Croft hosted the fifth meeting of the season, where after race three, the mid-point of the season was reached. A bumper crowd was at the circuit to enjoy the sunny, yet windy, conditions, but would the racing be as enjoyable?
Qualifying – Colin Turkington, Dan Rowbottom, Dan Lloyd, Tom Ingram, Gordon Shedden, Jake Hill
After 13 wins at Croft over the years, Colin Turkington took pole position for round 13 with a qualifying lap record on Saturday. It was a feat made more impressive by the fact he was in his 2019 car chassis that had been converted to hybrid specifications following his heavy crash at Oulton Park with Dan Lloyd. Incredibly, Lloyd, with a rebuilt car of his own, took 3rd, with Dan Rowbottom splitting the two. Tom Ingram, who came into the meeting 15 points behind leader Josh Cook lined-up 4th, with Gordon Shedden and Jake Hill completing the top six. Cook, however, struggled with car damage and could only manage 20th on the grid.
Race One, 3.5/10 – Dan Lloyd, Colin Turkington, Dan Rowbottom
- Turkington had a good start off the line, but Lloyd was soon ahead of Rowbottom and by the end of the opening lap, he had taken advantage of the BMW taking longer to warm up its tyres by overtaking Turkington with a decisive move.
- A lengthy safety car period followed from lap 2 to recover Ollie Jackson’s Focus from the barriers after contact between a few cars left him as the unlucky party.
- The top 5 ran closely together, with Lloyd appearing to be slower, but Turkington and Rowbottom couldn’t find a way by, but the race was soon paused again for another safety car. This time, Aron Taylor-Smith was the guilty party.
- A short sprint to the end saw the top two with a gap to the rest of the pack, but despite Turkington’s pressure, Lloyd secured a first victory in four years.
Race Two, 3.5/10 – Dan Lloyd, Tom Ingram, Colin Turkington
- Lloyd and Turkington held position off the line, while Ingram jumped ahead of Rowbottom. Like his teammate in the first race, Ingram then overtook Turkington by the end of the opening lap.
- An early racing procession was ended when something broke on the back of James Gornall’s car and it sent him into the barriers at Hawthorn, resulting in a 4-lap safety car period.
- When racing resumed, the top three remained close for some time, with Turkington especially close on Ingram, but no passes were made. Meanwhile, Hill took 4th from Rowbottom with a good move at Tower. Although Hill caught Turkington, he then dropped off again.
- On the final lap, Ingram closed up to put some late pressure on Lloyd, but the pair held station for a team 1-2 finish.
- Most of the entertainment in the second race came from Shedden. Having suffered terminal damage in the opening race, he roared through the field to finish 12th, after starting 28th.
Race Three, 4.5/10 – Gordon Shedden, Josh Cook, Rory Butcher
- Shedden’s reward for a strong race two was to be drawn on pole for the final race, where he completed a dominant lights to flag victory.
- Rory Butcher, who’d started 6th, was immediately up to 3rd and despite momentarily taking 2nd from Cook, the latter performed a switch back to maintain position.
- Ash Sutton, who’d finished 6th in both earlier races, tried to obtain a higher position with a move on Tom Chilton, but a tap on his rear wheel broke his suspension and cost him the opportunity for further good points.
- While Shedden was clear in the distance, Cook, Butcher and Stephen Jelley were close together, although the positions were never in real danger of changing.
- Towards the end, Ingram made his way to 7th as Rowbottom slowed with a puncture, but the race belonged to Shedden.
As has worryingly become the pattern of the season, the visit to Croft produced three more hybrid era processional races. With the exception of someone at each race meeting, in Croft’s case, Shedden in race two, there seems to be a general lack of hustle and bustle and overtaking. At the halfway point of the season, it has to be said that the hybrid era isn’t working, yet. Whether Alan Gow can pull some of his usual tricks out of the hat remains to be seen, but on the evidence so far, the previous era of success ballast produced better races. Could there be an argument for hybrid and success ballast? Quite possibly.
In addition, for the fourth meeting in a row, the person who has won the opening race has gone on to secure victory in the second. Only Ingram who won the opening race of the season, didn’t convert to a second race win, although he did come second. In the success ballast era, of course this happened too, but in both 2020 and 2021 it only happened three times over the course of the season and there was significantly more action throughout the pack.
Despite the lack of entertaining races so far, it has to be said that the top of the championship standings are probably more exciting than they have been for several seasons. With Sutton not driving away with it this season in a car that was astonishingly good, there is a genuine battle to be champion.
Cook’s early season form has dipped in the last couple of meetings, as has his team in general, and they will be hoping to battle back at Knockhill. However, he would have certainly accepted being three points behind leader Ingram at the midpoint of the season. Ingram has been the nearly man for several years and you feel like this could be his best opportunity of finally securing the elusive title. He’s driving well, the car is performing well and he has teammates who are at the sharp end to support him too.
Four-time champion, Turkington, is right in the mix too. The BMW has generally been strong this season, but it doesn’t seem like Turkington has found his top gear yet this season. He has, however, been banking points and driving consistently – a method that has worked well for him before. It would be foolish to discount him from the challenge.
Reigning double champion, Sutton, isn’t a million miles away either, despite not winning a race yet this year. Like Turkington, Sutton hasn’t hit top form yet this season, although he did move teams in the off-season. He has been incredibly consistent, with six podiums so far, and that’s why he’s still in with an excellent chance of winning the series for a third year in a row. With NAPA Racing’s budget, you would expect them to improve the car for the second half of the season, which would really bring Sutton into the mix.
The next set of races come from north of the border at Knockhill, a traditionally rear-wheel drive circuit. The same could have been said about Croft, but surprisingly the races were all won by front-wheel drive cars. The series seems to have evened out the differences between the two, but all we ask for at Knockhill is more entertainment than we have become accustomed to so far this season.
Championship Standings after 15 races:
|1.||`Tom Ingram||195 points|