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Blog 8 - BTCC Season Review 2019: Part 2

We're back for the mid-season instalment pf our 2019 review... CROFT RACE 1 The middle section of the BTCC season began at the flagship circuit for motorsport in the North East, the ever popular Croft. It was BMW Pirtek’s Andrew Jordan who put the impressive 3 series on pole position for round 10, setting up another charge from the front of the pack, and he led away on a tricky surface after sporadic and sometimes prolonged morning rain.

Chris Smiley had started in close proximity to Jordan, and clung on to second position in the blast down down to turn one while being put under severe pressure by Championship leader Colin Turkington and Tom Chilton’s finally dialled-in Motorbase Ford Focus. The weight-free BTC Racing Honda Civic was well suited to the slippery conditions, and the car appeared to be on rails as he found grip in all areas of the circuit meaning he was able to hold on to second relatively comfortably for the remainder of proceedings to take a first podium of the year, while Andrew Jordan vanished over the horizon and into parc ferme first in another commanding lights-to-flag victory. Carrying on the super form showed at Thruxton previously.

AJ celebrates his Race 1 win at Croft (Photo courtesy of Autosport)

Behind, the battle for the third step on the podium was a very lively one, with plenty going on; Turkington and Tom Oliphant were thundering along behind Tom Chilton as the Reigate-racer desperately tried to keep a firm grip of third position. With second out of reach, he produced a stellar defensive-yet-quick drive to keep the two more powerful BMW’s behind him, ending the race being almost bumped over the line by the Team BMW chargers. Incidentally, the two team mates Oliphant and Turkington made contact midway through the contest as the more inexperienced Oliphant tried to make a elbows out move on the reigning champion who just about fended off the move. Turkington’s fourth spot kept him top of the championship pile.

More battles were preveolent in the mid-top 10 with Dan Cammish and Ash Sutton slugging it out for the duration of the race, and also made a little contact but neither came to any harm. The Halfords Yuasa Racing man took sixth ahead of Adrian Flux Subaru Racing man in seventh. Veteran Jason Plato showed that he still has the pace in his Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra, keeping pace nicely to take eight. He had been rubbing with the other Motorbase driver Ollie Jackson but the Motorbase driver had to retire prematurely after a slithering spin into the gravel caused by damage to the left front of his car caused by a previous minor disagreement with a safety barrier.

It was left to the Civics of Josh Cook and Matt Neal to complete the top ten while Rob Collard and Nic Hamilton failed to complete the race after separate visits to grass and gravel. After the race Andrew Jordan was gushing about his start to the day, especially in tricky conditions: “Four wins already this year!” beamed AJ in his interview. “I was pretty nervous before today to be honest, certainly when it started to rain. I was just making sure I was careful when it was damp and after the safety car it was flat out. My thoughts as I went to the grid were “this is slippy!” so I’m delighted to have made it round first. That was tough going!”

CROFT RACE 2

For race 2 and round 11, the BMW Pirtek Racing man made a good getaway from pole position and in the opening trio of laps pulled away into comfortable advantage ahead of Chris Smiley ,who was the “cork in the bottle” as a snake of cars tailed him in the opening stages. BMW may have been hoping for a clean sweep of the before the off, but that optimism was scuppered on the opening lap, Oliphant spun out of top-three contention coming out of the chicane after some firm but fair doorhandling with Dan Cammish.

Back at the business end behind Jordan, and despite BTC Racing man’s best efforts, it was Turkington who eventually made it past Smiley first and and produced an impressive drive in reeling in the leader in the latter stages, but it was to no avail as Jordan powered to second victory of the day in ominously strong style. Cammish would eventually claim third as he passed Smiley with a handful of laps remaining, and was followed through shortly afterwards by team-mate Matt Neal. It was a shame to see Smiley fading as his Civic couldn’t quite to get to grips with more tricky conditions, and he slithered back down the order. A disappointing outing came to a slightly premature conclusion on the run out of the complex on the final lap as he tried to defend from the Levorg of a charging Ash Sutton; the pair had made contact on the lap before, and history repeated itself and it was a grey and pink blur that slid across the grass and kissed the barrier at the right hander before the final hairpin leaving Sutton to take fifth ahead of a fast-finishing Jason Plato. Surely a podium wouldn’t be too far away for the legendary latter…?

