You certainly cannot accuse the 2017 British Touring Car Championship of being anything but controversial. Silverstone ratcheted the tension up even further, but is the BTCC reaching breaking point?
The latest rounds of the British Touring Car Championship certainly did not disappoint in the drama stakes. Everything is still very much to play for as we now head to Brands Hatch GP for the final rounds on the opening Sunday of October. At times, Silverstone seemed to descend into chaos, but at the end of it, the gap between the two title protagonists, Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington, hardly changed. Sutton started the day with a twelve point gap, but only conceded two points to Turkington. However, what else did we learn?
One of the main talking points from the weekend’s action proved to further focus on driving standards, or the lack of. So much so, it would appear to have hit a nerve with Series Director, Alan Gow, who felt the urge to speak out on Monday.
The opening race of the day saw Turkington start in eighth and Sutton tenth as the whole of the field was separated by an astonishing 0.886s during qualifying. The short lap obviously helped lower the gaps, but it also helped increase the action. Turkington battled his way through the field as Matt Neal, Mat Jackson, Dave Newsham and Ant Whorton-Eales did their best to halt his progress. Unfortunately, from Turkington’s point of view, Sutton did likewise and come the end of the much curtailed race, they were a place apart in fourth and fifth.
Who knows what would have happened had the race gone to full distance plus three extra safety car laps, but sense prevailed with a red flag eventually coming after the damage caused by a huge shunt involving Rob Collard. Having already seen Neal punt Jackson around in the race, the incident involving Collard appeared to be less clear cut. Aron Taylor-Smith appeared to lean on a rival amongst a group of cars, which in turn, resulted in Collard being touched and spat out on to the wet grass with an apparent lack of steering. Collard skittled across the grass and back on to the track, where he was hammered into by Will Burns and Andrew Jordan.
The damage to Collard’s BMW was massive. Luckily, the damage to Collard himself seemed to be less, but he wouldn’t compete for the rest of the day. Burns, took longer to be extricated from the car and it was because of this, the red flag came out. Jordan, although his car was damaged, managed to limp back to the pits before complaining about others’ “spatial awareness” on track. This did appear to be a racing incident with unfortunate consequences. A small lean would generally be classed as acceptable, but the trouble was this time a series of events followed that never could have been predicted. The stewards also issued no penalties for the incident, again backing up the racing incident line.
The shortened race itself saw Tom Ingram take victory from pole sitter Jack Goff, after a better start, with Adam Morgan finishing third.
In the second race, Jordan’s own “spatial awareness” caught him out as he appeared to be at fault for a collision with Stephen Jelley, but again the stewards took no further action. However, action was to be taken at the end of the race against Sutton following an incident with Turkington.
The Ulsterman is renowned for his smooth and calm driving style and for sometimes not risking it enough when perhaps he should. In the middle race of the day, Turkington showed a real determination that we don’t often see, as he held off what appeared to be a clearly quicker Morgan for about half the race before setting his sights on second placed Ingram as Goff scampered away in the lead. Similarly to the first race, Sutton followed Turkington in chasing down Ingram after overtaking Morgan.
It looked as though the final podium position was to be Turkington’s, despite Sutton looking much quicker than both Ingram and Turkington, but a final corner incident proved to be one of the day’s major talking points. It appeared that Sutton used the limits of the track to get up the inside of Turkington at the final corner and, with the slightest of nudges, forced the door open and claimed third. It would have appeared that Turkington just wasn’t strong enough to hold out, but a Team BMW appeal to the stewards was upheld, resulting in the positions being reversed back after the race thanks to a one-second time penalty. Unfortunately for Sutton, it was his third misdemeanour of the season and therefore an automatic back of the grid start for the final race. Naturally, Sutton’s Team BMR appealed that decision but to no avail.
It was a massive call from the stewards to penalise Sutton, but as fans we don’t always get to see all of the footage and we have to trust their judgements. However, it seems bonkers that on a weekend of genuine punts, pushes to pass and worse, Sutton’s perceived little incident is deemed worthy of a penalty and others were not. This is what baffles the fans and leads to Alan Gow speaking out. There is no consistency between the punishments, if given, to teams and drivers. We can’t just blame the drivers; we must also look at the authorities for answers after what appears to have been an appalling season for driving standards. It would seem that some teams and drivers have a bubble around them and for those on social media, it doesn’t take long to realise that the fans think that’s the Hondas.
Turkington’s joy at seeing rival Sutton at the back didn’t last for long though in what turned out to be a mad third race of the day. After getting away well, Turkington was seemingly tagged from behind and that sent him sideways and plummeting down the field. He finished the opening lap in 21st, but worse was to follow on the next lap. More poor driving from Josh Cook, for which he received a fifth penalty of the season, ended Jason Plato’s race and as he was turned around he was collected by Stephen Jelley. Unfortunately, for Turkington, he had nowhere to go and he smashed into the back of Jelley. He carried on, but needed a trip to the pits to repair the damage and ended up going a lap down, despite the safety car.
Turkington could only recover to finish 22nd, while Sutton moved from the back of the grid and up to 11th by the end. Any perceived advantage and momentum that Turkington had gained from Sutton’s penalty decision was wiped out within minutes and it was handed straight back to Sutton. What happens next at Brands Hatch is anyone’s guess.
The third race itself didn’t only bring dubious racing from Cook, but also from Matt Simpson as he punted Josh Price off during the safety car. Surprisingly, this Honda driver did end up with a penalty, but not for this, but for a collision with Jackson.
At the front, Rob Huff, who replaced the injured Tom Chilton, made a great start and took the lead from Newsham off the line. The pair raced well, but Newsham eventually fell back while Huff just about saw off a challenge from Ingram as he tried his best to overtake him on the grass, although Huff hardly gave him much racing room. It wasn’t to be for Huff though on his return to the series, as Neal charged to the front to secure victory with a lap remaining.
Although it was Neal’s second victory of the season, he’s nowhere near championship contention and although mathematically possible, it would take a miracle of the highest order for Shedden or Ingram to win it now. Who will win? Momentum, form and a ten point gap would suggest Sutton, but if Sutton were to suffer another penalty… One thing that’s for certain is that Turkington can’t afford any slip-ups as he tries to overturn the gap. Roll on, 1st October.
Championship standings after 27 races out of 30:
|1. Ash Sutton||338 points|
|2. Colin Turkington||328|
|3. Gordon Shedden||272|
|4. Tom Ingram||271|
|5. Rob Collard||256|
|6. Jack Goff||215|