Snetterton played host to the latest rounds of the BTCC and the 60thanniversary celebrations, as the series returned after the summer break. A day of mixed weather conditions certainly contributed to a set of quirky races that provided the best action of the season so far. In addition, there was also a new championship leader and the end of the weekend, but who did Colin Turkington hand the baton to?
A dry qualifying session on Saturday saw Jack Goff take pole for Sunday’s opening race from Dan Cammish and Matt Simpson. Turkington struggled in his BMW and could only manage 15th, while his closest rival, Tom Ingram, qualified 5th.
Race one was played out in windy and rainy conditions as the day started with an incident packed first lap. The top three got away initially got away well, before the conditions caught out Simpson. Defending champion, and dominator of proceedings at Croft last time out, Ash Sutton, made an amazing start from 9th to 4th, and then 2nd. Jason Plato was a casualty on the narrow start line, but managed to continue, while there was no such luck for Rob Collard.
Ingram found himself being mugged on the outside line of the opening lap, but on lap 3 disaster struck for the championship contender; an alternator issue forced his retirement. Turkington, however, was stuck behind Matt Neal for the entire race and couldn’t find a way by for love nor money. Tom Chilton eventually managed to overtake both of them after a great battle as they finished 13th, 14th and 15th as Turkington failed to capitalise on Ingram’s misfortune.
The BTC Norlin pair of Chris Smiley and Dan Lloyd both made superb progress from their starting positions and were involved in some good battles throughout the field. At the front, Goff had looked very comfortable in the lead with a gap worth a couple of seconds, but on lap 7 Sutton started to close and within a couple of laps, Sutton was on the back of Goff which led to a fantastic finish.
Sutton was all over Goff on the penultimate lap and as the final lap started it seemed inevitable that Sutton would win, especially as Goff was sliding out of the corners. Sutton did eventually out-drag Goff on the outside line and was ahead exiting the final corner, but Goff somehow managed to claw back the difference on the run to the line to win by 0.152s. An amazing final lap, to complement what had been an entertaining race. Race rating: 8/10
Race two provided drama before it even started. The rain had mostly stopped and the track was starting to dry, despite a few spots of rain. As a result, it made for a hard tyre choice and Goff missed the pit-lane exit time as he debated which tyres to go for. He was joined for a pit-lane start by a couple of others too.
Sutton and Dan Cammish, 3rd in the first race, started well as Rob Austin made a great start, although he then was outmuscled by Josh Cook. However, the big news from the opening lap was the downfall of Turkington who, for what seems like as ever, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Contact between Brett Smith and Lloyd sent the latter into Turkington’s rear end leaving him with broken rear suspension. Although it was repaired for a few laps of testing, Turkington was pointless from the race, while rival Ingram produced an amazing drive, albeit with much luck falling his way.
Ingram started 27th, but found himself in 12th by the end of the opening lap. Of course, some outstanding driving had to happen, but he was helped by the conditions of the track as well as the train of pit-lane starters leaving some sizeable gaps on the grid. By lap 5, he was 7th and stayed around there until the later stages of the race. A safety car to recover Collard’s rather damaged car from the barriers after contact, meant that Ingram had the chance to catch up with those in front of him. He duly took his new opportunity and gained more positions in the final laps, which included out-dragging Cammish to the finish line to secure a highly unlikely podium after starting so far back. It was a real sting for Turkington who hadn’t made the most of Ingram’s no score in the first race.
The race saw some brilliant battles throughout the field, with one highlight being between Austin, Sam Tordoff and Tom Oliphant for 5th in the early stages, although Austin ultimately suffered terminal damage. Cook eventually got the better of Smiley for 3rd, but things were to still improve for the Astra driver. After swapping places back with Cammish for passing under the safety car, Cook was able to retake the position with a couple of laps to go and set after Sutton who had look in complete control.
In a copy of the first race, the leader was put under immense pressure from the challenger, but ultimately the leader won, although this time Cook was never ahead. It was undoubtedly one of the best races of the season for entertainment and tension. Race rating: 9/10
Diamond Double, race three: The 60-mile, no ballast, double pointer anniversary race was special enough to warrant its own qualifying session. That didn’t matter to Goff who secured pole once again, with Neal, Chilton and Ingram completing the front two rows with Turkington in 8th.
As Ingram made a position off the line, Turkington dropped back into the pack at the start. The form man from Croft onwards, Sutton, ended up making two early trips to the pits; one for an issue and one for a 30-second stop/go penalty for not having his wheels on in time. Despite an early safety car following Oliphant’s trip to the barriers, it was too much of an ask for him to score any serious points that really could have put the cat amongst the pigeons championship wise.
Goff controlled the early pace well and had a reasonable lead to Neal, before Neal started to close the gap around a third of the way into the race. A splash of rain at the top end of the circuit caught Goff out and allowed Neal through and Ingram to catch up. Despite the leading trio being within about a second of each other for the entire race, the positions didn’t change, but the tension of whether anyone would risk losing their double points for an extra position was intriguing. Ingram did apply late pressure to Goff, but to no avail.
Like the previous races, there were great battles throughout the field and one these involved Turkington for 6th. Despite having a battered front end, Turkington was in a real fight with Smiley, Cook and Senna Proctor for the second half of the race and it finally came to a head when Turkington tried to take the position, but lost out on the grass to Proctor. However, a lap later, contact between Smiley and Proctor allowed Turkington through. 6thwouldn’t have been the result he wanted, but it was better than nothing. Race rating: 8/10
Whatever your opinion of Matt Neal, it seemed fitting that the most experienced driver on the grid, with well over 600 race starts, won the anniversary race. He’ll have had easier wins than the one at Snetterton, but he won’t have ever scored double points for a victory before. The anniversary race was a great spectacle that didn’t fail to disappoint, but you do wonder if there would have been more of a battle between the top three had double points not been on offer.
Ingram’s charged to the top of the standings as a result of his double points for 3rd in the anniversary race, in addition to his previous podium for a stunning drive in the second race. Neal and Goff are also in real contention following their efforts as Turkington had a poor weekend.
Although Cook and Andrew Jordan are ahead of Sutton in the standings, it does very much seem as though the momentum is currently with the Subaru driver. No-one expected him to go well at Croft after the disaster of Oulton Park, but a massive haul of points in the North East, which was added to in Norfolk, has made him an unlikely contender to retain his title. Although, he wasn’t as far behind last year, he did make a late charge to secure the title. Surely lightning won’t strike twice in consecutive seasons?
Rockingham is next up, possibly for the last time ever, and it’s unlikely to bring a set of such brilliant races as witnessed at Snetterton. Who said they didn’t like rain? The weather certainly contributed to the drama and excitement, as well as the anniversary celebrations themselves. Will Ingram extend his lead? Will Turkington regain the lead? Will Neal mount a serious championship challenge for the first time in seasons? Which Subaru will turn up – the good or bad one? We haven’t got to wait long to find out.
Championship standings after 18 races out of 30:
|1. Tom Ingram||189 points|
|2. Colin Turkington||183|
|3. Matt Neal||173|
|4. Jack Goff||172|
|5. Josh Cook||157|
|6. Andrew Jordan||157|