After years of careful developing and testing, the new BTCC hybrid era started with twenty-eight cars taking to the track at Donington Park. Plenty of drivers were lining up in new cars, but who would rise to the top in the opening round?
Qualifying – Jake Hill, Colin Turkington, Ash Sutton, Tom Ingram, George Gamble and Gordon Shedden
A dramatic fire for the returning Dam Cammish brought out the red flag during qualifying, but when the session resumed, Jake Hill secured a maiden pole position in his new BMW machinery. Joining him on the front row was a man who needs no introduction to a BMW, Colin Turkington. Successive and reigning champion Ash Sutton, albeit in a new car, was third alongside Tom Ingram, with an impressive fifth for George Gamble on debut and Gordon Shedden completed the top six.
Race One, 6/10 – Tom Ingram, Colin Turkington, Jake Hill*, Gordon Shedden
- Turkington jumped Hill off the line as the BMWs made a strong start, while Ingram challenged Sutton.
- A lap later, Hill was all over Turkington and as the pair held each other up, a great challenge between the top four ensued with Ingram emerging in the lead, while Hill dropped to fifth as a result. The race was soon neutralised for several laps as the safety car was called for to retrieve Ricky Collard’s stricken car from the start/finish line.
- Ingram made a super re-start and soon Shedden moved through the field with a series of overtakes on consecutive laps.
- In the closing stages of the race, the top three of Ingram, Turkington and Hill all ran closely together, but without a serious challenge to the positions.
*Hill failed the post-race ride height check and was excluded from the result, most likely as a consequence of hitting the tyre barrier at the chicane.
Race Two, 5/10 – Gordon Shedden, Tom Ingram, George Gamble
- A clutch issue for Turkington meant that he didn’t move as the lights went out, while Gamble shot up from sixth to second, behind Ingram.
- On lap 4, Shedden made his move on Gamble for second, but it wasn’t until after half distance that he really started to close in on Ingram. In the meantime, Josh Cook and Sutton were battling together to provide the main entertainment.
- Ingram went slightly wide on lap 10 as Shedden’s pressure told, allowing the Scotsman to take the lead with the Car Gods duo of Gamble and Adam Morgan in the mix too. Ingram did keep Shedden honest for the rest of the race, as Gamble and Morgan fell slightly further back.
Race Three, 7/10 – Jake Hill, Ash Sutton, Josh Cook
- Hill was drawn on the reverse grid pole ahead of Dan Lloyd, Bobby Thompson and Sutton. Hill made the perfect start as Lloyd and Sutton jumped Thompson as he bogged down.
- In the opening period, Cook moved up to fourth, while Sutton overtook Lloyd for second. Cook was soon on Lloyd too, but he defended stoutly for the majority of the race, despite having a huge train of cars behind him, which was the main action.
- In the train of cars behind, Shedden lost out slightly after a while and Turkington recovered his day with a strong race to finish eighth.
- With time running out, Cook made his move on Lloyd, after the latter had run slightly wide. Despite being fully on the grass at one point, Cook made the move stick as Ingram also made a late move on Morgan for fifth.
- At the front, there were no post-race problems for Hill this time, as he secured victory from Sutton.
With three different drivers and cars winning, plus some of the normal action expected in the BTCC, it can be said that the opening weekend of the new hybrid era was a successful one. Of course, as the season develops, we will learn more about the hybrid systems and find out if the switch has been a long-term success, but the signs are promising.
It was incredibly useful to see on the graphics who was using their hybrid power and where. Similarly, on the cars, the use of a blue light appears a sensible idea to show fans who are trackside. Interestingly, especially in race two, several of the drivers did not use their full allocation of hybrid, notably Gamble, Cook and Ingram. This will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Several drivers looked strong over the weekend and it could be, and we hope for, a great championship battle this season, rather than the Sutton and Infiniti walkover of the previous two. Dick Bennetts will have been having kittens at the sight of Hill and Turkington battling so intensely after two laps of the season. Had they both waited, and perhaps it was a little bit of BMW inexperience on Hill’s behalf, the duo could easily have carved out a 1-2 finish, given their strong pre-season pace.
Ingram, a top six championship finisher in the last five years, must be hoping for the ultimate crown this time around and has started in the best possible manner. Ingram, is followed in the standings by familiar foes however, who of course, all fancy their chances too. Although Sutton, in particular, has moved teams, NAPA Racing have invested heavily in the Focus and will be fancying their chances of success either through Sutton or teammate, Cammish.
It is going to be exciting to see how the season develops and after three or four rounds, it will be interesting to see the influence of hybrid technology on the championship. However, the next instalment will come from Brands Hatch, with the second race being broadcast live on the main ITV channel.
BTCC Championship Standings:
|1. Tom Ingram||51 points|
|2. Gordon Shedden||44|
|3. Ash Sutton||40|
|4. Josh Cook||34|
|5. Adam Morgan||34|
|6. Jake Hill||30|