Chris Smiley unfortunately heading barrier-wards at Croft. (Photo from Touring Car Times)

In a big improvement from race of the day, it was Tom Ingram who took seventh after passing the BTC Racing pair of Josh Cook and the stricken Smiley as the Corolla shot through the order on a drying track. After a sturdy start, Tom Chilton was peculiarly swallowed up by the pack and held on for a top-ten finish in ninth, while Aiden Moffat rounded out the top ten for Laser Tools Racing and their beautiful looking Mercedes A-Class. All this meant Turkington extended his advantage at the top of the standings, snaffling a bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race late on. Again, and understandably jubilant Andrew Jordan was full of praise for his team: “A second double of the year!” he said. “West Surrey Racing and BMW; they’re the boys and girls. I knew it’d be hard and Colin (Turkington) would be strong and I went for it at the start. At the pace I was going, I knew he wouldn’t catch me. It’s easy to make mistakes and be greedy. My brother-in-law was here when I won my first race and he’s just won Le Mans as a race engineer, we’ve come a long way!.”

CROFT RACE 3

The reverse grid race threw up an eye opener when Tom Chilton was drawn from Steve Rider’s magic container, promoting him from ninth and the other placed drivers slotting in accordingly behind – just what we like to see! Despite heavy rainfall before, and on, the green flag lap an number of drivers opted to gamble on the dry tyre, with the weather forecast predicting an iminient end to the showers and a drying track ahead – would it pay off?

In damp conditions, Chilton sped away on the wet tyre taking Josh Cook and the evergreen Jason Plato with him. There was little incident between the trio but Chilton spent almost the entirety of proceedings defending from the BTC and Power Maxed men respectively. In the event, the experienced Motorbase man did so in style to take a much-needed important win, one that his team would have been frustrated in taking so long to arrive after a strong start back at Brands Hatch.

A delighted Tom Chilton celebrates his victory (Photo from Autosport)

Cook and Plato held second and third respectively – Cook becoming quite accustomed to the podium in 2019, while it was a first visit to the steps for the BTCC’s most successful driver Plato; both drivers continuing their impressive campaigns.

Unfortunately for one potential podium chaser in particular, the dry weather didn’t arrive in earnest until deep into the latter stages of the race and Tom Ingram paid a price for the gamble of putting dry tyres on his Toyota. It was a gamble worth taking, and it did result in an exciting game of cat-and-mouse as Ingram’s Toyota Corolla hurtled it’s way through the pack, taking more than a couple of handfuls of cars as the track finally dried out. Sadly he wasn’t able to make any significant inroads on the top end of the order and even missed out on the top ten.

Ahead of him, wet weather maestro Ash Sutton made a brave late pass on Matt Neal’s Honda at the final hairpin to take fourth, with the old-hand having to settle for fifth.

Andrew Jordan seemed set for sixth and a potentially important finish ahead of title rival Colin Turkington, but the latter had other ideas after a long battle with Jordan and the “old style” Civic of Scotsman Rory Butcher came to a thrilling end. On the exit of Tower, Turkington got a run on his stablemate and completed a smooth move through the Jim Clark Esses, with Butcher holding on to the BMW’s towbar (if it had one) to also slide past the Pirtek BMW. There was a welcome return to the top ten for Ciceley Motorsport in the shape of Adam Morgan and his Mac Tools-backed Mercedes A-Class, and Dan Cammish kept up his consistent top ten running to it out. Race winner Chilton was relieved to have taken advantage of the reverse grid good fortune, and the fact that it was Father’s Day wasn’t lost on him: “When you get a good start and you’re at the front you can almost take control of the lead, but there’s pressure to do so” remarked Chilton. “I said to my dad I’d try and get him a podium for Father’s Day and he said that wouldn’t be good enough, he wanted a win! I had to make sure I managed my tyres well and the team have made about a thousand setup changes over the weekend. It’s been a great one – a double podium and a race win.”

