After a two week break since the opening round, the British Touring Cars was back, as Donington Park in Leicestershire hosted round two of the 2016 season. The action at Brands Hatch in early April had been pretty eventful, especially with thirty-two cars; however the longer straights at Donington would spread them out without losing the thrill that the BTCC is famous for. One thing that was for certain coming into round two was who would stop the Hondas, as the brightly coloured Halfords backed Civics topped the standings with Matt Neal ahead of reigning champion and team mate Gordon Shedden. Neal performed brilliantly at Brands Hatch, taking two podiums, whilst Shedden recorded Hondas first win of 2016 in race two. Leading the charge in challenging the Hondas was the WIX Racing Mercedes of Adam Morgan, with Morgan six points adrift of Neal after taking a hard fought victory in the final race, ending the opening weekend if thirty-seven points and five clear of closest challenger Aron Smith. For Smith, the opening weekend in the Team BKR prepared VW Passat had gone well since switching from Team BMR to continue in the VW, with podium coming in race two, as well as two other top ten finishes. Smith would have to cautious of Andrew Jordan though at Donington Park, with the 2013 Champion tied on points in the Motorbase Ford Focus. Jordan unfortunately suffered in race one due to a poor qualifying run effecting grid position, but in his debut season with the Focus, Jordan made up for race one in the next two, finishing fourth twice. Completing the rest of the top ten coming into Donington Park was the three West Surrey Racing BMWs in sixth, eighth and tenth, with newcomer to the team Jack Goff leading the charge for the team since moving across from Triple 8 Racing. In terms of Triple 8, the opening weekend was one to remember as rookie Ashley Sutton shined in the MG on his BTCC debut. Fourth in the opening race showed that Sutton has potential to challenge for podiums in his rookie season, after stepping up to the BTCC as Renault Clio Cup champion. Last driver within the top ten who couldn’t be forgotten entering Donington Park was the opening winner of the 2016 season, young superstar Tom Ingram, who took the Speedworks Toyota from pole position to the chequered flag in an ultra-competitive race one. Ingram unfortunately retired from race two, which ruined the rest of the weekend, but Ingram is a contender for more victories throughout the season and one to watch.
One team we need to mention who would be looking for a lot of improvement at Donington Park was the Subaru Team BMR squad, who massively struggled at Brands Hatch in their opening weekend with the brand new Subaru Levorg GT. Since switching from the VW Passat to the Subaru, it was a race against time for the team to have four cars built for round one and with no testing, speed against their rivals was easily seen. By the end of the opening weekend, leading drivers Colin Turkington and Jason Plato had only scored seven points between them, with twelfth in race three the best result for the team, whilst James Cole and Warren Scott failed to score any points.
Mat Jackson Controls Proceedings for Race One Victory
After an up and down qualifying session on Saturday saw damp and dry conditions, plus plenty of switches between tyres up and down the grid, it might have surprised a few that the front row was a lock out for the Triple Eight Racing MGs of rookie Ashley Sutton and Josh Cook. With the MGs expected to go well in race set up, a poor start from both unfortunately cost them the lead into turn one, with the Motorbase Ford Focus of Mat Jackson getting the run from row two and taking the lead of the race heading into Redgate corner. As Sutton bogged down quickly and looked to be swallowed up, Rob Collard’s BMW briefly split the MGs by snatching third, however once Sutton got up to speed on the opening lap, he joined his team mate Cook within the top three.
With the safety car being deployed at the start of race one to recover Warren Scott’s Subaru and the Audi of Ollie Jackson, once things got back underway a lap later, Mat Jackson looked untouchable. Carrying so much speed in the Ford allowed Jackson to break clear of the chasing pack and leaving Josh Cook in what felt like a lonely second position. Whilst positions remained as they were for a good chunk of the race, the battle for the final podium place heated up, with Ashley Sutton having to defend from a fast charging Tom Ingram. The two were bumper to bumper for much of the second half of the race, before on lap eleven Ingram slipped past, whilst Sutton slipped into the clutches of the West Surrey Racing pairing of Rob Collard and Jack Goff, with Goff coming out on top with fourth.
