Blog 9 - BTCC Season Review 2019: Part 3
We begin the final part of our look back over a thrilling 2019 BTCC season back at Thruxton, hoping for a little more action than the previous visit to Hampshire…. Thruxton Race 1 It was Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing’s Sam Tordoff who topped the timing sheets after qualifying to put the surprise car of the season onto Pole for the first BTCC offering of the day, with Jason Plato being nudged into second after a close session.
The drama was all at the very start of the race, moments after the cars had pulled into their respective grid boxes waiting for the lights – many of us watching at home on TV spotted that Plato’s distinctive Sterling Insurance-backed Astra had in fact lined up ahead of his grid box as he waited for the rest of the field to line up. This was later explained as a simple error by Plato himself – using a strip on tape on the pit wall as guidance before the green flag lap, he said that he had lined up at angle afterwards, thus nudging his nose ahead of said tape. Whoops…. Despite great starts by the front row dwellers, and them running doorhandle to doorhandle on the sprint to the Complex, news had already filtered through that Plato had been given a drive through, immediately ending his challenge for the spoils. The BMWs of Jordan and Turkington, as well as the Subaru of Sutton, were going at eachother from the off in the upper-midfield with the trio bumping and swapping positions on the run around the sweeping bends and the back of the super-fast Thruxton circuit.
While Tordoff headed the field, seemingly on his way serenely and without concern there was little in the way of notable action behind him, save for an entertaining scrap between Dan Cammish, Josh Cook and Adam Morgan for two of the three remaining podium spots. Some bumper-to-bumper, hard, clean racing was superbly executed and actually pulled them nearer to Tordoff out front - When the top four took the chequered flag there was little more than a second separating them, with Tordoff taking his first and only victory of the season from Cammish, Morgan and Cook.
It was Tom Oliphant of Team BMW (who had a quiet but steady race) who took fifth, relatively local man Rob Collard taking sixth in the other Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra, and the steady Rory Butcher scoring well in the championship push again, taking seventh.
Matt Neal had been tussling with old adversary Colin Turkington, as well as Sutton, Jordan and Smiley in another fun scrap at the back end of the top ten, and it was the Halfords/Yuasa man who came out on top to take eighth in the tussle for eighth from Sutton and Smiley, perhaps surprisingly ahead of the BMW pair.
At the final chicane there was a little excitement when Butcher was slid into by Northern Irishman Smiley, with the latter settling for tenth. Sam Tordoff had been hoping for a win at a strong track for him, especially after finishing second earlier this season – he was relieved to get it:
“I’m relieved as that’s probably long-overdue – a bit of redemption after what happened here a few months ago,” said Tordoff, who failed to convert pole into victory at Thruxton back in May. “It was one of the longest 16-lap races I’ve done! It probably looked like I was managing it from the pit-wall but it didn’t feel like it! Thruxton Race 2
In Race Two, starting in Race One result order of course, Sam Tordoff led of the line and did well to maintain his advantage over the chaser in his heavily ballasted car, with Adam Morgan in his Mercedes and Josh Cook’s Type-R clinging to his tail like a rash.
One of the moves of the season occurred towards the end of lap 4. Exiting the fastest corner on the calendar, Church, Morgan hurled his Mac Tools Mercedes down the inside of Tordoff, while Cook slingshotted around the outside with the cars three abreast hurtling down to the final chicane… who brakes latest…. It was Cook leading across the line as the three drivers superbly avoided contact through the chicane – The BTC Racing man had gone from third to the lead in about the same amount of time taken to have a really good sneeze.
Cook found superior grip and pace and never looked back, extending his advantage over a delighted Morgan at the finish – the latter saying he’d be getting nosebleed from being so high up! A well-deserved (and self-proclaimed, surprise) second podium of the day for Ciceley Motorsport, while Matt Neal drove a steady race to take the final spot on the podium as Tordoff faded. Indeed Tordoff was becoming the cork in the bottle, sometimes having a ten-strong crocodile tail of cars following him around the airfield, oand sadly for the winner of race one he slid down the pack on laps 11 and 12 as his tyres seemingly gave in on this tough-on-rubber circuit.
Oliphant and Neal had been running competitively battling for third step on the rostrum,before the latter got a superb run and tow from the aerodynamic WSR 3 Series coming out of Church, nipping through at the final chicane and sticking his nose out to take third, a mere eight-hundredths of a second ahead of Oliphant.