The season rolled on to a packed Oulton Park…

OULTON PARK RACE 1 It was a Turkington who took pole after qualifying at Oulton Park and he soon built up an advantage of over 1.5 seconds before they protagonists got to the Island Hairpin, despite being at maximum ballast. Dan Cammish had started at the business end and he came under huge pressure from Andrew Jordan who had shot off the grid like an Exocet, indeed the duo made contact through Old Hall for the first time as Ollie Jackson was ‘hung out to dry’ around the outside. The front three settled into what became something of precession over the 18 lap fare, with Jordan and Cammish having a few little tussles in the early stages of the event, before the Honda man eased away to take second from the Pirtek-liveried BMW in a comfortable third. The former kept Turkington on his toes as best he could as Turkington extended his advantage at the top of the standings. The Flying Scotsman Rory Butcher had a strong run behind having got the better of team mate Sam Tordoff early, and he overtook the Yorkshireman around the outside of the hairpin as Tordoff slipped from second to fifth in the opening exchanges. Tordoff’s struggles were minimal though compared to those of Matt Neal as he departed the fray on the sixth lap – his Civic heading straight on at the right hander at Lodge having parted company with it’s front left wheel and tyre, leaving Matt helpless behind the wheel and slamming into the tyres. Happily, the veteran emerged unscathed and would start race two from the rear.

Colin Turkington crosses the line in to win Race 1 (Photo credit to Autosport)

Neal’s excursion had brought the safety car out, and Tom Oliphant maintained sixth once the race restarted. Behind him it was Tom Ingram, Jason Plato and Ash Sutton providing some thrilling racing in a superb scrap for supremacy in the lower top ten - Ingram’s Team Toyota tagged Plato’s Astra into Hislops, prompting evasive action from the Levorg of Sutton, the 2017 Champion taking to the grass for a spot of rallycross. His dramas weren’t over though as a lap later he nicked the back of with Adam Morgan’s Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes attempting a lunge into Cascades, unfortunately forcing the latter into retirement. Ingram, Sutton and Plato took seventh, eighth and ninth respectively while Ollie Jackson recovered from an early drift to round out the top ten in his Shredded Wheat with Gallagher backed Motorbase Ford Focus, having made a couple of impressive overtakes on Jake Hill and Stephen Jelley for Trade Price Cars Racing and Team Parker Motorsport respectively. After the race, Turkington touched on what was becoming the key to BMW’s success; the launch: “We got a great launch and that’s something I’ve been working on,” said Turkington. “After that, it was such a tough race and hard work with the weight. The car’s always on the move and you’re trying to pre-empt that. It was flat out the whole way and I couldn’t hold anything back.”

OULTON PARK RACE 2 The BMWs stormed into a 1-2-4 off the line as Andrew Jordan over took Dan Cammish while Tom Oliphant got a storming start to take fourth early on. It was a little further down the order that the drama took place on the opening lap when Sutton went off following slight contact with Rob Collard’s Vauxhall at Cascades, while on the run down to the Island Hairpin Josh Cook seemingly tapped Goff ahead of him under braking, which left the Team HARD man slitheringout of control on the grass and back across the track, eventually spearing the Civic Type R of BTC Racing’s Chris Smiley – it was a hefty impact, and one that brought the safety car out early on.

