jordan has never shown championship form since winning the title in 2013 and this was a poor mistake. A championship challenge isn’t helped by moving teams each year, but he just doesn’t look as formidable as he was once.
However, the Subarus at Knockhill certainly looked formidable. In the second race, all four were inside the top seven – quite incredible. Just why did they go so well? Sutton’s looked great all season, but the other three have been nowhere to be seen. In Scotland, real wheel drive power was a huge advantage as the top five in the first two races were all powered from the rear. But then, why weren’t the BMWs seriously challenging? This could be down to the Subarus’ boxer engine which allows for a better centre of gravity and on a circuit such as Knockhill, this extra edge could well have been the difference.
Although Josh Price’s Subaru finished seventh in the second race, a misdemeanour under yellow flags, and not for pushing Neal off the track although the latter did angle into him, meant that he was disqualified from the second race result. This was therefore a shame for debutant Rory Butcher who was drawn on pole for the third race, but a front row start would still have been welcome.
Early season championship leader, Tom Ingram, who finished eighth in the second race, soon took the lead of the race and sped off into the distance. By lap 17, he held an impressive nine second lead until that was ruined by two quick safety car periods, the first of which was incredibly dubious to move Ollie Jackson’s conked out Audi.
Before that, Shedden carved his way through the field and held second, before the BMWs of Collard and Turkington challenged him. Shedden’s teammate, Neal, made swarms of positions after starting towards the rear. It’s hard to follow the Honda argument that they are so hard done by the rules and regulations, when they finish second and eighth. Of course, Neal had no weight, but even so. Let’s not forget that Alan Gow’s team penalised the Subarus mid-meeting last time out at Snetterton with yet another boost cap. It’s hardly all against the Hondas, is it?
Shedden nearly lost second to Collard, but a bent panel or two later from the front end of the Honda towards the BMW meant that it wasn’t to be for Collard, who actually lost out in the battle to teammate Turkington. Things were to get worse for Collard, as he overcooked the second re-start, eventually finishing eleventh. Ingram dealt superbly with the interruptions and impressive re-starts meant that he held on to win his first race since mid-April at Donington.
For Ingram though, a championship challenge seems seriously unlikely, given that he is 61 points behind Turkington and the form of the other three ahead of him. As stated after Snetterton, Sutton’s the man to watch. He may not be leading the championship, but he’s now closed the gap at the top to just four points and he has the superior wins record at this stage, should it come to a tie. What’s more, is that now Plato has finally found his pace, he will act as the perfect support to Sutton, as was seen to some extent at Knockhill.
Although they failed in their attempts to give Sutton an extra point and Plato closed on Sutton at the end of the second race, he was never going to put Sutton’s position in danger. The interviews afterwards were, of course, towing the corporate line and rightly so. As the season heads into the final nine races, Plato will only support Sutton more, but will lead BMW Turkington get the same support from Collard? No. Collard is only seventeen points behind and a DNF for Turkington and a race win for Collard would switch the positions. BMW will also want a driver to win so to have two competing at this stage is vital. Shedden will always be backed by Neal as the Hondas are the most corporate ‘tow-the-line’ team of all.
What will happen next? Nobody knows, but Rockingham is a fast track that’s also very abrasive. That will probably favour the Subarus again, but no doubt their boost will be capped further to appease the continually complaining Honda duo, who believe that they are not fast enough in a straight line. Strangely though, most people agree that Honda have one of the best, if not the best, chassis. Swings and roundabouts? We’ll see.
Championship standings after 21 races out of 30:
|1. Colin Turkington||265 points|
|2. Ash Sutton||261|
|3. Gordon Shedden||253|
|4. Rob Collard||248|
|5. Tom Ingram||204|
|6. Matt Neal||172|