60th Season of the BTCC is Underway

Brands Hatch on the 07-08 April 2018 was the venue to kick start the 60th season of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Championship and to celebrate, TOCA unveiled a thirty-two-strong car field of various manufactures and teams at the Media Day on 27 March 2018. As certain drivers had moved away due to different reason, such as Gordon Shedden to WTCR and Audi, the BTCC had retained a line-up worth talking about and certainly threw up unpredictability ahead of a new season. Leading the line-up in 2018 was defending champion Ashley Sutton, carrying the No.1 on the Team BMR Subaru Levorg. Sutton would be spearheading the BMR team as champion, but alongside him for another season was double champion Jason Plato, hoping to regain his fire at the front in the hunt for career victory number 100. The team would be backed up by returnee Josh Price in the third and final Subaru. On the back of a debut BTCC season in 2017, Josh was back to push on with the team and move further up the order. The target was well and truly on the back of the Subaru squad and their main rivals were likely to be BMW, as the WSR (West Surrey Racing) squad remained unchanged also in 2018 with Colin Turkington leading the charge in the M-Sport 125, again partnered by Rob Collard and Pirtek backed Andrew Jordan. For other manufacture rival Honda, he sees the biggest change in recent years as following Shedden’s departure, Matt Neal was take up the title challenge in the brand new FK8 Civic Type R alongside BTCC newcomer Dan Cammish. After a successful career in the Porsche Carrera Cup, Cammish in most eyes was finally getting an opportunity in the BTCC and was expected to challenge towards the front in his debut season. Team Dynamics had dropped back to a two-man team for 2018 as independent Matt Simpson departs from the garage to line up in the Eurotech camp, still under the banner of Simpson Racing. Eurotech return with the older style Honda Civic and continue to campaign Brett Smith and Jack Goff, now backed by WIX Racing, whilst BTC Norlin now have older style Civics for Chris Smiley and returnee James Nash, back in the BTCC for the first time since 2011 after years away in racing touring cars at International level, first in the WTCC and lastly in TCR with Craft Bamboo Racing. The last manufacture backed team on the grid is Vauxhall with Power Maxed Racing returning but with one in, one out scenario as Josh Cook returns to the team to partner Senna Proctor, replacing Tom Chilton who moved to Motorbase Performance in the winter to form an all new line up in the Ford Focus RS of James Cole and championship contender Sam Tordoff, back in the BTCC after a year away in British GT. Independents’ champion Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport are back for another season as the only team now running the original NGTC Toyota Avensis as Handy Motorsport underwent a change in the winter to bring  Italian marque Alfa Romeo back to the BTCC, first since early 2000s as Rob Austin targets wins in the HMS Racing Alfa Giullietta. The BTCC continues in 2018 with a theme of German manufactures in touring cars as Mercedes are back with Ciceley and Laser Tools Racing, as Adam Morgan and Tom Oliphant carry the colours of Ciceley Motorsport whilst Aiden Moffatt dovetails a TCR UK campaign alongside BTCC for Laser Tools. Team Hard are back with four VW CCs in a changed line up from 2017, retaining the services of Jake Hill, however given a debut for VW Cup champion Bobby Thompson and returning Mike Bushell and Michael Caine to the BTCC grid. The other four car squad is AMD Tuning as whilst continuing with the Audi S3 for Ollie Jackson and newcomer Sam Smelt from British F4, the team purchased the MG6 GT from Triple 8 to campaign Rory Butcher alongside former BTCC and WTCC driver Tom Boardman, back behind the wheel for the first time since a one-off drive in TCR in 2015. Finally, on the grid is Stephen Jelley, returning to the wheel of a BMW since his time with WSR as Team Parker Racing purchased an ex WSR 1-Series.