Rob Smith gets airborne, and escapes unscathed (Photo from the Nantwich News)

Matt Neal, starting from the back, had clearly planned a high speed carve through the field after his race one retirement, and the safety car seemed have to have dented that plan, however at the restart he continued chis charge in the closing half of the race for Team Dynamics. He was helped by another safety car period in the mid-section of proceedings as Sam Osborne’s MG made heavy contact with the barrier at turn one, bunching the field up and bringing those ahead of him into vision – while at the front Turkington led home Jordan, Cammish and Oliphant. Sam Tordoff had a better second outing and took fifth as the top independent driver for Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance. An eye catching finish to the race by the improving Stephen Jelley saw him make a handful of superb moves, notably on Jason Plato to take sixth place on an impressive day for Team Parker and their BMW 1 Series runner. The ever-solid Rory Butcher and Tom Ingram added to their steady points scoring in seventh and eighth respectively, whilst Plato took 9th and BTC Racing’s Josh Cook completed the top ten, in better news after Smiley’s retirement. On the top step, it was Turkington’s 50th career BTCC victory, another milestone in a stellar Tin-Top career. Further down, young rising star Jake Hill too 12th for tradepricecars.com, which would prove important later on as the reverse-grid draw promoted him to pole position for race three. Dan Rowbottom took his first ever point in the BTCC when finishing 15th for Cataclean Racing with Ciceley Motorsport. Right at the of proceedings, Team HARD’s Michael Crees and Excelr8 Motorsport’s Rob Smith leant on eachother on the drag up to the line, resulting in the latter spearing into the barriers and the MG launching itself into the air as it bounced back onto the tarmac. It was a huge impact and a frightening incident, and happily the car came to rest the right way up, and Smith was able to walk away unscathed – although he wouldn’t take part in race 3 due to the damage sustained.

Colin Turkington was quick to praise his team’s efforts across the weeekend: “I didn’t realise this was where the stats were. For me that was a special win given how I felt with the car. I was completely in the zone. Every lap was as good as I could make it. It’s very rare that you finish a race and feel like that. There’s very few that you feel like you’re in a different place. I’m the frontman but the BMW and WSR guys are the ones doing all the work, it’s for them.”

50 wins up for Colin Turkington - Impressive. (Courtesy of Motorsport.com)

OULTON PARK RACE 3 The final outing of the day produced even more drama, with what was to become the main focus of the afternoon arriving on lap three. TradePriceCars.com’s Hill led away from pole position in his Audi S3, but immediately had to deal with the attention from Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal who was back at the front of the order after a difficult day. The Honda man was all over the back of the young Kent charger from the off and he snuck into the lead over the start/finish line at the start of the 3rd circuit – however on the exit of Old Hall, contact was made and Neal spun across the track sending a plume of tyre smoke into the air and across the track while a large group gaggle of cars tried to find their way through. The result was Hill leading from Rory Butcher and the impressive Stephen Jelley, as Neal tumbled towards the rear of the pack and out of contention.

Butcher went all out in his pursuit of Hill and soon latched onto his bumper as the laps wore on. Unfortunately for the Scotsman, he out-braked himself (possibly sliding on oil or water) heading to the hairpin, ran wide, and that was his charge curtailed, confirming Hill’s victory on-the-road in the process.

Jelley kept hill honest and took second for his second podium of the day with from Team BMW’s Tom Oliphant taking the final step on the rostrum having passed Cobra Sport Sam Tordoff late on.

Butcher recovered a little to take sixth behind BMW Andrew Jordan, and Josh Cook continued his improvement throughout the day to claim sixth after a terrific race-long battle with Turkington and Sutton - three title contenders producing some excellent clean racing.

Mercedes runners rounded out the top ten with Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat taking ninth ahead of Adam Morgan in tenth.

Celebrations ensued for Hill and his team, but it was Team Parker Racing’s Stephen Jelley who took his first Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship victory in ten years after his double-win at Rockingham in 2009. On-the-road winner Jake Hill received a post-race penalty for being found to be at fault the incident with Matt Neal, and had twenty seconds added to his time – It was unfortunate, absolutely not deliberate, but the correct call

A delighted Jelley reflected on a long-overdue win, and perhaps some luck that was on his side after the race, describing his view of the Hill-Neal incident: “I just saw a load of smoke and thought ‘where do I go?’. It worked out and then it was just head down. “Rory (Butcher) was quick and he just overcooked it into that hairpin. I was giving it everything I could to put Jake off – he drove a great race. Well done to everyone at Team Parker Racing. It’s been a long time coming; it’s taken two and a half years to get to this point and I’m sure we can do it on the road as well”.

