Blog 2- BTCC Season Closer: An Unbelievable Finale
This was, quite simply, an incredible climax to the British Touring Car Championship Season! If someone had given me a script that had contained what happened on Sunday, I would’ve passed it off as fanciful fiction from the back offices of a certain suburb of Los Angeles. However, fiction this was not. It was a real-life blockbuster of epic drama, heartbreak and a touch of romance. We’ll get to the finale a little later, but in true Hollywood style, let’s sow the seeds of suspense and take it right back to the start... Saturday morning brought low clouds, medium temperatures and high stakes to the undulations and sweeping bends of Brands Hatch for two free practice sessions and the all-important qualifying session for the following day’s season finale. The legendary Grand Prix circuit is a firm favourite among the BTCC protagonists, offering up a stern challenge in dry conditions, but perhaps creating the ultimate challenge of the season on a day that was getting wetter and wetter as the rainfall intensified through the day. The red flag came out on a number throughout the morning, beginning with Team HARD’s local fan-favourite Michael Crees making an impromptu trip to the beach. These stoppages, combined with the changeable morning rainfall, resulted in many teams struggling to glean any detailed information from the tyres, cars or drivers in difficult conditions. Despite the challenging conditions, it was West Surrey Racing who had their cars dialled in the most, with Colin Turkington topping free practice 1, and Andrew Jordan (known hereafter as AJ) matching the feat in free practice too. This was to make the qualifying session lively, to make a mighty understatement! With things tight at the top of the Championship standing heading into qualifying, and the weather threatening to be unpredictable on Sunday, the bonus point on offer for taking the coveted pole position looked to be vital. Five drivers started the weekend with title claims, however Tom Ingram, sitting 62 behind championship leader Colin Turkington with only 66 to play for, saw his outside chances all but vaporised after only managing a disappointing 17th position by the end of the session, after taking to the grass on his flying lap. This was fate also suffered by both fellow outsider BTC Racing’s Josh Cook and 2nd placed Dan Cammish, who did well to haul the Team Dynamics Civic Type R around the 2.5mile circuit in a time good enough for 11th, but not ideal for the in-form title prospect. AJ, potentially departing the BTCC after the weekend due to man sponsor Pirtek withdrawing from racing at the end of the season, had his best time scrubbed after finding the cat litter at the super-fast Hawthorn bend (causing the hardy marshals to whip out the red flag yet again). However, he wasn’t denied an impressive 3rd place on the grid as he aimed for a strong start, sitting 3rd in the title picture. All these fun and games were eclipsed by the imperious Turkington, aiming for a 3rd pole of the season and 20th of his career. The Championship leader sent his West Surrey Racing BMW 3 Series gliding across the ever-slickening Grand Prix Circuit tarmac early on, in an impressive 1:40.752 after a number of consistent and impressive timed laps, 0.316 seconds ahead of wet-weather maestro Ash Sutton’s Subaru Levorg. This target that would not be trumped, ensuring a clear track ahead of the defending champion on Sunday morning, and an important bonus point safely in the bank.
WSR Team mate and Jack Sears trophy chaser Tom Oliphant slithered into an impressive 4th, while trophy rival Rory Butcher slotted in close behind in 5th, in the ever-improving Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance backed Honda Civic. Jake Hill mastered the tricky conditions impressively to put Trade Price Cars Racing Audi in 6th spot, continuing his season-long progression through the rankings. BTC Racing’s Type R’s filled the fourth row, with Josh Cook putting his sleek Honda in 8th just behind Chris Smiley in 7th. Mike Bushell, still standing in for the sadly absent Sam Tordoff, took 9th while the stellar progress made by Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat (since swapping the Mercedes A-Class for the rear wheel drive Infiniti) continued as he rounded out the top 10.
Dan Cammish said qualifying was like “putting tea trays under the wheels and giving it a blast” and admitted to struggling, while an ever-frank AJ admitted to “screwing up” with his off and Tom Ingram admitted to not wanting to talk much about the whole affair. This is why we love the BTCC drivers, and whether you like or dislike their driving styles, they’re always honest and open.
