One thing missing at Donington was the mixed weather conditions from Brands, not that reigning champion Colin Turkington will have cared as he started his title defence in earnest.
The new BMW 3-Series showed signs of real promise last time out, especially under Andrew Jordan’s tutelage. However, it was Turkington who took pole on Saturday, on a drying track with several red flags, with championship leader, Josh Cook, second and Ash Sutton third.
In race one, Turkington made an excellent start as Sutton passed Cook for second. Any hopes of Sutton taking the lead were soon dealt a blow when the safety car was called for following a major crash just after the Old Hairpin. Jordan was tapped by Rob Collard, which sent Jordan sideways and at the mercy of the remainder of the field. While many did well to avoid him, Adam Morgan had no such luck and smashed heavily into Jordan’s side, with Stephen Jelley adding a further blow. Other cars were also caught up in the melee, with some being terminally damaged, although some were able to continue.
After a long safety car period, Turkington made an excellent restart, but he couldn’t escape for long as there was soon another period of safety after Nic Hamilton crunched the front end of his Ford Focus on the start of the pit wall. Turkington, once again, made a great restart and scampered off into the distance to secure victory.
Behind him, a Sam Tordoff error at the final chicane cost him the chance of a podium, with Tom Oliphant the grateful recipient of third. Matt Neal, in fourth, drove well to keep Tom Ingram, Dan Cammish and Chris Smiley behind him for several laps, but this race belonged to Turkington. Race rating: 7.5/10
Race two: Turkington, once again, got away well from the line and was followed into the first corner by teammate Oliphant, although Sutton soon regained second before the end of the lap. The top two didn’t have long to make a break for it as Mark Blundell got it all wrong at the end of the lap and wiped out Sam Osborne and although he escaped the gravel trap, Blundell did not. The safety car was out for several laps, but Turkington, now a master at restarts, produced another great effort while the drama continued behind him – most notably for Tordoff as he was sent sideways down the hill after contact with Jason Plato.
Oliphant and Neal tried to hunt down Sutton, but an ‘elbows out’ manoeuvre from Neal left Oliphant hurtling down the field. However, there was yet another safety car period, this time to recover Chris Smiley’s stricken Honda Civic. There was a short sprint to the finish in which Neal managed to overtake Sutton for second, although the latter did hold off Tom Chilton for a place on the podium. Turkington, incredibly, only won one race last season on his way to the title, but in the first two races at Donington he’d doubled that tally with still 25 races remaining. Race rating: 7.5/10
Race three: Ingram, backed by 4,500 Toyota workers, was drawn on pole position by birthday boy Steve Rider. Jake Hill, Cook and Collard lined-up behind him. Ingram got away well and a good start from Collard saw him jump Cook. However, the story of the day, the safety car, was back out again after a strange incident on lap 1 at the Craner Curves. Three out of the four Team HARD cars were involved in separate incidents. Carl Boardley and Michael Crees seemed to have identical issues as they slid off and into the barriers, while Jack Goff was collected by Hamilton after sliding in front of him.
Racing restarted again on lap 8 and Collard made the jump on Hill to take second a lap later. Ingram scampered off into the distance and while there were a couple of battles behind, there was nothing of serious note. Ingram’s win did at least provide some light relief for the Toyota staff from Burnaston, who are now facing unemployment. Race rating: 6/10
The flow of the weekend’s racing was certainly disrupted by so many safety cars, but this clearly can’t be predetermined and it was one of those things. Turkington managed to keep excellent concentration throughout these periods, allowing him to secure his two victories.
Although the season is only two race meetings old, the new BMW 3-Series really does seem to be the car to beat with it already securing half of the race victories on offer. Donington proved to be unfortunate for Jordan, following a strong performance at Brands Hatch, and it could be that the zero points scored from this meeting come back to haunt him later in the year.
At the end of the weekend, it’s interesting to note that the championship has a very familiar look about it. Five of the current top six finished last season also in the top six, with Rory Butcher being the exception. Could we be in for another similar, close battle? I’m sure we wouldn’t disagree to that!
After a sustained period of dubious driving standards, the series clamped down on the poor manoeuvres, but at Donington there were a few questionable incidents, with several drivers receiving verbal warnings or worse. Yes, we want to see exciting racing, but it also has to be fair from both the drivers and in the application of the rules. With the fastest track in the UK coming up next, Thruxton (part one), there will be little room for misjudgement as the consequences could be devastating. Will the BMW continue its early season dominance? Time will tell.
Championship standings after 6 races out of 30
|1. Ash Sutton||70 points|
|2. Josh Cook||67|
|3. Colin Turkington||65|
|4. Tom Chilton||65|
|5. Rory Butcher||64|
|6. Tom Ingram||58|