Matt Neal’s team mate Dan Cammish had a sluggish start to the race from the front row and dropped back to settle for fifth while Power Maxed Racing, who’s consistency was now being noticed, took sixth in the shape of Rob Collard.
Race one was mirrored in race two as BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan held off the attentions of title rival Colin Turkington to take seventh, with the latter nudged down to ninth by the fast-finishing Tom Ingram for eighth – a slight but potentially crucial advantage. Tordoff eventually did well to round out the top ten after a tough drive.
Josh Cook was pleased that his calculated risk had paid off afterwards:
“That went to plan!” said Cook. “It was a bit hairy at the start and the overtake into the chicane was too! I was clear of Sam (Tordoff) and had to outbrake Adam (Morgan). I was on the outside and had to brake as late as I dared and made it stick. I was working hard out front because of Adam and I had to be mindful of the tyres around here too. We’ve had a few rounds where we’ve struggled with the weight but we’ve gone well here. Credit to the team. We’ve had our heads down working hard.” Thruxton Race 3 In the reverse-grid affair, Hampshire driver Rob Collard’s previous top six result was rewarded as his number was chosen to be promoted to pole position for the final outing of the day.
Dan Cammish was again starting from second, and again he made a sluggish start as Collard hopped nimbly off the line to lead from the equally fast starting Tom Oliphant as the Halfords/Yuasa Type-R of Cammish slipped down to third. Collard was at the head of that trio as they immediately built up a gap as individual battles were developing all the way down the field. For now the main action was at the top end of things as Cammish by Oliphant into second at the half way point of the race before the grey skies that had been creeping over the horizon for an hour or so before the race finally began to leak and rain began falling, making the surface of this high speed track increasing slick and causing cars to twitch under braking and slither on the throttle.
It was shortly after the precipitous addition that the defining moment came; on lap ten Collard’s dipped the rear-left wheel of his Astra into the dirt on the outside of church after a bit of a slither, and the momentum lost gave Cammish all the invitation he needed to put his right foot through the floor of his Type R and hammer it to the outside, round Collard and into what would be an unbeatable lead.
Cammish it was who hurtled pass the chequers first, followed by Collard and Matt Neal who had charged past a number of cars to comfortable take his place on the third step.
Behind the squabbling trio at the front, Adam Morgan completed a fantastic weekend’s work for Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport with fourth place, backing up his double podium from earlier, while the consistent but frustrated Jason Plato took fifth – we’ll never know how his day had gone if the Race One start line tape incident had made his day that much more difficult, as he had what was probably the fastest car on the circuit across the day. It was an impressive drive from the double-champion after starting thirteenth, still capable of running at the front but still winless in 2019.
The second half of the top ten was headed by the very consistent Racing’s Josh Cook, who enjoyed another profitable day, pipping Oliphant and pushing him into seventh, while the constantly-improving Team Toyota GB with Ginsters’ machine of Tom took eighth from Ash Sutton in his Subaru Levorg after a hard hitting elbows-out battle.
BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan rounded out the top ten, making another dent in Turkington’s title lead.
Cammish was ecstatic at the end of proceedings, stating how tough it had been when the rain came:
“When the rain started coming down I was thinking ‘do not drop this’. I wanted to know from the team just how much rain was coming down, and to do it with 30kgs on-board – that’s even better. My best ever weekend with first, second and fifth. The last lap was an ice rink but Rob had it all on trying to keep it on the road himself! He would be in a positive mood heading into the next round… ------------------------------------ The saddest of news Before the next round of the nation’s favourite motorsport series, the BTCC community on both sides of the pit wall we’re rocked and united by the tragic news that was released that was released by the Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Team:
Sam Tordoff and his wife Georgina had lost their dear son Arlo at just a week old after he had been born with under-developed kidneys.
It was understandable and inevitable that Sam would sit out the next round, and as it transpired, the rest of the season.
All those present displayed a message of unity for the Tordoff family, whether it was on the cars, overalls, garage and even on a flag made by the marshals, the hashtag #RacingForArlo was proudly displayed around the venue.
Personally, this is particularly hard to write, as I have been in a very similar situation to the Tordoff Family. I know how helpless and lost they felt and must continue to feel.
Happily, I now have a 20-month old daughter, and I can only express in the most heartfelt manner to Sam and Georgina that it is possible to move forward whenever you are ready to, and in whatever form that may take.
The entire BTCC family, drivers, teams, media and supporters are continuing to think of you, sending you our best wishes and strength, and really do hope to see you around the circuits again soon. Whenever you are ready.
