Despite only starting at the beginning of August, the latest rounds of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton were the mid-event of the season and the results brought significant changes to the look of the championship.
Qualifying saw Dan Cammish extend his free practice dominance to take his first pole position of the season with Tom Ingram second and Matt Neal third. Six of the seven Honda cars on the grid, be it old or new shape, filled spots in the top ten showing the dominance of the short wheelbase front wheel drive cars at the track. The leading championship duo of Colin Turkington and Ash Sutton were 8th and 11th in their long wheelbase rear wheel drive motors.
Cammish made a poor start as the lights went out for the opening race, which allowed Ingram into the lead. Sutton was soon behind Turkington and the pair tried to make progress. However, on lap 7, it was apparent that Turkington had an issue, which turned out to be a misfire and he pulled into the pits. Although Team BMW managed to fix the problem, Turkington finished the race well down the grid in 24th. Meanwhile, Sutton finished 5th as he took the lead of the championship.
At the very front, Ingram held off Cammish’s challenge which intensified as the race went on. But, in truth, very little happened in the race and Neal, eight seconds further back, completed the podium positions after holding off Adam Morgan. One strange incident saw Andy Neate tap the back of Carl Boardley, before then seemingly ramming him. It turned out that the stewards took a dim view of Neate’s weekend actions as they later disqualified him from the whole meeting.
The second race was no better in terms of action and drama. Another poor start from Cammish allowed Neal through for 2nd, although he soon moved over for his teammate to continue his examination of the back of Ingram’s Toyota from race one. Morgan ran well in 4th and the top six would have been identical to the opening race had Morgan not suffered a plume of smoke in the later laps. Turkington tried his best to gain as many places as he could, moving up eleven spots to finish 13th, but the victory, once again, belonged to Ingram.
The reverse grid race brought ever so slightly more excitement and drama, especially in the early laps as the cars settled down. At the front, pole sitter Josh Cook was followed off the line by teammate Tom Chilton and the duo controlled the pace for the entire race as they brought home a 1-2 finish for BTC Racing. Rory Butcher took 3rd after a great battle to defend the position from Sutton and Ingram and similarly, Neal took 7th after more defensive driving to deny Crees and Turkington through.
The final race saw Sutton once again finish 4th in what was a superb day for him on a track that didn’t favour his car and Turkington finished 8th. As a result, Sutton is now the championship leader with a gap of 16 points. Ingram’s victories have pushed him up to 3rd, a further 16 points behind Turkington, with Butcher and Cammish in hot pursuit.
While the championship now appears to have five serious contenders, Sutton is still the man to beat. Even in the last couple of rounds, while Turkington has still been in the lead at the end of the day, Sutton has been closing the gap slowly but surely and when Turkington has had a problem, albeit not his fault, Sutton has capitalised. It sounds daft to say that Turkington could have blown his chance to be a five time BTCC champion with just a 16 point gap, but not only does Sutton have the points advantage, he has the momentum and seemingly the better car at the moment.
With the Infiniti and BMW being so closely matched, there isn’t even the chance of Turkington doing well at Croft, for example, as Sutton’s tools will be just as good. If Sutton changes his style to be a bit more conservative, a bit more Turkington-like, then it would seem that only a problem in race one of a weekend will stop him becoming champion again. For Turkington, not only may he struggle to catch Sutton, he might be lucky to hold on to second spot given the form of Ingram and Cammish too.
However, having said that, this is the BTCC. Anything can happen. For the sake of the championship and the remaining four rounds, let’s hope it does.
Race One: 3.5/10 (0.5 for Andy Neate’s tomfoolery)
Race Two: 3.5/10
Race Three: 4.5/10
Overall: 11.5/30. One of the poorest BTCC weekends in a very long time. Processional and little drama.
|Ashley Sutton||209 points|