A first win in a decade for Stephen Jelley (Photo from Autosport)

From the hills of Oulton Park, the teams headed East to flat land of Snetterton…

SNETTERTON RACE 1

Things reconvened after the summer break at Snetterton – the break was most notable for Laser Tools Racing’s switch away from their Mercedes A-Class. Aiden Moffat and his team had opted for a rear-wheel drive Infiniti Q50, perhaps with one eye on 2020. We must say, it’s a beautiful looking machine!

Snetterton has undergone some radical changes and extensions over the past few years, and remains a firm favourite with fans and drivers alike – not least Tom Ingram who stormed to a first pole position for the new Corolla during qualifying. Sadly this race wasn’t to be as exciting as the previous two outings at Oulton Park, with the Buckinghamshire-born Ingram holding off Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Dan Cammish relatively omfortably, stretching his advantage to three seconds on the final timing sheets to take his second win of the season.

Tom Ingram takes the flag at Snetterton. (Photo courtesy of the Northwich Guardian)

Cammish was untroubled all race and finished alone in second, and Sam Tordoff made a welcome return to the podium positions in his Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Honda Civic Type R – a place that seemed to be destined for Motorbase and Tom Chilton before a puncture late in the running put paid to his chances picking up some silverware.

Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan had opted to get the less-efficient medium compound tyres out of the way early, and despite sliding out of contention for victory the duo came home in runners fourth and fifth respectively. The latter had muscled his way by Jason Plato’s Astra at the Bomb Hole having banged doorhandles going through the esses – it divided opinion, Plato wasn’t happy, but no action taken. Correctly so.

Rob Collard sat behind his Power Maxed Racing team-mate to take seventh, ahead of Ollie Jackson who had better fortunes than his Motorbase team-mate for eighth, having survived contact with Matt Neal which led to the latter departing the race early. Matt Simpson took his best finish of the season in ninth, adding to his previously solitary point with a well put together drive from the lower midfield. Jake Hill returned from his disappointing penalty to round out the top ten.

Rory Butcher, Sutton and Cook had races to forget as the title contender struggled to 11th, 12th and 20th respectively. The victorious Ingram told how difficult the humid condition had been after his victory:

“It’s hot, hard work out there,” he said. “It’s about 25 degrees above ambient when you’re in the car! That was just how I wanted it to go. I was happy to try and get a gap at the start and manage it from there. I was more than happy to make it a boring race for me!”

SNETTERTON RACE 2

Pole-sitter Tom Ingram took on full ballast for the second outing in East Anglia, and did well to defend from the chasing gaggle of cars his Toyota Corolla following his earlier victory. Perhaps unsurprisingly the gaggle was led by championship leader Turkington after he got what the drivers often refer to as “a demon start” in blasted his 3.

Cammish and Jordan got reacquainted to continue old battles with the former losing out early on on the medium tyre, but two-thirds into the race the main bulk of the field really started closing on Ingram out front.

A borderline-legal nudge from Turkington’s BMW eased Ingram to the outside which in opened the door for the Irishman and Jordan to dive up the inside through a cloud Norfolk dust. When said dust had settled it was Turkington, Cammish and Jordan running 1-2-3, which is how the race would finish, with Ollie Jackson in fourth in his seemingly dialled-in Focus.

Behind Turkington, Cammish, Jordan and Jackson came Sam Tordoff, recovering from dropped positions on the opening lap having started the race in third, settling for fifth at the conclusion.

Former team-mates Jason Plato and Ash Sutton took sixth and seventh, whilst Chris Smiley returned from his disappointing weekend last time out to take eighth in an impressive battling drive from 14th in energy-sapping conditions. His drive was further rewarded with pole position for the reverse grid race

Matt Simpson continued his improved showing this weekend by taking ninth, and the promising and consistent Jake Hill took tenth.

