The penultimate race meeting of the British Touring Car Championship season produced the perfect mix of drama, tension and entertainment to leave five drivers with a mathematical chance of winning the crown at Brands Hatch.
Looking ahead to Brands Hatch, the finale will probably be a contest between Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington. The latter couldn’t have had a better weekend at Snetterton if he’d tried, although Dan Cammish has an outside chance of the title should the other two suffer issues.
Unfortunately for Tom Ingram and Rory Butcher, who are now 34 and 63 points behind the leader respectively, with 67 points left to play for, their challenge realistically ended at Snetterton.
A two-part qualifying session on Saturday saw Turkington, who came into the event third in the championship, take pole during the second part – a top ten pole position shootout. The format was seemingly very well received by the teams and drivers and I wouldn’t bet against it being the norm in 2021.
Jake Hill joined Turkington on the front row, with Ingram and Butcher on the second and Sutton and Tom Oliphant on the third.
An earlier than normal opening race, at just after 10:30am, on a still slightly damp track, saw Turkington make a lightning start, although Ingram was soon on the back of him as he knew his best chance of taking the lead was while the BMW warmed up its tyres. However, Hill had other ideas as he started challenging Ingram too. It was certainly an entertaining first lap as several cars also suffered excursions off the circuit.
The top three started to edge out an advantage and Turkington set a couple of fastest laps in succession while Ingram and Hill battled it out. Hill eventually went for a move down the inside of Ingram and after a hefty panel bash, he was in front. Sensibly, to avoid later repercussions, he relinquished the place back to Ingram. Meanwhile, the championship top two at the start swapped positions as Sutton made his move on the inside of Cammish for 5th as the pair remained in those positions for the remainder of the race.
Towards the end, Turkington had a clear advantage, but the battle for second between Ingram, Hill and Butcher kept things interesting, although nothing changed. It was a much needed victory for Turkington after his disaster at Croft last time out as he moved to joint championship leader as a result.
In the second race of the day, Turkington once again made a great initial start, before having to defend from Ingram who had Butcher close on his bumper. Hill was swamped at the start, allowing Sutton to move up a place to 4th.
However, for the first third of the race, the top six were extremely close together as Turkington couldn’t edge out a gap. The closest battle was between second and third as Butcher was right on Ingram’s bumper. It felt as though something was brewing due to the close proximity of the cars and eventually a tap from Butcher allowed Ingram to get away as it actually delayed Butcher, who then had to defend from Sutton.
By just after half distance, Turkington had started to pull clear while second to fifth was extremely close and that was the way the race continued until the penultimate lap. Jack Goff dropped a wheel onto the wet grass which sent him spinning across the track and following a heavy collision with the barriers, his battered car needed recovering, resulting in a safety car.
After a couple of laps, Turkington made a superb re-start, dropping the pack for the final lap dash as he secured his second victory of the day. Behind him, Butcher hit into Ingram and there was drama at the final corner between Butcher, Hill and Cammish as the trio finished just outside of the podium that was completed by Ingram and Sutton.
Race three saw Chris Smiley promoted to pole after finishing 10th in race two, but he bogged down off the line allowing Adam Morgan, Ollie Jackson and Josh Cook through. Jackson was soon successfully challenging Morgan for the lead as Cook hit Cammish behind on an exasperating first lap.
Jackson started to pull a gap out to Morgan, who soon had Butcher keeping him honest and Sutton was doing the same to Smiley. On lap 5, there was a Sutton sandwich as he tried to make the move on Smiley, but at the same time he rubbed panels with Ingram down the straight. As the drama continued into the next lap, Cammish and Turkington both made the most of the situation as they overtook Sutton. Things were to get better for Turkington as Smiley ran wide, allowing him to move into 5th, but six seconds away from 4th.
Lap 7 saw Cammish punt Smiley off and his licence was endorsed with two penalty points post-race as the race started to have a brief calm point. With 3 laps to go, the leading trio of Jackson, Morgan and Butcher were incredibly close with Ingram just behind them too.
They continued like that until the final lap and while Jackson defended stoutly from Morgan to take his second BTCC victory in 7 races, having previously waited 224 for his first, there was drama for the final podium position.
At the very end of the final lap, Ingram had managed to get a better run on Butcher and was just ahead in third. A possible small rub on Butcher seemed to send him on to the grass and as Ingram turned the corner for the finish line, Butcher couldn’t stop and t-boned into Ingram’s car sending them both on to the grass. Turkington, who had slowly been closing the gap to the pair, took full advantage and crossed the line to take the final podium place. Butcher finished fifth, with a licence endorsement, and Ingram 8th.
At the end of a dramatic day, Turkington had jumped into the lead of the championship with a 9-point advantage over Sutton after starting the day third and 12 points behind the Infiniti driver. It was incredible effort from the Northern Irishman, and it was exactly what he needed if he wanted to go to Brands Hatch with any realistic chance of retaining his title. Astonishingly, at the end of race two, Turkington hadn’t dropped a single point during the meeting after claiming pole and two lights to flag victories with fastest laps. He went on to claim 60 out of a possible 67 points during the meeting, although he did once go one better when he claimed 61 in a weekend at Croft in 2013.
Sutton, on the other hand, certainly didn’t have a bad day with a 3rd, 4th and 5th, but he just didn’t seem to have the pace that we have been accustomed to seeing in recent races. Whether this continues to Brands Hatch is another matter and he will, of course, start qualifying and race one with slightly less ballast than Turkington. I would suggest that this advantage, on an incredibly short lap, will even out the points gap.
In the past, the majority of the field have qualified within a second of each other due to it being around 50 seconds for a lap. Even if the ballast caused Turkington to be 0.3 seconds slower in qualifying, that could be the difference between qualifying in the top 6 and the mid-pack. Sutton will be going all-out attack to maximise his advantage in the opening race, and it will be a case of can Turkington claw it back with less ballast in races two and three?
Cammish is 25 points behind Turkington and while stranger things have happened, it will need to be something completely dramatic for him to claim his first championship title.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be strange seeing the championship winner being crowned in mid-November and on the Indy circuit, rather than the GP one. However, will some things remain normal in that Turkington will once again emerge victorious?
Race One: 5.5/10
Race Two: 6/10
Race Three: 8.5/10
|Colin Turkington||309 points|