RACE ONE – Setting a tone As yours truly can testify on his drive to Brands Hatch from Berkshire, Sunday morning was a grey, wet, slippery affair early on. But at least I had the prospect of hospitality ahead of me, courtesy of Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing after a rather fortunate competition win. There was also an opportunity to win a replica Honda Civic with team livery, a little more on that later.
As the morning passed, the track was drying out, therefore providing a tyre conundrum for the teams with the weather predicted to be changeable throughout race one (I personally think The Hard Compound is always the way to go, but I would, wouldn’t I?). As it was, a mix of tyres was seen as the drivers finished their green flag lap with rain in the air in Kent. Pole position man Turkington lost the lead before the end of the pit lane as Ash Sutton nailed his start and sent his Adrian Flux-backed Subaru around the outside like an Exocet in true “wet weather Sutton” style, leading to a fascinating tussle for top spot in the formative circulations of the damp circuit. A tussle that culminated in Turkington sliding the BMW by the Subaru heading into Druids hairpin a handful of laps later, and into a commanding 28 point championship advantage.
However, the safety car (whose driver completed more laps than anyone else on Sunday!) was required when the seemingly luckless Matt Simpson Honda was forced wide at Paddock Hill Bend and gave a pile of repurposed Dunlops an almighty thump, happily without injury to Matt.
A number of teams took this opportunity to bring their cars in for a change to the blue-walled wet tyres as the rain intensified further, soaking parts of the track. From our vantage point above the main straight we noted (if memory serves me correctly) Motorbase’s Tom Chilton & Ollie Jackson, Team HARD’s Michael Crees and Jack Goff, the Team Dynamics duo of Matt Neal and Dan Cammish, the legendary Mark Blundell of Trade Price Cars Racing and independent charger Aiden Moffat all rolling the dice behind the safety car, with Neal emerging first. Sadly, the increasingly-excellent Jake Hill - who had made his way impressively up to 3rd spot early on - had dropped back down into the midfield as the rain got heavier.
Now in recent weeks, your author has spotted that Dan Cammish seems to have an invisible, incredibly powerful hairdryer strapped to the front of that Halfords Yuasa Honda when it comes to wet races! I’m convinced the man could find grip on an ice rink while wearing my mother’s slippers, and today was no different. On the restart, Rory Butcher had flown into the lead on his worn in boots and set a decent pace, while Sutton and Turkington slithered down the running order as they were unfortunately swallowed up by some of those on grooved fresh rubber as we approached the closing stages of the day’s first offering.
And so it was on lap 16 that the highlight of thrilling race came to pass. Literally. Scotsman Butcher was impressively keeping the charging Cammish behind him, the Yorkshireman having set a searing pace since his stop, and thundered through the order to 2nd spot. “Old shape” Honda Civic held the inside racing line, blasting back onto the Indy Circuit through Clearways and onto the main straight. Surely nobody would attempt a pass around the outside of one of the most daunting and heart-stopping corners in the world in THESE conditions? Butcher had reckoned without Cammish, who slung his “new shape” civic to the left and then to right into the cliff-like Paddock Hill Bend, beautifully drifting his faithful beast around the outside and into the lead. DanCam didn’t need his mirrors thereafter as he shot off into the distance, mastering the conditions as if he’d been in the BTCC for as long as Mr. Plato (more on him later too)! Matt Neal had scythed his way through the pack in as impressive a style as he had done in monsoon conditions at Silverstone in the previous round, and the old-stager (sorry Matt!) was using all his experience acting as rear-gunner to the imperious Cammish, who thundered to an eleventh-to-first victory and hurled himself back into Championship contention after surely thinking he was out of it overnight.
Behind this, making quiet yet almost biblical progress, was Tom Chilton of local chargers Motorbase Performance taking the final podium place having started in 19th. I don’t think anyone would have stuck their hard-earned £5 note on that top 3 after 8 laps, let alone before the off!
RACE TWO – Getting into position After some constant rainfall during the support races, most notably in the Porsche Supercup Series race where the track expert, the safety car driver ,was putting in some overtime, the majority of the BTCC grid chose to put the grooved shoes on their cars. Three drivers who had misfortune in the first race (Tom Ingram and the Team HARD pair of Michael Crees and Bobby Thompson) opted to take a gamble on the track drying out opted for slicks.
