The first of this season’s double visit to Thruxton took place in dry conditions, as the UK’s fastest circuit was set to get even faster with the deployment of hybrid energy.Hieldsy – BTCC Correspondent
Qualifying – Josh Cook, Jake Hill, Dan Cammish, Colin Turkington, Ash Sutton, Dan Rowbottom
After winning three of the six races here last season, Josh Cook took no time to be reacquainted with the circuit as he claimed pole position on Saturday. Jake Hill continued his great start to his BMW career with a place on the front row with Dan Cammish and Colin Turkington lining up behind them. Reigning champion Ash Sutton and Dan Rowbottom completed the top six with strong lap times.
Race One, 6.5/10 – Josh Cook, Jake Hill, Ash Sutton
- Hill reacted well to the lights and took the lead during a chaotic opening section, but it only took a couple of corners for Cook to retake the lead. Turkington challenged Cammish for third, but a tiny rub ended up with both cars losing speed before Cammish went off the road. That enabled Cammish’s teammate, Sutton, to claim third.
- Current championship leader, Tom Ingram, who’d qualified eighth, was involved with the Cammish incident and soon had to pit to clear grass from the front end of his Hyundai.
- Sutton needed to defend stoutly from Rowbottom and similarly, Cook was needed to defend from a flying Hill. While Cook held on, Rowbottom was unsuccessful and lost out to Turkington during a typical BTCC period of the hunter becoming the hunted.
- In the final third of the race, it became stagnated with everyone at the front gapping each other evenly.
Race Two, 4/10 – Josh Cook, Jake Hill, Ash Sutton
- A poor start by Cook saw him drop to third, but over the lap he reclaimed second from Sutton, before pulling an outstanding outside line move on Hill at the final chicane to take the lead. That meant that the top 5 retained their starting positions and that’s also where they finished.
- Lots of the action during the race involved Rory Butcher following battles with Stephen Jelley and the Astra pair of Ash Hand and Michael Crees.
- Ingram made significant process through the field to finish eighth after starting 21st.
- Although Hill kept Cook honest throughout the race, there was never a significant challenge to stop the BTC man claiming a second victory of the day.
Race Three, 5.5/10 – Adam Morgan, Colin Turkington, Ash Sutton
- Jason Plato was drawn from seventh to the reverse grid pole. However, he suffered terrible wheelspin on the line and fell into the clutches of Adam Morgan, Turkington, Rowbottom and after a battle, Sutton.
- At the start of the second lap, the top five were evenly gapped, but the safety car was prematurely called for to rescue Jelley, as he was able to recover himself and continue.
- After the re-start, Sutton pressurised Turkington, but a challenge by Plato on Sutton allowed the BMW man breathing space. However, Hill’s BMW received the mechanical warning flag for an unsafe rear bumper, resulting in a pit stop.
- While Cammish was being turned around by Aron Taylor-Smith, Plato ran wide and tried out his lawnmower skills, again resulting in a pitstop, bringing an end to what could have been.
- At the end of the race, Sutton had closed up on Morgan and Turkington, but despite an optimistic final corner move on Turkington, the positions remained the same.
Cook was clearly the main winner from the season’s first visit to Thruxton, turning an 8-point deficit in the standings into a 23-point lead. In races one and two at the circuit, Cook has now won five out of the last six and was second, with fastest lap, in the other. Cook and Thruxton are clearly at one, something that could be extremely useful in his championship challenge when the series visits Thruxton again in August.
Cook is clearly developing a very serious challenge to be champion and at the moment, you wouldn’t bet against him. Having successfully developed the car for a couple of seasons, Cook is reaping huge rewards and it’s difficult to see how his raw pace can be stopped.
Although it is still too early to fully evaluate the impact of the hybrid technology, it perhaps wasn’t a glowing advert for it that the top 5 in races one and two were the same and only Plato and Morgan swapped positions for sixth and seventh too. Although, of course, there were double winners during the success ballast era, you can’t help but feel that, at this early stage, it had more of an effect in changing results than hybrid technology – time will tell.
As a result of the lack of position changes at the front, it didn’t make for a brilliant set of races. Yes, there was close racing, but real battles that you had on the edge of your seat? No. It is important for the fans of BTCC that the hybrid technology works, otherwise the great work in recruiting more fans over recent years could easily be undone. Alan Gow is not daft though and he will be constantly reviewing and evaluating the series with the view to making changes, as he always has done.
While Cook was the clear winner at Thruxton, it was also a good weekend for Sutton, with a hat-trick of thirds, and Turkington, while Ingram will have left the circuit frustrated on Sunday evening. There are hundreds of points left to play for, but the usual contenders are certainly there or thereabouts as it stands.
The next outing for the series is at Oulton Park, which again can be viewed on the main ITV channel, as the series looks to recruit further fans. In the previous two seasons, the winners have been predominantly been in front wheel drive machines and this will be something Cook will hope continues as he tries to extend his championship lead.
Championship Standings after 9 races:
|1.||Josh Cook||139 points|