Lights! Camera! Action!

Image credit: Warren Nel

 

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.

Image credit: Warren Nel

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.

Image credit: Warren Nel

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

BTCC 2017 – Rubbing Is Racing!

(c) BTCC – Media Da

It’s almost time to set the grid for the first qualifying round of the year and then wait for lights out on the Sunday. Yes, that’s right, BTCC is back! And it’s looking better than ever. But what should you be watching out for?

(c) Halfords Yuasa Racing – Gordon Shedden

This year sees a jam-packed grid of 32 drivers. 16 of which are already race winners in the series. This is by far the strongest field we have seen for a long time on the touring car scene. Between the winning drivers they share a breath-taking 329 victories! So prepare for the races to be hard fought and the action to be closer than ever. Will we see a runaway favourite for the championship or will we get a thriller that goes down to the wire?

(c) Team BMR – Media Day Donington

Something that is for certain is that we can absolutely rely on the fireworks between Jason Plato and Matt Neal. Their fights in touring cars have become stuff of legend, epic championship battles, brutal overtakes on track and even the odd bit of confrontation in the paddock area. The Subaru of Plato is now in its second year and will be keen to show that it is the right car for the job.

(c) West Surrey Racing- Colin Turkington

Honda and Team Dynamics always seem to get stronger every year, no matter whether they are running a Civic tourer or the classic hatchback. BTCC isn’t just about those two though, oh no. Ask Collin Turkington, Gordon Shedden, Tom Ingram and the returning Tom Chilton. All just as eager to provide the action on race day and walk away with the silverware.

(c) WTCC – Tom Chilton

Speaking of Chilton, he hasn’t returned alone to the BTCC, Vauxhall are back as a works team. Partnering up with Power Maxed racing in the new Astra. The car looked resplendent today at Donnington, standing out in the white, black and yellow livery. West Surrey racing also have something to smile about as they managed to bag a works deal with BMW. With the main man Turkington back in the driving seat they will be battling hard to reclaim the title after coming so close with Sam Tordoff last year. It’s the same car with new faces over at Triple eight, Árón Taylor-Smith and Daniel Lloyd will front the charge in the MG’s.

(c) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo – Mat Jackson

My dark horse for this year though has to be Mat Jackson in the Motorbase Ford Focus. If they can get the car to perform in the early rounds then they will stand much more of a chance of having a shot at the title. Something that hasn’t really happened for the last few years. But no doubt they will be there or there about.

Whatever happens this year I can guarantee we will have a cracker of a season. Expect the racing to be heated right from lights out at Brands Hatch indy all the way through to the finale when they return to face the GP circuit. So, who’s ready?

Mitch Oakley

Grand Prix in the USA

GP USA F1/2015 – 25/10/15
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Formula 1 may have only recently found its spiritual American home in Texas but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the only time that grand prix racing has taken on the land of the brave and free. Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from F1’s past in America.

Our first trip down memory lane sees us in 1983 at Long Beach. This one is a true underdog story and shows that there is nothing greater than pure grit and determination when it comes to racing. The two McLaren cars of Nikki Lauda and John Watson had a day to forget in the qualifying session. They couldn’t quite get the tyres to work thus lining up at the back of the grid. Patrick Tambay managed to steal pole and looked like a favourite for the race win, considering the difficulty of overtaking on a street circuit. The start however didn’t go to plan with Keke Rosberg from the second row spotting a gap between the two front row starting Ferraris. Contact with Arnoux left the Frenchman spinning across the track. Tambay would lead but a costly mistake on lap 26 would see him running wide. This was Rosberg’s chance. The two cars went side by side with Tambay holding his line, then contact! Tambay up onto two wheels and stalling the car in the middle of the track. Laffite took the lead whilst Rosberg collided with the Ligier of Jean-Pierre Jarrier, taking them both out of the running. After going unwatched for most of the race the McLaren pair found themselves in third and fourth (Watson ahead of Lauda). Patrese ended up down the escape road leaving Watson to chase down Laffite for the lead. Lap 45 Watson would pass Laffite for the lead without even realising he had done so. A short while later and Lauda joined him to take McLaren’s first 1-2 finish in fifteen years. A truly outstanding effort.

Now it’s time to talk about “that grand prix.” Yes you guessed it. Indianapolis 2005. A favourite circuit amongst pretty much every racing driver out there. High speeds, with a challenging infield section. What could possibly go wrong? The weekend is the one for me that ended the tyre war between Bridgestone and Michelin. A strange construction problem with the Michelin tyres meant that they would become unstable after about 10 laps as Ralf Schumacher found out during practice, resulting in a terrible accident. This wasn’t helped by the rules at the time which stated cars were only allowed to use one set of tyres during the race. The idea of a chicane before the final banking was thought up to reduce speeds, thus increasing the stability of the tyres. The FIA however believed that this would cause more problems than it would fix. So the track was left unchanged. Jarno Trulli claimed Toyota’s first pole position, but along with the other 13 Michelin shod cars he wouldn’t even take to the start. The Michelin cars all pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap. Effectively retiring from the race rather than pulling out of the event which would lead to penalties and punishment. That left just the six cars of Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi. An easy victory resulted for Michael Schumacher who strengthened his position in the championship due to none of the drivers who were above him before the race, actually taking part. Michelin and the tyre war stayed only for another year before Bridgestone took on a sole supplier role within F1.

As I mentioned earlier Formula 1 has now found its spiritual home in America. Since 2012 COTA (Circuit of the Americas) has played to host to the circus of speed. Its unique blend of long straights, tight technical sections and incredible elevation changes have helped to

create some of the best racing in the modern era. Borrowing ideas and principles from other classic circuits, COTA has found its place in the heart of fans and drivers alike. Moments like Hamilton chasing Vettel most of the way round in the inaugural race or the extremely wet weather of last year, which caused chaos and excitement. It also meant that Lewis Hamilton would claim his third drivers title after passing team mate and championship rival Nico Rosberg in the closing stages. I am certainly looking forward to whatever this weekend’s race has to throw up at us. Expect thrills and spills on the roller-coaster that is COTA.

(Image Courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media)

Mitch Oakley