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Blog 7 - BTCC Season Review 2019: Part 1

Round 1, Brands Hatch Indy What was to be another thrilling Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship kicked off at Brands Hatch with a trio of very popular winners with BTC Racing, West Surrey Racing / Pirtek and AmD Cobra Racing celebrating the top prizes.

Ash Sutton took pole position for Adrian Flux Subaru on Saturday with an impressive session, but as it was it counted for little once the changeable weather conditions came to the fore on Sunday for Race 1

It was Josh Cook who mastered the conditions best to win the opener, having got his tyre strategy absolutely right. He kept the dry boots on as multiple others switched to the new wet tyre as drizzle and fog loomed menacingly around the famous Indy Circuit.

Cook had just crept into the top 10 in qualifying, and had decided that it was worth taking a gamble and started on dry tyres while the majority opted for wets - it proved to be a tactical masterstroke.

Pole sitter Sutton made a mighty getaway from pole position as Jason Plato, making his debut for Power Maxed Racing in the Vauxhall Astra, seemed to bog down at the start being passed by an impressive BMWs. The number 66 Civic of Cook initially dropped back down the running as the wet conditions sent the dry-shod cars sliding and twitching around the shorter Brands Hatch circuit, but after a handful of laps the track began to show it’s dry line as the drizzle eased and when Cook set the fastest lap in his the Honda Civic Type R. He began hurtling through the order and dragging a number of other dry tyre runners with him – within 3 laps he was on to the tail of race leader Sutton in a repeat of the battle seen in the final race of the 2018 season. This was a more straightforward task for the BTC Racing charger as he slipped past Sutton’s Levorg with relative ease. He never looked back as he gradually eased away from the chasing pack, and it became apparent that it was going to be a case of who would join him on the podium as those on the dry tyres began scythed their way into the upper echelons of the leaderboard.

It was local man and crowd favourite Jake Hill who made his way into second in the Trade Price Cars Racing Audi, to the audible joy of the masses gathered around the circuit. He was followed home to an equally raucous reception by Tom Chilton in Motorbase’s Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher Ford Focus. Motorbase have their headquarter less than couple of miles from the West Kingsdown circuit – quite a start for the local lads.

Cook later confirmed that while on dry tyres things “got a slippy at the end with a bit more rain falling but it held off. There was no magic there just a bit of calculated risk and it’s paid off!”

The First Podium of 2019 - Image from Motorsport.com

A little further down the order, the was a points-scoring start for Kent driver Michael Crees of Team HARD; the already-crowd-favourite backed up his loveable outward persona with a hard and gritty debut drive to take 12th. Elsewhere former F1 driver Mark Blundell took his BTCC bow only a little further behind, and an encouraging start was made by Nic Hamilton who marked his debut with a top 20 finish, as his brother and then-five-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis, looked on.

As it turned out it was Cook who left the Kent venue with the standings lead as he followed his up his victory with two solid points finishes in the day’s other contests.

In race 2, it was Andrew Jordan who scored the first victory for the all-new BMW 330i M Sport as he surged his way through from 15th on the grid in race two, in what was to sadly be the start of Pirtek’s final season on the grid as sponsors.

Again, the drivers were faced with challenging and changeable conditions ahead of the race, but this time round all 30 drivers chose to set off on dry tyres having got a feel for the circuit and where the grip was in race one. There was a hectic start to the race, and you’ll forgive us for losing track of the overtakes once you revisit the footage of this one – suffice to say there was a myriad of manoeuvres all the way down the pack in the early running and into the middle of the race – by which time there was a three-way tussle for the lead with Jordan joining Cook and Sutton who were renewing old acquaintances.

As we know, full ballast makes things difficult in the clearest of conditions, but having led for a decent number of laps, Josh Cook’s Honda simply could match the pace of Ash Sutton with the latter making a textbook dive up the inside at Graham Hill Bend to snatch the lead. The already-impressive BMW of Andrew Jordan also went thundering through and immediately put the Levorg under severe pressure, swarming all over the back of the 2017 Champion and he eventually eased by on lap 16 – never looking back and taking the first win of the season for the new 3 series.

Sutton held on to second, somehow fighting off impressive and sustained late charges by Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Motorsport Mac Tools Mercedes A-Class, Jake Hill, Tom Ingram in the Speedworks Toyota Corolla, and Stephen Jelley flying home for Team Parker in their nippy BMW 1 Series. Morgan’s Mercedes and Sutton’s Subaru were running side-by-side as all 4 sped along the home “straight”, with a photo finish required to rubber-stamp Sutton’s second place by just 0.022s from Morgan.