Rest In Peace, Arlo Tordoff.
As Sam would have undoubtedly wanted, the BTCC rolled on and now made it’s annual pilgrimage North of the border to the fantastic Knockhill Circuit, just outside Dunfermline, home territory for Rory Butcher and Aiden Moffat. How would the local lads fare in the land of the Saltire…? Knockhill Race 1 …Well it didn’t take long to find out, as home favourite Rory Butcher (who grew up racing around here as his father owns the track) sent the Saturday crowd home happy by putting his Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Honda Civic on pole position for Race 1 on Sunday. The season’s-surprise driver fended off the attentions from Andrew Jordan, who had started alongside Butcher on the front row, for the majority of the race without ever really being in too much danger of being overtaken, before the local man had a sluggish exit to the hairpin at the end of the penultimate lap and lost momentum on the drag up the hill to the start/finish line. Jordan seized his chance and edged past the Civic moments before crossing the line, taking the lead and nicking a potentially important championship point for leading a lap….. however the lead was short lived as the Pirtek machine powered ahead it inevitably carried too much pace into the first corner, the tricky double-camber, downhill Duffus Dip, sliding off the circuit to the outside and down the via an escape road on the final lap, losing sufficient momentum to give Butcher an immediate opportunity to dive up the inside, which he duly took and bumped his way back into the lead.
The roar from the ecstatic locals could be heard above the engine noise of these beasts (we should know, this was the first round of the season that we were FINALLY able to attend), and Butcher held firm to claim his third victory of the season, and lift the spirits of the team after a difficult and upsetting week.
There was nobody at the circuit or watching on TV that begrudged the team this result, how could there be? This was for Sam, Georgina and of course little Arlo. This was the result everybody outside the ropes wanted to see.
Dan Cammish, again running strongly, had been holding off the attentions of Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher’s Tom Chilton in the opening proceedings, but it was Chilton who slid by the Team Dynamics man after braking very late at the hairpin a third of the way through proceedings before unfortunately being hung ot to dry and throwing two positions away to Cammish and Turkington after running wide a couple of laps later. Turkington was charging in his BMW and stayed hooked onto the bootlid of the Honda for the majority of the remainder of the race, before dropping off and having to defend his fourth spot from the re-charging Ford Focus of Chilton on lap 23.
Chilton attempted an audacious pass around the outside of the hairpin, and he very nearly made it before the white 3 Series eased him wide on the exit, causing the Shredded Wheat machine to lose ground and gradually drop down the order.
When the engines quietened and the dust settled it was Cammish who held on to his podium ahead of Turkington extending his points advantage, and a very welcome arrival in the top five for Senna Proctor in his Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Levorg. Proctor had seemingly been in the wrong place at the wrong time on a number of occasions this season, he clearly wasn’t in luck in 2019 so it was great to see him finish so high. Chris Smiley (edged out the faltering Chilton as the pair took sixth and seventh respectively. There had incidentally been a short safety car period after Team HARD chargers Bobby Thompson and Michael Crees got involved with eachother’s VW CCs, with the latter slithering across the grass and spearing the unfortunate Nic Hamilton side on as he returned to the track. Both cars immediately retired.
Behind all the fun at games at the front, Tom Ingram, the on form Adam Morgan and Jake Hill had a few ding-dong exchanges between them, with the latter back on the pace after a couple of disappointing races. They took eighth, ninth and tenth and everyone shot back indoors to warm up – trust me, it was cold that morning!!
A clearly emotional Butcher reflected on proceedings:
“Andrew (Jordan) was on a mission there,” said Butcher. “The BMW’s working so well. I felt confident but I slipped second gear and lost a lot of time at the hairpin. I managed to make a gap through sector two which kept me safe, until that ding-dong on the last lap. I’m so happy to secure that win in front of my home crowd – it’s incredible.
Knockhill Race 2 Race Two threw up the most pivotal moment of the season so far – but not before Race One winner Rory Butcher stuttered off the line from pole, almost immediately surrendering his lead. Again the launch from the 3-Series BMW was absolutely perfect, and it was Andrew Jordan who led down the hill with Butcher coming under pressure straight away from the continually impressive Dan Cammish.
It took six laps, but the latter was able to scrape past sctheButcher’s AmD-run Honda on lap six… and that pas was the catalyst for the seemingly pivotal moment of the year thus far. As Cammish nipped through and Butcher lost drive, it seemed that the title-leading Turkington would be going past the local hero too and the Team BMW man briefly took third across the start/finish line… but the move was far from down as the pair battled it out alongside eachother through Duffus dip and through the early part of the next lap.