With the race reaching its final few laps, a coming together between Matt Simpson and Dan Welch saw the Honda and Proton beached in the gravel trap and the safety car deployed. Whilst the field began to bunch up, one driver was making a fiery exit from his car along the start straight, with flames engulfing the front and surrounding the car. The driver was an unfortunate James Cole, who confirmed after medical attention that the Subaru Levorg had suffered a misfire before finally letting go before the chequered flag and letting loose a severe fire. With the car stranded trackside and under control of the marshals, a decision was made the red flag the race and deem it a result after fifteen laps.
Whilst one of the Subarus had gone up in flames, causing the race stoppage, there was some joy within the garage with double champion Colin Turkington securing the team’s first top ten result in the new Subaru Levorg, after Colin Turkington pulled off a brilliant defensive drive and held off the two Hondas of Shedden and Neal, who struggled on the soft tyre. With the Subaru definitely struggling for straight line speed against the other manufactures, the result showed that the development is starting to bring rewards for the team.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Race One Top Ten:
- Mat Jackson (No.7 – Motorbase Performance) = 15 Laps
- Josh Cook (No.66 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = +1.860s
- Tom Ingram (No.80 – Speedworks Motorsport) = +2.077s#
- Jack Goff (No.31 – West Surrey Racing) = +8.794s
- Ashley Sutton (No.116 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = +9.149s
- Rob Collard (No.100 – West Surrey Racing) = +10.324s
- Jeff Smith (No.55 – Eurotech Racing) = + 14.807s
- Aron Smith (No.40 – BKR) = +16.423s
- Sam Tordoff (No.600 – West Surrey Racing) = +17.990s
- Colin Turkington (No.4 – Silverline Subaru BMR Racing) = +19.589s
Collard Gives WSR First Win of the Year
Lining up on pole position with the fastest lap from race one was the race winner Mat Jackson, however with 75kgs of weight on board the Focus, a pressured start from Tom Ingram meant Jackson had to defend on the opening lap, with the fast starting Rob Collard in third. As the field blasted down the Craner Curves, behind trouble brewed with the Audi of Ollie Jackson and the Chevrolet of Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher stranded in the gravel trap at Redgate and needing urgent attention. This brought out the safety car and brunched the field up before the completion of lap one.
With the safety car being on track for nearly four laps, Mat Jackson came under immense pressure on the restart from Tom Ingram and Rob Collard, with Collard being the quickest of the three. By lap twelve of the extended race, Collard made his move for second and within corners, found himself right on the rear bumper of the Ford Focus. Jackson tried extremely hard to hold onto his lead but ended up conceding on lap fifteen and let Collard go. The gap that the front two had made allowed Jackson to end the race second, but the pace of the rear wheel drive BMW gave Collard victory.
In the battle for the final podium position, Tom Ingram unfortunately faded when a grassy moment battling with Jack Goff and Aron Smith destroyed any hope of a strong finish. Dropping down to fifteenth at the flag, Aron Smith took advantage in the BKR VW Passat to record his second podium with the team, since leaving Team BMR. In the last moments of the race, Smith had to defend his position from reigning champion Gordon Shedden, as the Halfords Yuasa Honda driver excelled from eleventh on the grid to climb to fourth at the flag.
Jack Goff put two West Surrey Racing BMWs in the top five with a good drive to fifth, ahead of championship leader Matt Neal in sixth. A couple seconds back from Neal was the MG of Josh Cook, who was able to hold onto a top ten, unlike team mate Ashley Sutton who suffered with his tyres. Cook pulled clear of battle behind in the final stages, as a charging Rob Austin nearly took Aiden Moffat and Sam Tordoff on the final, having to settle for tenth in the Handy Motorsport Toyota.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Race Two Top Ten:
- Rob Collard (No.100 – West Surrey Racing) = 19 Laps
- Mat Jackson (No.7 – Motorbase Performance) = +1.670s
- Aron Smith (No.40 – BKR) = +3.3070s
- Gordon Shedden (No.52 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = +3.429s
- Jack Goff (No.31 – West Surrey Racing) = +4.939s
- Matt Neal (No.25 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = +5.547s
- Josh Cook (No.66 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = +9.967s
- Sam Tordoff (No.600 – West Surrey Racing) = +10.311s
- Aiden Moffat (No16 – Laser Tools Racing) = +11.124s
- Rob Austin (No.11 – Handy Motorsport) = +11.378s
Honda end Weekend with a 1-2
With the reverse grid draw doing its magic for race three, West Surrey Racing lined up on pole position and made the most of the start, with Sam Tordoff leading away ahead of Matt Neal’s bright Honda in his mirrors and the another BMW in the hands of Jack Goff. With Goff selecting the softer tyre for the final race, this benefitted the rear wheel drive BMW early on and it wasn’t long before West Surrey Racing held a 1-2. The pace from the BMW M-Sport 125s allowed Tordoff and Goff to break away and luckily their gap wasn’t going to dented quickly, even when the race lost Adam Morgan on the sixth lap with an off at the Old Hairpin in the WIX Racing Mercedes.