Lights to Flag victory for Eurotech

After thirty cars were separated by less than a second in qualifying, it was Jack Goff in the WIX Racing Eurotech Honda that ended up pole position for the first race of the 60th season of the BTCC. A time of 48.038s was enough to keep returnee Sam Tordoff off pole by 0.093s and 2017 championship runner Colin Turkington on row two in third. The surprise package of qualifying was Honda newcomer Dan Cammish, as he took the new generation Civic to fourth place, however earlier on in the session he was on for pole until jumping a red light in the pit lane. With conditions worsening and complete different to Saturday for the opening race due to morning rain, Goff would be the first car faced with any puddles and likely face challenge from rear-wheeled drive BMWs in third (Turkington) and fifth (Jordan). As predicted the BMWs did get lightening starts and followed Goff into Paddock Hill Bend but the Honda driver withstood the pressure and retained the race lead. Turkington would be the earlier challenger to Goff but would lose backing of team mate as Jordan came under fire from Dan Cammish and slipped to fourth.

As everything seemed clean around the first half of the lap, drama struck exiting Surtees into McLaren as Matt Simpson Honda slid sideways, collecting Sam Tordoff and stopping both cars by the side of the barrier at Clearways. Matt Neal was also caught up in drama, parking up the Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda at the next corner and needing recovery by the JCB. The field bunched up behind the safety car for a few laps with Goff again having to defend off Turkington, which he would do for the majority of the race. On lap eleven, Andrew Jordan would return to the podium places with a well-timed move at Paddock Hill Bend on Cammish whilst behind cars were bumper to bumper over top ten places. At this stage Tom Ingram was the driver on a charge and moved into the top five displacing Tom Chilton’s Ford Focus RS. Ingram would then have Cammish a few laps later, as Cammish would fall down the order to eighth, finally ending behind the reigning champion Ashley Sutton, who had climbed up from outside the top ten in the Subaru Levorg GT.

Back at the front Turkington had a few opportunities to challenge Goff, making his first major lunge on lap fourteen at Clearways but Goff held firm to out-drag the BMW and remain in front at Paddock Hill Bend. Turkington tried again over the next few laps but ended up settling for second as Goff took the chequered flag by 0.547s with Andrew Jordan giving WSR its 100th podium in third.

Dunlop MSA BTCC Race One, Brands Hatch – Top Five:

  1. Jack Goff (No.31 – WIX Racing, Honda Civic Type R) = 27 Laps
  2. Colin Turkington (No.2 – Team BMW, 125i M-Sport) = +0.547s
  3. Andrew Jordan (No.77 – Pirtek Racing BMW, 125i M-Sport) = +3.577s
  4. Tom Ingram (No.80 – Speedworks Motorsport, Toyota Avensis) = +11.290s
  5. Tom Chilton (No.3 – Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher, Ford Focus RS) = +11.290s

History Makes 1st in Race Two

Conditions were much more positive for race two in comparison to the season opener but with majority of the circuit wet, the gamble was whether to choose slicks or wets. As the lights were about to turn green it became noticeable that most of the front runners were on wets and a third were on the dry option. The conditions favoured the drivers on wets in the early running as Andrew Jordan stormed into the lead from the lights, leaving Jack Goff to fight off the chasing pack in second. As Jordan broke clear, the race was brought to a halt by the addition of the safety car, as Stephen Jelley was struck in the gravel at Clearways, facing the wrong way and beached. On the restart Jordan came under huge pressure from Tom Ingram and started to fade very quickly, as due to a change in conditions his wet weather tyres were losing grip. Ingram benefitted to begin with along with Ashley Sutton, but it wasn’t long before these two started to struggle and came under fire from plenty of drivers who started outside the top ten.