The all Team Dynamics front row made decent starts, but this time it was Colin Turkington who aced his start from 5th position, slaloming his way between Chilton and Butcher to blast past Neal on the outside heading into the first turn behind the equally rapid-starting Cammish heading up to Druids. Further back there was a major incident as the MG of Jack Goff took a little to over-friendly with the white line on the fringe of the circuit, which rejected his advances and pitched the Buckinghamshire driver back across the track and into traffic before he’d made it as far as the hairpin. Sadly, he collected Oliphant and Morgan who were both innocent victims in whole affair and all 3 cars ended up facing piles of tyres, with Oliphant out of the race and Goff unfortunately out of Race 3 as well as his black and green wagon which lost a lot of its green from the front end! Adam Morgan was able to continue at the rear with little hope of points, but with good opportunity to gain standing in the chase for the Forever Forward prize should a safety car come out. This is exactly what happened a handful of laps in, as the days major talking point took place at Graham Hill Bend moments after the 3-car pile-up I just mentioned.
Cammish led as Turkington, desperate to maintain his strong start, followed him around the tricky left-hander before he found himself set into a graceful pirouette and rolling backwards onto the sodden turf on the outfield. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the previous incidents between the two experienced racers, it was Neal who had made contact with the left-rear of the BMW, relegating it to the rear of the field with little to no chance of points and potentially out of the title picture. Neal soldiered on, attempting to maintain his role as rear gunner to Championship hopeful Cammish while Turkington pitted straight away for slicks in a nothing-to-lose gamble. Now, from our perspective high above the main straight, it appeared to be a racing incident; one that can happen in greasy conditions heading downhill with the ultimate prize at stake. Indeed, from the still photos posted on social media looked back down the Cooper Straight at the incident it looked as though Turkington had perhaps closed the door on Neal with the Civic comfortably alongside, perhaps not seeing him there. However, having seen the incident from multiple angles, at varying speeds and seeing the sly wink and smile Mr. Neal gave his team boss on returning to the pits post-race, I must personally come to the awkward conclusion that Neal at least half-knew what he was doing and, as a furious Turkington alluded to in his post-race interview, probably would have avoided contact if he’d found up sliding up the inside of a car with an identical paint job! Of course, Matt is known and rightly lauded for his aggressive “elbows out” style of driving, but on this occasion, I personally feel he went a little beyond the appropriate line in the sand in order to aid his team-mate (sorry Matt, we still love you!). Neal was later given a 5-place grid penalty for race 3, and three points added to his licence. Clearly the stewards agreed with yours truly. I invite you to offer your own opinions on this incident, all opinions are of course respected. That’s how we roll here!
Back to the action. A handful of laps later, Mark Blundell went for a closer view of the soggy fans at the tricky Druids, bogging down in the gravel in the process. Cue a quite possibly re-fuelled safety car with a driver who hadn’t managed his lunchtime cheese and ham sandwich yet.
While Ciceley Motorsport’s pair, Morgan and Rowbottom, made strong progress in the worsening conditions it was the king of wet weather Ash Sutton, who had started quickly and made up half a dozen places in the opening exchanges who excelled as the safety cars lights went out. On wet tyres and in his words, “Finally, we got a bit of luck. For us, with the wet tyre, those conditions work”, he steadily increased his advantage lap on lap to enable himself to coast through the closing stages to gather his first win of the season for Adrian Flux Subaru Racing at the 29th attempt, and in doing so became the 12th different winner this season. Relief all round I’m sure, as Sutton had never gone through a season within stepping to the top of the podium. The run continues, impressively.
As a side note, I personally think the Levorg is the worst looking car on the (admittedly beautiful looking) grid, but goodness me it sounds the best! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your standpoint, the Levorg will not be lining up on the BTCC grid next year as today the BMR team announced it will not be continuing using the estate car as their 4 year deal with Subaru expired.