A clearly emotional Andrew Jordan said after the race: “The team deserve that. I believe in this car, I have a good feeling about myself and the team. Well done to BMW with the new 3 Series – it’s fantastic” – words that would be backed up throughout the 2019 season.

AJ en route to success at Brands Hatch - Photo from Touring Car Times

In the reverse grid race, it was Matt Neal was promoted to pole position and led the pack away, taking control in the opening two-thirds of the affair, and after the opening exchanges of a relatively quiet affair it was Tom Chilton who it seemed had clinched the victory as he nudged past veteran Matt Neal across the start/finish line on lap 13, but not before the contact was made resulting in the stewards viewing it as a “Push to pass”, and handing out a post-race penalty of 5 seconds to his race time for an incident involving Neal, promoting Rory Butcher to the top of the podium… if not literally!

The aforementioned penalty promoted the perhaps-surprisingly quick Cobra Sport AmD Autoaid/RCIB Insurance’s “old style” Honda Civic of Rory Butcher to race winner at the expense of his former stable… we’re sure he enjoyed that! It was Butcher’s first success of his BTCC Win, and one that went down very well. Neal’s pace had continued to dwindle and, while defending his position, the Team Dynamics Type R can into contact with Jelley’s BMW and was sideways through Clearways, allowing the charging Butcher past both of them and on to victory.

Jelley and Neal continued their scrap until and issue with one of his wheels caused Neal to slow dramatically, presenting Jelley went on to grab a hugely popular podium for the first time in nearly a decade, and rewarding the efforts of everyone at Team Parker with their first ever BTCC podium.

Josh Cook and BTC Racing top the Drivers’, Independent Drivers’, Teams’ and Independent Teams’ tables at this early stage of the season, whilst Honda and BMW share the lead of the Manufacturers’ standings. Race three winner Rory Butcher is currently leading the Jack Sears Trophy.

Rory Butcher belatedly celebrating his first BTTC win - Photo from Dunfermline Press

Round 2: Donington Park For round 4, 5 and 6 the circus headed to the East Midlands and to the fabulously flowing Donington Park Circuit. The first BTCC race of the day was unsurprisingly filled with action on the high speed sweeps and swoops of this fantastic track, and the second outing had more than it’s fair share of incidents and accidents too, but it was West Surrey Racing’s Colin Turkington who doubled his 2018 race-winning tally in just one afternoon as the reigning champion secured two lights-to-flag victories.

Turkington had secured his first BTCC pole position in over two years (hard to believe, right??), and turned it into what proved to be a relatively comfortable race one victory as the drama commenced behind him.

On the first lap at the Old Hairpin and the foot of the impressive Craner Curves occurred a multi-car accident, one that led to several retirements and heavy damage to a number of cars – most notably to the unfortunate Andrew Jordan’s BMW, which through no fault of his own slid sideways following contact to the right rear as Rob Collard went in a little hot-headed. Jordan was spun through 90 degrees right into the path of the chasing masses with the Adam Morgan having nowhere to go in his Mercedes, spearing into the side of the Pirtek BMW. Ollie Jackson’s Ford Focus, independent entry Matt Simpson’s Honda and Jake Hill’s Audi were also terminal casualties of the fracas.

Andrew Jordan's day ended prematurely - Photo from Autosport

Jordan was taken to hospital as a precaution, happily only sustaining bumps and bruising but the his BMW was so badly damaged that he had to sit out races 2 and 3 on the day – this would cost him dearly later on in the year. When things calmed down and the racing took centre stage again it was again Ash Sutton who followed the reigning champion home, whilst Tom Oliphant grabbed a maiden BTCC podium in the sister car to Turkington at WSR. Tom Chilton took the Independent spoils, finishing a well-earned 4th.

In race 2 of the day, Turkington took to the challenge of two safety car periods in race two easily, blasting off into the sunset and taking his second win of the day as easily as he could have dreamed of. His old adversary Matt Neal had been expertly manoeuvring his Civic through the drama and carnage in race 1, and was quietly going about his business in race 2 and made a superb move on Sutton with 2 laps remaining to leap onto the second step of the podium ahead of the consistent young charger. After the race, a beaming Turkington was delighted: “I can’t say enough about this team. That’s three wins already for the new BMW 3 Series this season. It’s a big pat on the back for the whole team.”

Race 3 was starved of the action and drama of its predecessors, perhaps the racing gods were exhausted and just wanted a lie down – However the reverse grid threw Tom Ingram’s Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Corolla onto pole position, which was met by loud applause as the Toyota factory is a stone’s throw from Donington Park (if you have a thumping good throw on you) and the all-new Team Toyota GB with Ginsters Corolla had a storming outing as he sped away from the rest and was totally untroubled, taking a first ever victory for the team as more than 4,500 Toyota members and their families watched on, sparking fantastic scenes in the paddock and hospitality areas.

