What a weekend that was! The BTCC’s highly anticipated return was welcomed with open arms this past weekend, as thousands of spectators lined the grassy banks of the Brands Hatch circuit, all keenly waiting for their favourite drivers to battle it out on race day. But who would take the spoils in the opening weekend?
Saturday saw a tense, nail-biting qualifying session for pretty much every driver up and down the pit lane. Rain would cause delays and ever changing track conditions. Of course, one thing that was equal for everyone was the “success ballast.” No points scored yet meaning equal weight for all. A pure fight in terms of performance creating possibly the most important pole position of the year.
After everything was said and done it was a surprising pole for Eurotech man Jeff Smith. 2016 Brands Hatch winner Tom Ingram would complete the front row and the two Halfords Yuasa racing Hondas of Gordon Shedden and Mat Neal would line up just behind.
Lights out for race one of the day saw drama from the get-go. Contact between the fast-starting Colin Turkington and the slower Mat Neal saw them both out of the running before even reaching Paddock Hill Bend. No such troubles for Tom Ingram however as he stormed ahead despite feeling under the weather.
A short safety car period would follow whilst the two former champions were cleared from the grid. Once the race restarted it didn’t take long for Shedden to pass Smith and move up into P2. Adam Morgan in the Mercedes A-Class would also quickly follow through thus completing the podium. Pole man Smith was forced into the pits after a wheel nut failure—not the start to the year he was hoping for. Ingram though proved his worth and claimed another stunning victory, mirroring what he did this time last year.
The drama didn’t just stay in race one—this is the BTCC after all, drama is its middle name.
This time for polesitter Ingram and an electrical fault with his Toyota Avensis meant he struggled to move away for the formation laps. He did however eventually get it going and regained his position. The grid lined up and out came a yellow flag just in front of Ingram. Confusion struck and the start was aborted. The cars were send around for another formation lap. By the regulations Ingram should now have to start at the back of the grid but this was missed and he lined up on pole. The stewards decided he would then have to take a drive through penalty.
All set then and when the lights went out, drama followed once again. Another former champion in strife, Jason Plato’s Subaru wrecked up against the barrier after what seemed like an identical incident to that of Turkington and Neal in race one. With debris and a stranded car littering the track there was only one choice and that was for a red flag stoppage. Cars would be reset and the grid reformed; good news for Ingram, as this took his penalty away.
A shortened race distance meant the racing would be harder and faster right up to the chequered flag. A storming start for BMW new boy Andrew Jordan saw him jump positions straight away. His BMW team mates Rob Collard and Colin Turkington also had impressive races with Rob taking a podium behind eventual race winner Shedden and ill-feeling Tom Ingram. Turkington managed to race his way brilliantly up into the top ten from the back of the grid.
Rob Austin was the man who was picked out for the reverse grid pole position, only for it to be taken away. Rob was deemed to have had overtaken Andrew Jordan under yellow flags resulting in him being disqualified from race two and losing his fourth place finish. Pole would then land with the returning Tom Chilton in his brand new Vauxhall Astra. Josh Cook and Andrew Jordan would line up just behind, all looking to take victory early in the season.
Lights out and another storming start for Jordan in the BMW, no looking back as he stormed past Cook and Chilton to take the lead. Mat Jackson in the Motorbase Ford Focus found himself skirting through the gravel as he lost grip on the outside of Chilton. It didn’t take long for Turkington to find himself further up the field and right up behind his team mate Rob Collard, team orders seemingly in place and the lighter car of Turkington was allowed through into third place. Colin was on fire taking huge chunks of time out of the leading pair. He made short order of getting past the Vauxhall and quickly set about Jordan. A close, exciting battle between the new team mates had everyone on the edge of their seats. Colin wasn’t going to try anything silly and risk losing a 1-2 finish and followed Jordan home. A great way for BMW and WSR to kick off their 2017 campaign. Tom Chilton would hang on to take third a dream result for the new Vauxhall team.
Personally I couldn’t think of a better way to open this year’s BTCC, we had action even in qualifying. We are definitely in for fireworks this year and already I’m looking forward to Donington where it will happen all over again. Who knows what will happen, three new winners? Subaru finding their form? Or some other surprise, whatever it is, it surely will leave us breathless.
BTCC returns at Donington Park Circuit on the 15th & 16th of April.
Mitch Oakley, BTCC Editor