On the entry to the tricky McIntyres, Turkington left a small gap, a gap that Butcher went for (correctly) and nudged his Honda Civic up the inside – cue the inevitable contact as Turkington turned in. The 3 Series spun through 180 degrees and slithered into a gravel trap, sending Turkington sliding down the order to back of the field and out of points scoring contention in this one. Butcher was able to continue relatively unscathed.
Jordan, Cammish and Butcher headed off on the serene and untroubled journey to the chequered flag in precession, with Jordan taking a hugely important victory given that Turkington could only recover to take nineteenth, his championship lead cut to a mere four points.
Senna Proctor continued a hugely improved weekend by taking fourth in the guttural Levorg ahead of another improved showing, that of Tom Chilton’s Focus in fifth and the now consistent Tom Ingram who took sixth.
More sturdy points finishes came the way of Adam Morgan in Mercedes A-Class and the ubiquitous Jason Plato after the pair were at close quarters throughout the race, racing cleanly to take seventh and eighth ahead of the equally consistent Josh Cook in ninth, and Jake Hill scoring yet another top ten finish for Trade Price Cars Racing’s Audi. That tenth for Jake Hill was important as, for the second time this season, he was promoted to pole position in the reverse grid race drawn by BTCC legend Alain Menu. After the disappointment of Oulton Park, would Jake’s luck hold out in race three?
Further grid news saw Jordan Start tenth, handing a little assistance to Turkington who was now started only nine places further back. Had the pendulum swung in the direction of Pirtek…?
Knockhill Race 3 With the greatest of respect to Jake Hill, Josh Cook, Jason Plato and Adam Morgan who were starting at the front of the grid for Race Three, it was entirely expected that all the action would be coming from Turkington and Jordan surging their way into bigger points scoring positions. That’s where a lot of the eyes would be trained.
From the moment the lights went out and Jake Hill eased his Audi into a rhythm on the opening laps, he was cleary intent on keeping Josh Cook at arms length without making any mistakes. Behind the leading pair, Morgan was continuing his resurgence into a sixth straight outing by sliding past the steady Plato into third. If truth be told, the top four were relatively untroubled for the early exchanges duration, with the familiar sight today of Morgan and Plato circulating alongside eachother before Morgan passed the latter at the chicane after an early safety car period, with Chris Smiley also slipping past the veteran into fourth. Why was there a safety, I hear you ask? Well this was another pivotal moment in the Championship tussle; Jordan had already taken an enormous chunk out of Turkington’s lead on this ever-warming day in Scotland, and had started race three with a decent buffer (in terms of track space) so confidence would have been high in the Pirtek side of the garage. However… drama is always guaranteed in the BTCC, and so it was that on lap 3 Senna Proctor, having a flawless day until this point, pitched into a spin after a nudge from behind and slithered across the track and into the gravel in a cloud of smoke, smoke that blinded the majority of the chasing pack and forced many to take evasive action – one of the many was Andrew Jordan, who shot left on the grass but was clipped by the rotating Levorg and was sent spinning into the gravel himself. Both Jordan and Proctor were out, more importantly though, this was a no score for Andrew Jordan. Advantage Turkington? Sort of… he recovered very well from nineteenth, passing nine cars in total to take tenth and giving him a six point haul, leaving him with a ten point advantage in the standings over Jordan. Better than the four point advantage he held going into Race 3.
Back at the business end of things, the consistent Tom Ingram and Dan Cammish and the steadily improving Tom Chilton all made their respective ways by Plato further down the field, the four drivers taking fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
More local success was seen behind with Aiden Moffat getting to grips with the new Laser Tools Racing Infiniti taking ninth ahead of the aforementioned Turkington.
That sixth took Cammish closer to the leading title challengers Turkington and Jordan, indeed he was now only one point behind Jordan in third.
Back on the top step of the podium, this was never going to be taken away from Jake Hill, although he almost let it slip with a sideways moment half way round the final lap. Hold it though he did, and blasted up the hill to take his first ever confirmed BTCC victory – it was pleasure to see it.
After the race, Jake was understandably beaming:
“It was a pleasure to have such a quick car beneath me,” he said. “It was the first time I led for a restart in the BTCC. It’s the monkey off my back now and I wanted to win so badly. On the last lap I just misjudged it by a few millimetres and hit the gravel. I kept my foot in and held it! I can’t describe how good this result is for AmD and Trade Price Cars. I’m overwhelmed. This win is for little Arlo Tordoff. I’m thinking of you Sam and Georgie.”