It was the final third of the race where the slicks tyres came into their element as Aiden Moffat had climbed the order bringing Senna Proctor with him. The two made short work of anyone on dry tyres and soon found themselves in first and second. It wasn’t long before the two were joined by the VW and Audi of Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson, creating a spectacular four-way fight for the lead. Moffat was in control until making a small error at Clearways when he lit up the rears and tank slapped the Mercedes into a near spin. That wasn’t the end of dramas for Moffat though as only a few laps later he went to lap a struggling Matt Neal, who spun resulting in contact between Moffat and Proctor and the Mercedes bouncing off the tyre barrier. Proctor inherited the lead as a result keeping Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson behind. Tom Boardman moved up to fourth as a result with Moffat slipping to fifth with heavy damage. The positions remained unchanged and therefore all three on the podium broke their podiums ducks in one race with Proctor securing his first ever BTCC win and the first for Vauxhall since returning to the BTCC in 2017. To show how well the gamble of slicks had paid off, Proctor and Hill had climbed from grid positions of twenty-seventh and twenty-fifth over twenty-seven laps.

Outside the podium places on his return to the BTCC since 2011 was Tom Boardman, who had a superb drive in the MG6 after finishing the opening race of the weekend down in eighth. Boardman was closely followed through the chequered flag by a recovering and badly battered Aiden Moffat, with Rob Austin’s Alfa climbing from the rear of the field to come home sixth, the first points for the Alfa Romeo since being back in the BTCC full time. Matt Simpson also climbed up from the rear of the field to take seventh after a DNF in race one, slightly ahead of Mike Bushell who picked up his first points of the season since returning to the BTCC from seasons in the Renault UK Clio Cup. The other MG would also finish in the top ten as Rory Butcher came home ninth, scoring fantastic points for the AMD squad since expanding from two to four cars to run the MG alongside the Audis.

Completing the top ten was pole-sitter and race one winner Jack Goff, who was the highest place finisher on wet weather tyres in the WIX Racing Eurotech Honda Civic. After leading early on and fighting for a podium the majority of drivers who were on wets tumbled down the order with Ashley Sutton twelfth, Andrew Jordan twenty-first and Tom Chilton twenty-eighth, meaning it would be difficult for these in race three if track completely dry to achieve some decent points.

Dunlop MSA BTCC Race Two, Brands Hatch – Top Five:

  1. Senna Proctor (No.18 – Power Maxed TAG Racing, Vauxhall Astra) = 27 Laps
  2. Jake Hill (No.24 – Trade Price Cars with Brisky Racing, VW CC) = +0.568s
  3. Ollie Jackson (No48 – AMD with Cobra Exhausts, Audi S3) = +1.761s
  4. Tom Boardman (No.12 – AMD with AutoAid/RCIB Insurance, MG6) = +2.393s
  5. Aiden Moffat (No.16 – Laser Tools Racing, Mercedes A Class) = +3.348s

Ingram Gains another Brands Hatch Opening Win

Ball number six was drawn at the conclusion of race two and promoted Rob Austin to pole position for race three in the brand-new Alfa Giullietta. The track had completely dried up over the afternoon and therefore made drivers lives easier, as all selected the dry option tyre. When lights went green, Rob powered away well in the Alfa closely followed by Ollie Jackson from row two. As the field made it safely around Paddock Hill Bend, a collision between Rob Collard and James Cole brought out the safety car, as Collard was stranded in the gravel trap up at Druids. With the field bunched up and additional laps added on, Tom Ingram was fired up in the Toyota Avensis and made his way up the order without hesitation. Ingram was very quickly passed Aiden Moffat for third and then swiftly into second passed Jackson.  It didn’t take Ingram very long to displace Austin out front but the Italian manufacture of Alfa Romeo had led a BTCC race on its first race back in the championship since the successful Super-Touring era of BTCC in the 90s. Once ahead of the Alfa, Ingram was unstoppable and would go on to record another victory in the opening round of the BTCC, keeping consistent with previous seasons.

For the remaining podium places, it ended up being a battle between Adam Morgan and Rob Austin over who would end up second or third. Morgan had moved up the order throughout the race and on the penultimate lap was lining up a passing opportunity. Morgan made it stick on the final lap into Paddock Hill Bend and moved the Mac Tools-backed Mercedes ahead of the Alfa. There was some debate as to whether Morgan had been forceful but when a gap opened up he was never going to turn down a chance to pass Austin.

