The second round of the season came hot on the heels of Donington Park, with just a week between meetings as part of the bumper start to the season. There were several bad luck stories to be had at Brands Hatch, while reigning champion, Colin Turkington, extended his lead at the top of the table in his formidable BMW.
Despite Jake Hill setting impressive times in both practice sessions, it was Rory Butcher who took pole position from Dan Cammish on Saturday.
The leading duo made good starts to retain position in the opening race, with Turkington zooming to third. Despite some intense mid-race pressure from Cammish, Butcher held on to the lead until the safety car came out on lap 12 to recover Matt Neal’s gravel-stricken car following contact with Aiden Moffat.
However, as soon as the racing re-started, a puncture for Butcher ended his hopes of a victory, with Cammish taking the honours from Turkington. The speedy looking Ash Sutton at Donington also made good progress after a poor 14th in qualifying to finish 6th.
Cammish bogged down badly at the start of the second race and lost several places. Turkington took full advantage as he raced into the lead to be chased by Tom Ingram. There was a momentary release for Turkington as the day’s second safety car, for an incident between Bobby Thompson and Michael Crees, allowed him some breathing space.
As a fan, it was great to see some finger pointing and shoulder shrugging between the pair following their crash. Not often do we get to see that real passion now.
Following the re-start, Turkington found himself under heavy pressure from both Ingram and Cammish but held on well before edging out a gap to claim victory. Disaster struck for Cammish with a couple of laps remaining as a power steering issue forced him to pull over. Incredibly, after starting 25th, Butcher showed true pace and craftmanship to finish fourth.
With thanks to ITV for the statistic, it was incredibly the first time since Snetterton 2015 and 137 races since a Honda did not finish in the points. What a run, but somewhat helped by the number of Hondas in the championship.
Astonishingly, for the second week running, Turkington pulled out ball 12 for the reverse grid draw, relegating himself the maximum number of positions possible. Moffat was the man to lead the pack away from the line, but after a spin from Jack Goff, the resulting avoiding action from several drivers meant cars were everywhere. Ingram was a particularly unlucky casualty from the incident.
Shortly after, Tom Oliphant took the lead and was then under intense pressure for the majority of the race from Sutton in second and Butcher in third. It seemed like a matter of time before Sutton made his move, but Oliphant just had enough speed on the straights to pull himself clear.
Unbelievably towards the end of the race, Butcher suffered his second puncture of the day, which in turn promoted Stephen Jelley to the podium. However, Oliphant crossed the line first to secure his maiden BTCC victory. It was, once again, a strong race from Turkington to finish fifth to leave the race meeting with a healthy lead.
He holds a 16-point gap over Sutton, who once again impressed in the Q50, while Oliphant is a further 9 points back. Without doubt, the championship would look very different at this early stage if Butcher hadn’t suffered two punctures whilst running in the top three. Cammish also had a DNF in the final race to compound his earlier problems and he too will feel aggrieved that he doesn’t have more points.
Turkington and Sutton certainly benefitted from the misfortune of others, but with 23 races still remaining, there is a long way to go and Turkington and Sutton will suffer their own issues at some point.
It seems obvious, but from the early parts of the season, in which incredibly everybody has already scored a point, the championship top six have clearly set the pace. It is little surprise to see Turkington at the top of the standings as a four time reigning champion, but the pace of Sutton and Butcher has certainly been impressive and they will be ones to watch as the season progresses along with Cammish and Ingram.
Race One: 7/10
Race Two: 7.5/10
Race Three: 6.5/10 (tense race)