A full, unrestricted crowd was allowed to return to the BTCC for the first time since the pandemic began for the rounds at Oulton Park.
After a five-week summer break for the championship, it is set to be a bumper month of action with three race days scheduled for August, which started at the Cheshire circuit.
Going into the meeting, Ash Sutton held a 3-point lead over Tom Ingram, with Josh Cook a further 23 points behind. With the tight nature of the circuit, qualifying has always been slightly more significant than at some of the other circuits on the calendar.
Qualifying – Senna Proctor, Gordon Shedden, Rory Butcher, Dan Rowbottom, Jack Goff, Adam Morgan
A ballast free Senna Proctor secured his first ever BTCC pole as the top four were covered by less than a tenth of a second. Championship leader Sutton qualified tenth behind long-time challenger, Colin Turkington, while Ingram set no time following a mechanical issue.
Race One, 4.5/10 – Dan Rowbottom, Gordon Shedden, Adam Morgan
- A poor start for Proctor saw him slip backwards as Shedden, Rowbottom and Morgan made their way forwards. Turkington was tagged by Sutton’s teammate, Aiden Moffat, and both Turkington and Sutton had to take to the grass, sending them down the order, with Sutton needing to pit a few laps later to remove the grass.
- There were a few battles developing throughout the pack by the mid-point of the race, but the lead Honda duo had started to scamper off.
- The red flag was brought out on lap 8 because of a couple of nasty impacts that left debris strewn across the track. Jason Plato tried to pass Tom Oliphant on the inside, but sent Oliphant into a spin where he was then collected by Chris Smiley and then Rick Parfitt Jnr, leaving all three cars with significant damage.
- On the re-start, Rowbottom jumped Shedden with Morgan in third. Despite Shedden applying great pressure to Rowbottom during the 6-lap sprint, he held on for his first-ever BTCC win.
Race Two, 5/10 – Rory Butcher, Dan Rowbottom, Adam Morgan
- Rowbottom started well, but Butcher was on a charge from 4th and at the Island Hairpin, he took the lead, with Shedden down to 5th.
- Jack Goff and Ollie Jackson collided on lap 2 with them both sent towards the barriers, although they both continued and Cook circled with heavy front end damage.
- Sutton was on his usual charge through the field as he made his way to 8th, although he didn’t make any further progress despite his best efforts as 5th to 10th were close for the majority of the race.
- There was plenty of close action and contact, but with little rewards recouped.
Race Three, 5/10 – Senna Proctor, Stephen Jelley, Gordon Shedden
- Proctor was drawn on reverse grid pole and both he and Sutton made great starts from the front row. However, their battle was soon ended by a red flag as cars were scattered everywhere following a couple of incidents at the bottom of Cascades. It was started by Sam Osborne being tapped by Smiley, resulting in him losing control and sliding down the grass and collecting several cars as he crossed the track. Further incidents were then caused as drivers collided avoiding the first accident.
- It was a very similar re-start as the front two made a great getaways, but Proctor just clipped the back of Sutton at Old Hall and he astonishingly managed to complete a 360 spin without being collected before continuing, where his luck ran out as he was wiped out by his other teammate, Carl Boardley, at the very next corner.
- By lap 5, Proctor had a relatively comfortable 2-second lead from Stephen Jelley, with Shedden close behind him, while Butcher tumbled down the order.
- Nearing the end of the 10th lap, Boardley lost control of his car, with an apparent brake failure, and as he slid across the track, he wiped out Butcher, sending them both into the barriers, bringing an end to the race with another red flag.
Red flags are obviously required in extreme circumstances for the safety of everyone and given the tragic events 24 hours earlier at Brands Hatch where Robert Foote, a marshal, was sadly killed, perhaps the race organisers sensibly exercised extra caution. Other red flags were needed during the day too in the support races. However, the red flags did create breaks in the racing which stopped the flow of the races and given the narrow nature of Oulton Park, it was a shame that the flow was halted, but totally understandable.
At the top of the championship, it was a frustrating day for Sutton, with his teammates being the main cause of his issues. Sutton recovered to 14th in the opening race and finished 8th in the second before his first retirement of the season in the final race. However, Sutton will have taken solace from the fact that Ingram and Cook had equally poor days with a 10th place finish and two fastest laps being Ingram’s only points of the day, and Cook only adding 5 more to his total.
However, a pair of podiums and a 6th for both Rowbottom and Shedden have rocketed them into the championship top six. The Hondas, in general, went very well around Oulton Park, as did Morgan’s BMW, which was the pick of the German machinery, and he now finds himself 5th in the championship.
For the second event in a row, it was a difficult day for Turkington after an incident in the first race of the day. Although, he managed to score more points than at Brands Hatch as he made his way slowly forwards, he is now down in 9th place in the championship standings. Morgan and Jelley both showed that the BMW could work well around Oulton Park, probably leading to further frustration.
However, the good news for Turkington is that being so low down in the standings will mean he only needs to carry 15kgs of success ballast for qualifying and the opening race at Knockhill in the next round. It is a track where every hundredth, never mind tenth, of a second counts due to the short lap and hopefully with the good rear wheel drive traction, he will be able to force his way up the order again, as we have been accustomed to seeing over the years.
All in all, as a set of races, Oulton Park was beige, bland and distinctly average and only really made interesting by the unfortunate outcomes for some, resulting in the red flags. Although the championship has undoubtedly closed up, which is a positive for the future, at Knockhill, we will hope for better!
Championship Standings after 12 rounds:
|1. Ash Sutton||126 points|
|2. Tom Ingram||121|
|3. Dan Rowbottom||114|
|4. Jake Hill||103|
|5. Adam Morgan||100|
|6. Gordon Shedden||97|