Just outside the podium places saw a fine drive from Ashley Sutton, to climb up the positions after falling back in race two to salvage a good bag of points in the defence of his 2017 BTCC title. Sutton would end up nearly four seconds back from Austin at the flag but in the closing stages had defended off double Clio Cup champion Mike Bushell in the VW CC. Bushell had done well to come home in fifth after earlier in the race being tangled up in incidents with both Tom Boardman’s MG and Aiden Moffat’s Mercedes. Rory Butcher would end a strong weekend for AMD in the other MG by coming home sixth, ahead of race one winner Jack Goff and fellow Eurotech driver Matt Simpson, whilst Colin Turkington was secure a strong ninth from the back of the grid, ahead of Josh Cook who completed the top ten in the Power Maxed TAG Racing Vauxhall Astra.

Dunlop MSA BTCC Race Three, Brands Hatch – Top Five:

  1. Tom Ingram (No.80 – Speedworks Motorsport, Toyota Avensis) = 27 Laps
  2. Adam Morgan (No.33 – MAC Tools with Ciceley Motorsport, Mercedes A Class) = +3.237s
  3. Rob Austin (No.11 – DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, Alfa Giullietta) = +4.202s
  4. Ashley Sutton (No.1 – Adrian Flux Subaru Racing, Levorg GT) = +8.939s
  5. Mike Bushell (No.21 – Trade Price Cars with Brisky Racing, VW CC) = +10.376s

Now the 60th season is well and truly underway after what has felt like a long winter, Tom Ingram will head to Donington Park with the target on his back. Following victory in race three, Ingram jumped to the top of the standings ahead of race one winner Jack Goff, the two separated by only three points as the series heads to Leicestershire on the 28-29th April. The championship looks to be frantic up north as plenty of drivers; especially the manufactures, aren’t where expected. Fans in attendance are likely to see fireworks after a three-week break. Lying third in the standings after a decent haul of points is Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Mercedes, just ahead of Rob Austin who had a strong weekend in the debut of the Alfa Romeo. One driver likely going to Donington Park with head up rather than down would be Ashley Sutton, as the reigning champion turning a dismal qualifying into three consistence point scoring results of Seventh, twelfth and fourth. In reference to the 2017 title race, Sutton is again ahead of Colin Turkington as the BMW driver sits sixth in the overall standings, one point adrift of Sutton and fifteen back from Ingram. Even with a non-score in race two due to failure on the grid, second in race one and a recovery in race three leaves Turkington way in contention for a title challenge. Off the back of his first ever victory/podium in race two and Vauxhall’s return to the top step after a few years away, Senna Proctor now lies seventh on twenty-three points, two ahead of AMD’s podium scorer Ollie Jackson. On his full time return to the BTCC, AMD’s MG driver Rory Butcher lies ninth after a consistent weekend, whilst double Clio Cup champion Mike Bushell ended his home round of the championship tenth in the standings.

In the BTCC Manufacturer/Constructors Championship, BMW did enough with Turkington and Jordan to hold a slender two-point lead over Subaru, as for them Jason Plato had a nightmare, whilst in the BTCC Teams Championship, WIX Racing scored well with Jack Goff and Brett Smith to go to Donington as the team to beat in the Honda Civic. Sitting as overall championship leader, Tom Ingram leads the independents championship table and the team, Speedworks continued where they left off from in 2017 to remain on top. Finally, the Jack Sears Trophy went the way of new-boy Dan Cammish, as the Halfords Yuasa Racing driver did enough in the 2018 Generation Honda Civic to collect silverware on his debut. The Jack Sears Trophy, in honour of the first ever BTCC Champion is awarded in 2018 to drivers who are yet to score a podium finish.

To keep up to date with the BTCC throughout the season, please check out www.btcc.net

For more photos from the opening round including Ginetta Juniors, GT4 Supercup, Carrera Cup, Clio Cup and British F4, please check out our photo album here.

Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.