By Lap ten however, the pace of Goff was starting the fade and the softer tyre was starting to damage his hopes of a podium. With the two Halfords Yuasa Hondas working together to decrease the margin, it wasn’t long before both Neal and Shedden were right on Goff’s tail. With the laps ticking away, the Honda Civics held second and third, but by lap fourteen Neal favoured his tyres on the run up to McLeans, snatching the lead from Tordoff, before Shedden followed his team mate through a lap later. With only one lap to go, the Hondas broke clear to record their second 1-2 finish of the season, but this time with Matt Neal as the winner and keeping the run of a different winner in each race of the 2016 BTCC season.
With Tordoff continuing to slip back and struggling with the pace he showed at the start of the race, he had to defend his podium in the final stages with race two winner and team mate Rob Collard closing in. Tordoff was able to hold on a record a podium finish, but only by two-tenths of a second at the flag. Completing the top five of the final race ended up being the MG of Ashley Sutton, after the 2015 Renault Clio Cup champion made the most of Jack Goff demise and grabbed fifth off him in the closing stages. As Goff held onto sixth by a whisker, Aiden Moffat came home seventh ahead of a resurgence from Rob Austin, the MG of Josh Cook and the Ford Focus of Andrew Jordan, who rounded out the top ten.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Race Three Top Ten:
- Matt Neal (No.25 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = 16 Laps
- Gordon Shedden (No.52 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = +0.222s
- Sam Tordoff (No.600 – West Surrey Racing) = +2.468s
- Rob Collard (No.100 – West Surrey Racing) = +2.908s
- Ashley Sutton (No.116 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = +4.142s
- Jack Goff (No.31 – West Surrey Racing) = +9.245s
- Aiden Moffat (No16 – Laser Tools Racing) = +9.379s
- Rob Austin (No.11 – Handy Motorsport) = +13.028s
- Josh Cook (No.66 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = +17.535s
- Andrew Jordan (No.77 – Motorbase Performance) = +18.146s
With the championship moving to the fast flowing Thruxton circuit over the weekend of the 7th and 8th May, the question is still “Who can beat the Hondas” however in terms of six races, the championship had so far seen six different winners and plenty of entertainment. In what is building up to be one of the most exciting seasons in the BTCC’s history, the top ten were covered by only thirty-three points, which is only slightly more than one race win. Six different winners in six races shows just how unpredictable this season has been and with the switch to RML parts on most of the cars, no one can really tell which manufacture will be on the top step, especially as it has been rare for a pole sitter to come out on top. As Matt Neal led the way on seventy-eight points, the triple champion had pulled a slightly bigger gap on team mate Gordon Shedden, whilst West Surrey Racing’s Jack Goff had become the new challenger to the Honda stranglehold. Goff had been consistent at Donington Park and closed in to within twelve points of Neal, with team mate and race two winner Rob Collard only two behind in fourth, making for an intense battle come Thruxton and with Team BMR and the Subaru slightly improving, it could only be a matter of time before a new manufacture is fighting for the top step of the podium.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Points – After Round Two:
- Matt Neal (No.25 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = 78 Pts
- Gordon Shedden (No.52 – Halfords Yuasa Racing) = 73 Pts
- Jack Goff (No.31 – West Surrey Racing) = 66 Pts.
- Rob Collard (No.100 – West Surrey Racing) = 64 Pts.
- Mat Jackson (No.7 – Motorbase Performance) = 61 Pts.
- Sam Tordoff (No.600 – West Surrey Racing) = 57 Pts.
- Aron Smith (No.40 – BKR) = 56 Pts.
- Ashley Sutton (No.116 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = 55 Pts.
- Josh Cook (No.66 – MG Racing RCIB Insurance) = 46 Pts.
- Adam Morgan (No33 – WIX Racing) = 45 Pts.
For up to the minute news regarding the 2016 BTCC season, please visit www.btcc.net
To see more of our photos of the action from Donington Park over the Saturday and the Sunday please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs