The British Touring Car Championship finally got underway after a several month delay with the first of four meetings in five weeks, starting unusually, in recent times, at Donington Park. There was no lack of action with three different winners across the day.
Reigning champion, Colin Turkington, seemed to have no problem in becoming reaccustomed with his BMW as he took first in both practice sessions and qualifying, with last season’s equal runner-up, Dan Cammish, second and Ash Sutton third. The trio of drivers turned out to be the day’s winners taking a victory each and leading the points table at the end of the day.
The opening race saw Turkington get away well, but perhaps with some unease of light rain, didn’t seem quite on the pace and was soon under pressure from Cammish and Sutton. As Sutton made the move on Turkington, there was slight contact allowing Cammish through, but as Tom Ingram rear-ended Turkington, he careered into Sutton and sent him spinning. Sutton eventually recovered to finish 14th, with the help of a safety car – the first of two caused by Nic Hamilton in the day’s three races. Despite late pressure, Cammish claimed the honour of winning the season opener with Turkington second and Rory Butcher third.
However, in the second race of the day, Turkington brought his earlier weekend dominance to the fore with an easy victory, despite carry 54 kilograms of success ballast, after racing away from the start line ahead of Cammish. The Honda man’s ballast didn’t help him as he finished sixth, but Butcher gained a further place, this time finishing second and Turkington’s teammate, Tom Oliphant, third. Sutton once again made use of a safety car to help him finish fifth.
As a result of the reverse grid draw, in which Turkington picked the biggest mix-up possible, Sutton started eighth, but drove through the field like a hot knife through butter to take victory.
Can Sutton mount a title challenge in an Infiniti Q50, a car that is no longer sold in the UK? Well, on his showing at Donington, most certainly. He has a knack of dragging the best out of a car. Sutton’s teammate was nowhere to be seen, yet Sutton was right at the front all weekend – similar to how he was streets ahead of Jason Plato in the Subaru. His constant on the very limit, elbows out racing style may not be as elegant as someone like Turkington’s, but it sure is effective. Sutton seems to have an instinctive eye for a move and very rarely does he fail to take the opportunity. However, he must make sure he races legally, as he had track times deleted in qualifying and was also warned during the races over track limits.
Turkington, meanwhile, continued where he left off from last season with a fairly dominant display and leads the championship after the three races. A potential worry for Turkington though, is that Team BMW seemed content to let Oliphant stay ahead of Turkington in the final race with the pair 9th and 10th. At Honda, for example, it would appear that Cammish is their main hope and Matt Neal will do anything to protect his teammate. Should Team BMW protect Turkington or let them race fairly? Maybe, now is not the time to decide yet, but it may be something to consider in the future.
It would be unfair to let Donington’s meeting pass without a mention for Butcher in the Motorbase Ford Focus. Two creditable podiums were a great reward for Butcher on his return to Motorbase and in a new car, he is going very well. Could he be a championship contender? On this form, most definitely.
The Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch will provide a different set of challenges, but after six races, we’ll have a much clearer picture of this season’s main contenders.
Race One: 6.5/10
Race Two: 6/10
Race Three: 7/10
Overall: 19.5/30 (Perhaps a tad generous, but it has been months since the last race!)