After an irritatingly backwards motion in race one, AJ forced his way back into title contention with an impressive run through the pack to take a deserved second. In his own words, he gave it “everything he had to stay in the fight after race 1”, which was clearly evident on his overtake on Neal mid-race. He did say he’d be pushing Cammish and Turkington all the way, but conceded it was the former’s to lose after he took the final podium spot ahead of Neal. Fifth and sixth went to Ford Focuses of Chilton and Jackson respectively, which was another strong outing by those two with Chilton insisting Motorbase could have got 3 podiums this weekend despite heavy ballast in race 2, and the team going experimental with the setup on Saturday. A charging Jason Plato looked to be getting involved with the title story with a charging drive up to the fringes of podium positions but unfortunately charged a little too hard on the final approach to Westfield, and created a Power Maxed Racing with Sterling Insurance-themed lawnmower, eventually taking seventh Substituting for Nic Hamilton, Michael Caine produced a superb drive to claim eighth, Rory Butcher took ninth Team Parker Racing’s Stephen Jelley (finally with luck on his side!) capped off the top ten.
RACE 3 – The Decider So the scene was set. Cammish was now at the top of the Championship standing for the first time all season, and what a time to do it with one race to go and knowing a top 8 finish would crown him champion in only his second season. Turkington was only 8 points behind but starting 20th and seemingly out of it. AJ was still in the hunt of course, but surely can’t have been overly confident. The reverse grid saw Senna Procter and Stephen Jelley promoted to the front row with Moffat in third, then the race 2 finishing positions down to tenth with AJ starting next to Cammish with a demoted Neal behind. The latter’s old friend Jason Plato started in 7th.
Fortunately, I was now viewing things from above the access road to the back of the pits and got a fantastic sonic assault as the final round of the season got underway with Jelley hammering to the front of the order, and Proctor slotting in behind. As the opening exchanges unfolded, Turkington had made his way up into the top ten (passing 10 competitiors on lap 1 alone) alongside an equally storming Tom Ingram for Speedworks Motorsport’s fastest pasty in town, in a seemingly vain attempt at retaining his title, and Andrew Jordan stayed in touch well at the front, running 4th as Jelley slid backwards on un-cooperative tyres. Turkington edged ahead of Ingram as the race entered its closing stages, before nudging his way past Cammish for sixth spot at Druids with four laps to go, the champion-elect unwilling to defend too vigorously with visibly glowing brakes, knowing the cushion he had back to Ollie Jackson in ninth.
With all eyes on the Championship tussle unfolding in the midfield, it was veteran and double champion Plato who had scorched his way to the front of the running in the Vauxhall Astra. Plato has said many times this season that he can still win races in Power Maxed Racing could get the car dialled in, and boy did he prove it! He extended his lead lap after lap to take an incredibly popular victory in the final outing of the year. It was certainly popular with your author, who had witnessed 35 Touring Car Races previously and had never seen JP victorious.
Congratulations to JP but of course the main story was being played out 15 seconds back down the road from him, as AJ had held steady in fourth spot and hoping (in the nicest possible sense) for misfortune for Turkington and Cammish, with the former now running in sixth and the latter in seventh. The Honda driver doing enough for what would be the people’s choice of championship winner (from what I heard in general around the course throughout the day).
Amazingly, going into the penultimate circulation of the famed Grand Prix circuit, the most incredible and scarcely believable drama was about to unfold, resulting in sickening heartache for one and nearly impossible elation for another. Even writing this four days after the event my heart is pounding, and I find myself shaking my head. With merely a lap and a half of the season remaining, Cammish was hurtling down Pilgrim’s Drop and screaming towards the super-fast Hawthorn bend when under braking, brakes glowing orange, the rear axle locked. The brakes on his faithful Type-R, having been so reliable all season, had failed sending him spinning backwards across the gravel at sickening speed, mounting the tyre barrier and coming to rest in the gravel, resulting in his only non-finish of the season. It was a truly heartbreaking end to a fantastic effort by a fantastic driver in only his second season in a fantastic team. He had given it absolutely everything he had, only to be undone by something totally out of his control. It just wasn’t to be this time. The shock and disappointment was as palpable around the packed circuit as it was in the devastated Team Dynamics pit garage. Even the staunchest supporter of the other drivers can only have felt for DanCam, who immediately afterwards stated “It hasn’t sunk in, I don’t think it’s hit me. I’ve never been in shock but I feel as though this is as close as I might get.” He’d struggle to find anyone who didn’t empathise.
There was, of course, a lap left to run as the WSR erupted (impusively, if not advisedly) into raptures at Cammish’s demise (I’m sure they regret it now, but on the spur of the moment these things happen), knowing either AJ or Turkington would take the title. AJ was now only 2 points behind Turkington, but needed to pass Sutton 3 seconds up the road or the Turkington to drop a position on the final lap to be crowned champion on the final outing for Pirtek Racing. What a fairytale ending that would have been.