The moment belonged to Jake Hill. The thoughts of everyone belonged to the Tordoff family.
The trucks and trailers were packed up, and everyone headed back down the road towards the border and into England, destination: Silverstone. Well, not everyone, as we bumped into a certain Mr. Jack Goff at Edinburgh airport before boarding our flight. We had a good chat and he was upbeat about the car’s improving performance throughout the year. Would that continue across the 3 races at Silverstone…? Silverstone Race 1
It was Jason Plato who slung his ever-improving Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra onto pole position in qualifying, and in greasy conditions on the National Circuit the veteran dominated the opening exchanges. After a handful of laps though, he had the now-consistently quick Toyota Corolla of Tom Ingram firmly latched onto his bootlid as the chasing pack headed by Matt Neal and Chris Smiley slipped back.
n the fourth tour of the Northamptonshire circuit, the leading pair shared eachothers paintwork on a couple of occasions before Ingram slid by through Luffield to take the lead… one that he would not relinquish.
Plato secured second with relative ease as BTC Racing’s Chris Smiley completed the podium. Further down the order ,things were surprisingly calm in such an evenly matched pack and such greasy conditios, and it was Smiley’s team-mate Josh Cook who took fourth having started ninth, producing a number of eye-catching passes to secure a strong points haul in his title challenge. An impressive performance again.
With regards to the other title challengers, Andrew Jordan was net down the road, while Dan Cammish and Colin Turkington could only manage 11th and 14th respectively as the defending champion recovered well from a pirouette mid-race. Rounding out the top ten were Tom Oliphant (fifth), Matt Neal (sixth), Mike Bushell (seventh), Adam Morgan (ninth) and Tom Chilton (tenth). As we headed into race two, Turkington’s standings lead had been further reduced to four points back to Jordan, whilst Cammish was a mere nine points off the championship lead.
Tom Ingram was jubilant after the race, saying it had been just a matter of time before he returned to the top step:
“We knew it would come, it was a just a case of how long it’d take. We got a bit of an undercut on Jason at Luffield and it was really tricky out there all the way through. There were bits where the car would start to rotate. You had to be mindful but as soon as I saw Jason run wide I had to go for it. He could have squeezed me more than he did so fair play to him.” Plato conceded the Corolla was simply quicker in the race.
Silverstone Race 2 The second race of the day was eventually shortened due to the inclement weather, but it wasn’t short on incident and drama. Ingram, starting from pole of course, led from the outset before slight contact with Jason Plato let the BMW of Tom Oliphant slip past both and into the lead, with little occurring for the next handful or laps. However, with the majority of the field running on slick tyres, the circuit was pummelled mid-race with a downpour of heavy rain. In the treacherous conditions it was Adam Morgan’s Ciceley Racing with Mac Tools’ Mercedes A-Class that was first to swap ends and slide into the gravel – his race was run. The Safety Car was of course deployed, with the cars circulating for a few laps before being given the all-clear to resume. Oliphant made his first ever restart while heading the pack, and he did so well as the drivers crossed the timing line to go racing again. However, being first in these conditions wasn’t necessarily and advantage, as Oliphant discovered as the grid hit the brakes on the entrance to Copse - his BMW 3 Series twitching through the high-speed right hander and running wide on the exit, leaving him shuffled down the order, as Ingram swept by into another unassailable lead.
The rain worsened and worsened following the restart, so much that unfortunately the Race Director had little option but to red flag contest, with the result standing. Plato had fallen away late on but Colin Turkington and Dan Cammish, both with their eyes on the title were heading in the opposite direction; the fomer surging through the field from 14th to second, whilst Cammish shot through from from 11th to take third – meaning the two chargers held the top two positions in the title standings. Turkington was 11 points ahead.
Plato slid back but held on to fourth ahead of the impressively consistent pave of BTC Racing duo Josh Cook and Chris Smiley, whilst Oliphant eventually took seventh in a disappointing end to a promising outing.
BMW Pirtek Racing lost ground in the championship race as Andrew Jordan came home in eighth, whilst Mike Bushell and Matt Simpson coped impressively with the wet circuit to round out the top 10.
Ingram was pleased to have won, despite the contact with Plato early on:
“I felt for Tom, losing it like that but I was trying to force him into making a slip. I’ve no idea where Jason came from. He was tight left before the back straight and I don’t know if he came for a lunge and I didn’t see him. You always check your mirrors before turning in and next thing I knew I was broadside across the track!”
