With news that the Rockingham circuit will be turned into car storage, what happened at the last ever BTCC rounds to take place there? ESM’s correspondent was there.
The British Touring Car Championship rolled up at Rockingham Motor Speedway for most probably the last time, after the circuit’s change of ownership, for the latest rounds of action. Like at Snetterton last time out, the weather would play a helpful role in the events of the day.
Adam Morgan has become something of a championship stalwart, but unbelievably he had never even had an outright front row start in six years of competing, until now. Morgan secured pole on Saturday as nearly the whole field was covered by less than a second. Consistent qualifier throughout the season, Sam Tordoff, was second with Dan Cammish third, Mike Bushell an impressive fourth and the BTC Norlin duo of Dan Lloyd and Chris Smiley rounded out the top six. The main championship protagonists, Tom Ingram and Colin Turkington, were 13thand 12threspectively.
Race one: Morgan and Tordoff got away well, but drama ensued at Deene Hairpin, the first braking zone of the lap, as Cammish out-braked himself after trying to make up for a poor start. He hit the rear of Tordoff and turned him around and as the rest of the field tried to filter through, there was often nowhere for cars to go and chaos reigned. Unsurprisingly, the safety car was called for and, at the same time, drizzle started to fall.
After the re-start, Jason Plato, who’d qualified well, went wide and aided by a tap from Smiley found himself on the grass to ruin this and his next race. His teammate, Ash Sutton, found himself in third following the dramas, with Tom Chilton up to second. Although Chilton initially started to catch Morgan, it was Chilton who needed to defend for the next section of the race, before Sutton made his move stick, as Morgan raced off to victory.
Behind the final podium trio, Smiley and Cammish were involved in a good battle, as were Ingram and Turkington. For nearly the whole race, Turkington was attached to Ingram’s bumper, with Bushell in the mix too, but couldn’t find a way by. That was until the final lap, when Ingram’s throttle gave up on him, leaving him stranded and Turkington to finish seventh and gain vital ground in the championship. Race rating: 6/10
Race two: During the lunch break and pit lane walkabout, the heavens opened and delivered a heavy spell of rain, but at the start of race two it was just about dry enough for the majority to use slicks, although the track was to prove slippery. Sutton used his rear wheel drive to power off the line and into the lead, but again drama at the Deene Hairpin brought out the safety car for a few laps. Like at Snetterton when Ingram had been forced to retire in the opening race, he made another great start in race two.
A lap of racing brought Smiley close to Turkington in fourth, Matt Simpson make contact with Rory Butcher, but a damaged Michael Caine in the world’s smallest gravel trap brought out another safety car, again helping Ingram in his quest to move forward. After the next re-start, Ingram found himself tenth and from there on he repeated his mission of Snetterton and battled through the pack to amazingly finish third. Who said lightening didn’t strike twice? Both times Ingram started 27th in race two after retiring from race one, was aided by the safety car, produced a stunning drive and finished third. Championship winning drives? Possibly. If he does win the championship, these two drives will have been key.
Towards the end of the race, Bushell in third was clearly holding up Senna Proctor, Turkington and Ingram, but eventually after a good move from Proctor, Bushell was forced wide which let the others through. However, the drama wasn’t finished for Proctor as on the final few laps, under pressure from Ingram, he ran wide at the final corner twice which allowed Ingram through, but not Turkington.
Meanwhile at the front, it was an easy victory for Sutton who’d raced off into the distance, with Morgan over four seconds behind. Race rating:6.5/10
Race three: More drops of rain appeared for race three, although again, not enough to make it a wet race. Following a twice delayed start after Ricky Collard broke down on the green flag lap, pole sitter Chilton made a great start. However, a damp and greasy track with cold tyres resulted in not only Chilton spinning at Deene Hairpin, but several others behind him too. Through the melee, Smiley, Butcher and Simpson emerged as the top three with Turkington and Morgan in hot pursuit. By the end of the lap, Butcher had tried for the lead, Morgan was third, Chilton had suffered terminal damage after being hit by Simpson and Andrew Jordan and Jordan had also had an excursion off the track. Not a bad first lap!
The second lap brought out the safety car to recover more stricken vehicles, as Simpson and Turkington moved ahead of Morgan and Butcher briefly led, but gave the place back as he’d passed just after the safety car boards came out. As soon as the safety car returned to the pits, Butcher was all over Smiley for the lead, but it soon turned into him unsuccessfully defending from Simpson and Turkington. The following laps saw a great battle between Turkington and Tordoff, with Turkington somehow managing to hold on to third.
Plato and Bobby Thompson both started well down the field, but they both produced Ingram-esque drives through the field to finish eleventh and seventh respectively.
In the final laps, Turkington closed down a three second gap to Simpson to be all over his rear bumper on the final lap. Under immense pressure, Simpson out-braked himself on the penultimate corner, allowing Turkington through to second. However, this set up a fantastic race for the line to secure the final podium position between Simpson, Tordoff and Ingram, with Simpson just securing it by 0.03 of a second. Meanwhile, there was great delight for Smiley who won his first BTCC race. Race rating: 7/10
What does all this mean for the championship? Turkington has managed to turn a six point deficit into a four point lead over Ingram, but it’s still as close as ever. You would suggest the championship ballast will have a major impact on their qualifying times at Knockhill, with it being such a short lap. As a result, being in the middle of the pack can be a dangerous place to be on a short and narrow track.
Turkington has still only won one race this season, at Oulton Park, while Ingram hasn’t won now for sixteen races since Donington. Consistency is proving vital to their challenges, but another couple of wins could prove decisive.
The man in third, Sutton, has produced an astonishing fightback to defend his title and now sits only 32 points behind Turkington after a run of four victories and two seconds in the last nine races. Who would have thought that after Oulton Park? Sutton is now a real contender and both Turkington and Ingram will need to up their game should they wish to defend his advances. We’re set for a fascinating final three rounds of the season.
Championship standings after 21 races out of 30:
|1. Colin Turkington||220 points|
|2. Tom Ingram||216|
|3. Ash Sutton||188|
|4. Jack Goff||176|
|5. Matt Neal||176|
|6. Adam Morgan||169|