Matt simpson on his way to a points-scoring finish (Taken from Matt's Twitter feed)

Ballast and tyres had seemed to be catching up with Ingram and he slide back down the order rapidly in a a couple of laps unfortunately tumbling down the order - it would be confirmed post-race the he was suffering with an undetermined mechanical issue. He finished 23rd.

Turkington’s victory was the tenth of the season already for theWSR-run BMWs – a record for the team.

Turkington was relieved his tyre choice had been the correct one after he took the chequered flag: “I wasn’t confident beforehand as in the BTCC you never know. You should be faster on the softs but you can never be sure. I knew it was switched on from turn one and I had to be patient to make the right move and get the traction on exit from the 3 Series BMW.”

SNETTERTON RACE 3 We all love the action and entertainment that is served up regularly by the BTCC, and the third race at Snetterton 2019 is a race that will live long in the memory – this was arguably the race of the season so far.

BTC Racing’s Chris Smiley held the initial lead from pole position before Jason Plato sneaked through, taking Ash Sutton with him a short time later, relegating Smiley to third. In a tussle that seemed to last forever (in the best possible way), the former team-mates known for never giving an inch swapped paint several times as the crowd and TV viewers held their collective breath. Side-by-side on lap five, it was Sutton who eased through and led for for a couple of laps, before the two made contact again and Plato elbowed his way through at Agostini corner. All this scrapping dragged Rory Butcher along with them, the Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance racer gaining lap on lap and soon it was a straight three-way tussle for the lead. The race provided the thrilling climax it was promising as, hurtling down the back straight, Plato, Sutton and Butcher went three-wide down the back straight which, let’s face it, is NEVER going to work going into the tough Brundle Corner – What ensued was a moment that gave most of those watching heart palpitations as Butcher slung his Civic to the left and up the inside of Plato under the bridge - Plato was bumped wide, he slid into Sutton’s Subaru and the Levorg was pitched into a spin, putting him out of the running. Plato lost momentum as he avoided the spinning Sutton and regained track position as Butcher shot into the lead and into his second win of the season.

Behind the mayhem, there was too much chopping and changing of position to sanely keep track of as Butcher and Cook carved their way through from the middle of the pack on the grid. It was Cook who took second from BTC Racing Team Mate Smiley in third on a positive outing for the improving outfit. In a form of symmetry, the PMR Astras of Collard and Plato too fourth and fifth ahead of Andrew Jordan in sixth, the latter staying out of harms way and scoring solid points while others around him battled with eachother. Tordoff stayed consistent for seventh while a terrific drive from Tom Ingram, who had started 23rd, saw him take a superb eighth in his Ginsters-liveried Toyota. A very impressive day for Ollie Jackson and Motorbase was completed with a ninth place finish and a best ever points scoring weekend in the BTCC for the Surrey racer, whie Colin Turkington decided against getting involved at the hot end of things and nursed his car home to take a trouble-free tenth and valuable championship points.

Rory Butcher back on the top step in East Anglia. (Photo courtesy of Autosport)

Rory Butcher was a mixture of ecstatic and relieved after a tough day that brought him his first ever BTCC win on the road:

“I’ve struggled this weekend with the car and the track. We flipped it on its head in terms of set-up for race three and it worked! There were so many opportunities where Ash almost got by Jason and vice versa. I wondered how long they could do it for and I held my breath under the bridge! It was massive relief when I came out in front. I’m so happy for the team. I’ve kept my championship alive with that win.” Thank you for reading, we'll have to get a wriggle on to complete our season review before the 2020 season kicks off... we'll mage it, have faith! Stay tuned in to The Hard Compound for all the latest things we've been up to behind the motorsport scenes, and the best bits of news and "heads ups" from the high-horsepower world! Take care as always, and do follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. All the best, Rich – THC

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