Silverstone Race 3 For the reverse grid draw. The top 11 cars were reversed. This saw Ash Sutton’s Adrian Flux Subaru promoted to pole for the day’s finale, race 3 was to provide more thrills and spills as rain continued to cause havoc at the former airfield - and it provided possibly the most popular victory of the entire season.
The race began in the dry conditions, but the drivers had to choose between the gamble of staying on dry tyres or switching to wets as the rain arrived again – heavily!
It was title protagonists Dan Cammish and Josh Cook who headed the field away and the pair were out front in the opening exchanges, pulling away from the pack initially before the rain really started falling… it was all little too much at the end of the first lap for the Honda of Matt Simpson (who had started second) with the Slough driver slithering wide at the Luffield Complex and into the barriers – cue the safety car.
Within the safety car period of three laps, a number of drivers chose to switch to wet tyres, and those who did so proved the decision to be a masterstroke as the conditions worsened considerably.
The first pair to hurtle through the field in almost apocalyptic conditions were Team HARD’s Buckinghamsire racer Jack Goff and Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat, who timed their stop and charge perfectly to take the race to the rest of the field, passing them all and heading off out front in a two-way fight for the win.
It was clear that this race would see a first on the podium’s top step. But would it be a first ever BTCC for Team HARD? Or a first ever win for the still-new Infiniti Q50?
The question was answered in the affirmative after the duo hit the front.
Moffat had rightly decided that he had nothing to lose with a spot on the podium almost assured, and decided to pressure Goff’s lead… unfortunately he pushed just a shade too hard through the very tricky Copse, sliding wide and spinning a full 360 degrees before continuing on his merry way, leaving Goff to seemingly cruise towards the victory – we say “seemingly” because it transpired that his windscreen had fogged up with 3 or 4 laps remaining, meaning he was driving through a 6 inch by 6 inch square of clear glass in the bottom corner of his windscreen! Quite a feat.
Nevertheless, he kept the VW CC on the tarmac to take the first ever BTCC victory for Team HARD, sparking jubilant scenes in the team garage and amongst their many many fans watching at the circuit and on TV – it was impossible not to be chuffed to bits for them!
The excellent young Scotsman Moffat recovered to claim second place, whilst Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal completed the podium in another masterful wet-weather drive from the veteran – he’s seen this all before. In the dreadful conditions, drivers opted to just hold station and take any points they could get, and it was the two Toms Oliphant andChilton who took fourth and fifth, while Jason Plato continued his excellent recent form by finishing sixth, and the title-challenging BMW pair of Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan taking seventh and eigth. With the title race in mind, it was a nervous outing for both Turkington and Jordan with both of them just wanting to get around safely and bag points. Even so, the pair came into contact on a couple of occasions as they both looked to keep their respective championship challenges intact. Turkington now led Cammish by 16 points with Jordan a further point back as we headed to the final 3 races.
Behind the championship protagonists, Team HARD’s joy was increased by fan-favourite Michael Crees and his team-mate Bobby Thompson rounding out the top ten positions for the team.
Another honourable mention is reserved for Excelr8 Motorsport’s Rob Smith, who secured his first outright points-scoring final in that final race after switching to slicks. Rob showed terrific improvement throughout the season, and this was just rewards the hard of both himself and the team.
A beaming Jack Goff wasn’t almost speechless post-race. The popular driver had only secured his seat for the 2019 season at the last minute, and can’t have expected this:
“Race two we did the exact same thing as we did here,” said Goff. “It started to sprinkle on the out-lap of that one and we made the call. It means so much to me, my family our sponsors and the team. I couldn’t see anything. My windscreen completely steamed up with ten laps to go and I was driving through a little clear spot in the corner. It was so tricky.
“It’s unreal. I won my first podium with this team at Brands Hatch in 2013. It means so much for all of them. Things haven’t gone our way this year so I’m chuffed to bits.”
As unlikely as it looked heading to the second Thruxton round, the title was still up in the air as we headed to the always exciting finale at Brands Hatch on the superb Grand Prix Circuit. Again, we were fortunate enough to be able to attend this one and we were in no doubt that it wouldn’t disappoint…. Brands Hatch GP Race 1 It was foggy and wet start to the day in Kent, and five drivers in with a mathematical chance of securing the Championship: Turkington, Jordan, Cammish, Cook and Ingram. The final two would need strong points finishes in the opening 2 races off the day, and hope for a little misfortune for the other three, and the day started as it was to continue, with some scintillating racing from the off.