Ingram, who had sadly lost his Grandmother during the week said “It’s an incredibly special moment. What a weekend to do it on, in our now adopted home race. I can’t tell you the pride we’ll hold in this tonight.”

Power Maxed Racing got the Vauxhall Astra of Rob Collard dialled in for the final encounter, and it was the Hampshire-based veteran who claimed second after a mid-race pass on the again impressive Jake Hill. Equally impressive was Josh Cook as he took third in the impressive and improving BTC Racing Honda Civic Type R with the now not-so-surprising pace of Rory Butcher took fourth with sparring partner Sutton in fifth, whilst Hill had to settle for a solid top six finish on The Hard Compound (The best! Sorry….) tyre. For those of you wondering how Formula One legend Mark Blundell fared on this Sunday, he was sadly last seen exiting his Audi in the gravel trap. Never a nice place to be for such a lovely gent.

Sutton left Donington Park at the head of the overall Drivers’ standings, with just six points covering himself, Cook, Turkington, Chilton and Butcher.

"Tingram" celebrates an emotional win for Toyota - Photo from Motorsport.com

Round 3: Thruxton The championship headed back down South to the outskirts of Andover for rounds 7, 8 and 9, and to the fastest circuit on the calendar: Thruxton.

After his unfortunate and blameless accident and subsequent omission from proceedings at Donington Park, it was Andrew Jordan impressively bounce back right from the off in Hampshire, eventually getting the better of Cobra Sport AmD Autoaid/RCIB Insurance’s pole-sitter Sam Tordoff in the opener after initially blasting his new BMW 3 Series off the line and into second, passing the until-now struggling Dan Cammish in the Team Dynamics Halfords Yuasa Racing Civic Type R.

Getting comfortable on that top step... - Photo from Touring Car Times

It must be said, this was particularly uninspiring affair for a race conducted at such high speed, and the front-runners sped round almost in formation for pretty much the entire race before Tordoff’s Civic got a little squirrely powering through with three circuits remaining. It was the only invitation Jordan needed and he seized his opportunity, comfortably shooting by and into the lead after what looed like a mistake from the then-leader. It did become evident later that Tordoff’s car actually had power steering problems, causing it to ‘snap’ on him. It was Cammish who took his first podium of the season in third.

Race two saw Jordan, the 2013 champion, make a superb getaway from pole position and he proceeded to hurtle off into the distance without really looking back. Turkington made sure Jordan could never fully relax by keeping the pressure on the best he could, but barring a mechanical failure or an unforced driver error it was always going to be Jordan’s victory. And so it proved at the end of what was sadly another timid affair, with a BMW one-two being supported on the podium for a second time on the day by Dan Cammish – finally getting to grips with his Civic after setup issues at Brands Hatch and Donington.

Full tilt at Thruxton - Photo from Autocar

The final BTCC race of the day was a little more inspiring than the first two - There was a second victory of the season for Josh Cook and BTC Racing as both driver and team continued to improve in leaps and bounds. The 27 year old forced himself alongside, yes you guessed it, Ash Sutton who was on pole in his Subaru Levorg on the opening lap and edged past at the first chicane. Like Turkington at Donington, Cook had to overcome the disruption of two periods, as well as having to fend off Butcher and Sutton for the entire race but he held on brilliantly to keep his title challenge well on track.

Sutton looked very quick early on as he sought his first top-step finish of the season, but with his tyres going off on the punishing circuit he eventually had to concede second place through Church as Butcher bravely nipped up the inside through the high speed and challenging corner – 10 out of 10 for bravery Rory. It was an eye-catching move that moved him into the joint lead in the Championship standings alongside Turkington, who was only leading the way on races won. Both were just 2 points ahead of Josh Cook in what had been a surprising opening 9 races.

The consistent Ash Sutton in this Subaru Levorg - Photo from EngageSportMode

So nearly a third of the way through the season, it was Turkington & Butcher showing the driver the way. Honda were top of the Manufacturers standings, while Halfords Yuasa Racing topped the Teams’ standings. Butcher headed the Independent Drivers’ table and was the leader in the race for the Jack Sears Trophy, whilst BTC Racing led the Independent Teams’ table.

We’ll have our mid-season instalment of our 2019 review coming along shortly, where we’ll be looking back at the action from Croft, Oulton Park, Snetterton 300 and the second visit to Thruxton. You won’t want to miss it…

Take care as always, and do follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

All the best,

Rich – THC www.facebook.com/thehardcompound Twitter: @TheHardCompound Instagram: TheHardCompound

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