After a weekend off, the BTCC returned with the first meeting of another double-header as the series tries to catch up from the effects of COVID-19. Oulton Park, like the meetings before, produced three different winners and two officially wet races for the first time this season. Rain normally equals excitement, but then this is a notoriously poor track for BTCC action, so which one won out?
Rory Butcher secured a second successive pole position on Saturday and was followed by Josh Cook and championship leader, Colin Turkington.
The opening race was somewhat delayed by Carl Boardley struggling with the rainy conditions on the formation lap and his resultant crash that required significant work to the barriers. However, once the race started, Butcher got away from the line well, holding off Turkington as Cook slipped backwards. Cook soon made progress and was clearly quick and following a short safety car interlude, he made his move for the lead with an outstanding move down Cascades. Credit must go to Butcher too who tried his best to fairly defend.
Cook scampered off into the distance while Turkington, and teammate Tom Oliphant, seemed to struggle in the wet conditions as their BMWs slipped backwards. The final third of the race was relatively stagnant as the race petered out.
Drama followed post-race, as Cook’s winning Honda Civic failed the ride height test, which meant the victory was inherited by Butcher with Dan Cammish and Jake Hill completing the podium celebrations.
The second race of the day saw Matt Neal celebrate his 700th race, which is an outstanding achievement. I’m sure it’s something even he didn’t think was possible when he lined-up on the grid at Silverstone in 1991. Neal had a good race, coming from the back of the grid to finish 13th.
Meanwhile, at the front, Butcher made another good start, as did Ash Sutton who had a relatively quiet opening race as he soon made his way up to fourth in the opening laps. The leading quartet were close and as Turkington made a move on Cammish for second, he was blocked and Sutton nipped through to take them both on the same lap.
Sutton soon caught Butcher at over a second a lap at one point and then easily overtook him as he raced off into the distance to claim his second victory of the season. After a dull mid-section of the race, Cammish defended his third place with all his might before eventually Turkington’s pressure forced an error out of him at Island Bend.
It was interesting to see that as the sun came out and the track started to dry, there was a clear cross over between the benefits of front and rear wheel drive. While the front wheel drives had performed better in the wet conditions, they had used up their grip and as the track dried, the rear wheel drive cars came into their own.
A note-worthy point from the race was the collision of two of the BTC Norlin cars as the out of luck Cook was tapped by his teammate, Michael Crees, after a three-car sandwich heading towards Hislop’s. A racing incident, but no doubt plenty of fruity discussion in the garage afterwards!
Adam Morgan was promoted to pole for the reverse grid race after finishing ninth in race two. Oliphant made an excellent start from the third row to be second while Crees and Neal had similar spins at the end of Cascades in consecutive laps.
Turkington and Sutton made good progress and Turkington was soon on the back of Oliphant and after Oliphant’s unsuccessful attempts to pass Morgan, was ordered to move over to allow Turkington an opportunity. As Turkington closed in and looked set to make the overtake, the safety car was called for after a spin for Stephen Jelley that saw Nic Hamilton and Ollie Brown also collected. The damage to the barriers was significant, resulting in the race being red-flagged and Morgan taking his first victory since Rockingham in 2018.
At the end of the meeting, Turkington and Sutton had pretty much gone step to step throughout the day and Turkington’s championship lead is now 19 points. After a good meeting for Butcher, he is now 41 points behind Turkington, but looks in great form. If it wasn’t for bad luck at Brands Hatch, he would be much closer, albeit he would have had more success ballast coming into the meeting.
It’s hard to imagine WSR would allow Oliphant to mount a serious challenge to Turkington, but no doubt he will continue plugging away, similar to Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Oliphant has been one of the most improved drivers this season compared to last season and it will be interesting to see how he develops. But, for now, Turkington’s main rival has to be Sutton and it is certainly going to be a close battle between the two as the season develops.
Race One: 6/10
Race Two: 7/10
Race Three: 5/10