By the time Race 1 was approaching, the damp conditions were proving to be real headache for the teams, and with the cars on a mixture of tyres the opening encounter was packed with fun and games as a safety car period and tyre strategy came into play, for what turned out to be one of the most exciting races of 2019.
Pole-sitter Colin Turkington lost the lead off the line to Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s Ash Sutton and the pair began an intriguing battle for the lead in the early stages. Team BMW’s Turkington squeezed back by at Druids a few laps in and the reigning champion was now holding a 28 point advantage in the live standings.
All that was to change, however, we saw the first of many glimpses of the safety car when Matt Simpson’s Honda went off heavily on the approach to Paddock Hill Bend. Just as at Silverstone in the previous outing, a number of cars came in to change on to wet tyres, and the first man out of the pits was Matt Neal, he headed off out front... would there be some tactics involved to allow Cammish to garner the maximum points possible?
As it was, Rory Butcher surged into the lead at the restart in the front wheel drive AmD Honda Civic as almost immediately as the rear-wheel drive Subarus and BMWs struggled in more greasy conditions. Meanwhile the aforementioned Cammish was eating up places on his charge through the order, finding grip in the outstanding Type R and with impressive handling at his disposal in the changing conditions – he hammered by Andrew Jordan, Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington as the man from Leeds carved his way through into second.
The first of many big moments in the day came at the beginning of the 16th lap, as Butcher put his car on the inside racing line through Paddock Hill Bend, one of the most daunting corners in the world even in the dry, surely holding the lead for the blast up to Druids… The Scotsman had reckoned without the gutsy Cammish, who flung his Halfords/Yuasa backed machine all the way around the and into the lead.
He never looked back, taking an unlikely victory from outside the top ten on the grid.
Better news was still to come as team-mate Neal made a number of moves on the final lap to clinch a One-Two for Team Dynamics. Tom Chilton was hot on his heels in third place and took the final podium place for the local Motorbase outfit – thus nudging Cammish’s title rivals Jordan and Turkington back into the lesser points scoring places. Butcher held on to fourth, and Turkington slithered around in the struggling BMW to clinch fifth, whilst Butcher’s team mate Mike Bushell was delighted with sixth at his home track, scoring more good points in the charge to the Independent’s title for AmD/Cobra/RCIB Insurance racing.
Stephen Jelley improved on a miserable Silverstone weekend by taking seventh, and Jordan was disappointed to have only managed eighth at the end. Team HARD’s Jack Goff continued his strong showing to take ninth and Motorbase scored a double top-ten with Ollie Jackson taking tenth.
After a breathless race, Turkington’s still topped the Championship table but now by a mere eight points from Cammish, while Andrew Jordan would need a strong race two to stay in contention, sitting 22 points behind Turkington. Unfortunately for Josh Cook and Tom Ingram, they slipped out of contention after disappointing opening races.
Cammish was stunned at the end of the race, but understandably delighted:
“I couldn’t imagine anything like that,” he said. “I went to bed last night thinking my chances might be up. The BTCC is crazy. In the blink of an eye, what cost me two weeks ago at Silverstone worked in my favour this time. You put your trust in the team and what a call by them to leave me out there in the wet on slicks. It’s a bit emotional. Any drivers out there know how hard it can be to keep a car in a straight line in those conditions. They’ve given me a car with stability and rear grip when it counts, and now win, lose or draw, I’m in a great place." Brands Hatch GP Race 2 Race two was to really set the season finale up nicely, as the conditions stayed damp in the lead up to the green light.
It was pole man Dan Cammish who led away the field towards Paddock Hill Bend, but he came under immediate pressure from the BMW of title-leader Colin Turkington who had made what is known in the game as “a demon start”, blasted through into second from fifth position on the grid.
Matt Neal was sitting in third as the gaggle of cars rounded Druids for the first time and headed down to Graham Hill – cue the day’s flashpoint; Matt Neal made a lunge up the inside of Turkington, going into a gap that at first look seemed to be there comfortably and contact was made. The Irishman went spinning through 180 degrees and onto the grass on the outside, dropping to the rear of the pack. With nothing to lose he took a gamble and pitted for slicks, a gamble that ultimately failed to pay off, meaning the incident may have cost him in his quest for a fourth BTCC title.