Alas it was not to be as Turkington, still unaware he was in a title-winning position, guided his BMW to the finish line where he was advised via radio that he had won the battle for supremacy. Not only had he retained his title in the most incredible, heart-stopping fashion having ruled himself out of the race after the Neal-gate in race 2, but he had become only the second driver to win 4 titles; matching the legendary Andy Rouse. While Cammish may have been the people’s choice, there was clearly no shortage of support for the victorious Irishman as the main grandstand erupted at his taking of the final chequered flag of the season. AJ had fallen an agonising 2 points shy of ultimate success, and I can safely say that I truly believe he would have been champion this year had he not had that event-ending shunt at Donington way back in race 4.
The final podium was occupied by Plato, Butcher and Sutton. The top ten was completed by Jordan, Cook, Turkington, Ingram, Jackson, Morgan and Oliphant.The remaining runners finished as Jelley, Hill, Neal, Moffat, Thompson, Bushell, Caine, Collard, Boardley, Blundell, Proctor and Smith.
Again huge congratulation to JP, but Sunday of course belonged to Colin Turkington, who had this to say (courtesy of BTCC.net):
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get close to Andy Rouse’s record – that’s amazing and very special. This has been my hardest championship by a long shot – to win it two laps from the end of the season is completely different to the others. My engineer told me that Dan was out but I couldn’t see where Andrew was so wasn’t sure if it was enough. I was in shock when I crossed the finish line and was told I was champion!”
Shock was definitely the dominant emotion around Brands Hatch as the sun went down, and we couldn’t quite believe what we had witnessed, but were privileged to do so.
Turkington leapt from his car to embrace his team and family, and I’d like to think all the while there was a thought for DanCam in the back of his mind, before climbing to the roof of his BMW and punching the air with both fists.
Cue the photographers: It has become a photo that sums up another fabulous British Touring Car Season, and is a worthy salute to a worthy champion.
He has now joined the elite of the British Touring car Championship, and should now rightly be considered a legend alongside the greatest in the game, game changers like Jack Sears and Andy Rouse.
As a little side note to the main story, it should be mentioned that Team HARD’s Bobby Thompson replaced his usual sponsorship livery with the hashtags #TimeToTalk and #AskTwice in support of the campaign to reduce the suicide rate among men in the UK. This is doubly important to “Bobster” as his close friends Lee Carpenter and Jon Cook both lost that particular mental struggle recently. Thompson has since said it was a very tough week, but a special weekend for a lot of reasons. I’d like to extend a big well done to Bobby for this gesture, as I’m sure you all will too.
Of the track, you’ll remember I mentioned earlier that as a competition winner there was an opportunity for yours truly to win a “clone” of the Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Honda Civic as raced by Rory Butcher and Mike Bushell. This was basically a 2014 Civic with the team livery on, and beautiful black alloy racing wheels. The winner out of 10 competition winners was to be decided by a Scalextric shootout in the bar behind the Hailwood’s Grandstand. Unfortunately, yours truly was beaten (by a jump start which went scandalously unpunished!) in the semi-final. However, I am delighted to say that our own The Hard Compound follower, Samantha Jo (to give her social media name) won the final and took amazing prize. I can confirm she was in a state of almost uncontrollable nervousness during the shootout, followed by a state of shock for an hour afterwards! Congratulations Samantha!
Congratulations too to Rory Butcher for winning the Jack Sears Trophy, Adam Morgan for taking the Forever Forward Trophy, Dan Harper for winning the Porsche Supercup crown, Jack Young for taking the Clio Cup Title, Harry King for taking the Ginetta Championship, and Zane Maloney & Carlin Racing for taking the Formula 4 spoils. Thank you reader for your time, please do sign in and comment below, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, congratulations again to Colin Turkington, and remember: Win or lose, trophy or replica car, elation or despair, there are fewer things more peculiar than leaving Brands Hatch with Stephen Jelley’s front wheel…
Rich - THC
www.facebook.com/thehardcompound Instagram: TheHardCompound Twitter: @TheHardCompound