Now, this is just our opinion – from our vantage point it initially looked like a valid attempt to slide through a gap that was there, however the television replays seemed to paint a different picture. It looked as though Neal was barely 1/3 of the way past and had half his car on the grass, while Turkington was taking the standard racing line, so to us it seemed Neal was at fault. Would the verteran racer have tried such a move for second if it was Cammish there in place in place of Turkington? Or any other driver for that matter?
We will never know, Turkington certainly seemed to think it was a deliberate act by Neal to assist his team mate Cammish in his title challenge, and Neal was given a penalty after the race.
Turkington was devasteated, believing his title challenge was over - the debate will rumble on.
Back to the race itself, and it was another changeable weather contest, and it was wet-weather specialist Ash Sutton who was taking the bull by the horns and charging through the order in majestic fashion. He swept in to the lead in the late-middle part of proceedings and pulled away to take an impressive, and long overdue first win of the season at the penultimate attempt for what had been a frustrating season for the 2017 champion.
More intriguingly, it was Andrew Jordan who produced a super drive to take second and keep his title hopes very much alive going into the decisive race three, especially with Turkington seemingly out of it.
Cammish was happy to settle for the bottom step on the podium, earning a points haul good enough to nudge him 8 points clear at the top the standings for the first time this season, and indeed the first time in his career. What a time to take top spot… Turkington had that eight-point deficit to make up, which seemed impossible starting from the back of the grid in race 3, and Andrew Jordan now sat a further 5 points back.
Matt Neal was relatively unchallenged to take fourth ahead of the Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher Motorbase duo of Tom Chilton and Ollie Jackson who were enjoying a fine end to the season on their home track, whilst Jason Plato continued his strong form to take seventh, having been charging for a spot on the podium before sliding wide at Westfield and dropping back down the order a little. Perhaps he could challenge in the final outing of the season...?
Michael Caine, filling in for Nic Hamilton in the last 6 races of the season had a superb drive to complete a hat-trick of ten finishers for the Motorbase team whilst AmD’s Rory Butcher and Team Parker Racing’s Stephen Jelley rounded out the top ten.
Sutton was delighted to have got the monkey off his back:
“I needed that for sure and I have done all year. The boys deserve it and our pace was mega. Finally, we got a bit of luck. For us, with the wet tyre, those conditions work. I’d like to keep the wets on but we’ll give it our best whatever happens. After the restart, it was just a case of managing the gap and the tyre.”
Brands Hatch GP Race 3 - The Finale Well here it was, the climax to a fantastic season. Round 30 of the 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship will live long in the memory the fight for the title went down to the wire in incredible fashion. But let’s take it back to the start.
Senna Proctor has been promoted to pole by the reverse grid draw alongside Stephen Jelley on the front row, and it was the latter who shot off the line and into a strong lead on the first lap, as Proctor got away sluggishly.
It was Jason Plato who laid down the challenge to Jelley as he slowed following his missile-like start, and the double champion was able to slip by a couple of laps in and proceeded to pull away, taking a comfortable and deserved victory from Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance’s Rory Butcher and Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s Ash Sutton. To be honest, the trio were rarely troubled and the front running was as serene as it was impressive.
It was great to see Plato back on the top step, and he was feeling great after a strong second half to the season, culminating in this triumph: “It’s great to win and it’s been a long time coming this year,” he said “I’ve made mistakes and had parking issues. We made a couple of changes for this one that worked. I’ve had such a brilliant year and I’ve got my mojo back. I’m back in the bus getting told off so that means I’m getting competitive. We need to develop and the work starts now for 2020. Everyone said I was too old but I knew different. We can see now, in a competitive car, I can still win.”
Fantastic for Plato, but it was all eyes on the battles behind. Turkington, starting way back in 25th remember, pummelled the back marker on a first lap charge that took him up ten places in the opening lap. With nothing to lose, the reigning champion was on a charge and was soon inside the top ten, clinging on to the bumper of the equally charging Tom Ingram in ninth. Interestingly, the pair were now running right behind championship leader Cammish, who was running eighth.
Turkington then nipped past Ingram’s Toyota Corolla before squeezing by Cammish at Druids with four laps of the season left. This was getting interesting, but Cammish still held all the cards despite his points advantage being reduced – he knew that a top eight finish would hand him the title for the first time.
However, the motor racing gods were not smiling on Honda today, and having finished every single lap of the season in his faithful and reliable Type R, Cammish was about to be dealt the cruellest of blows.
With just a lap and a half of the season remaining, the Yorkshireman’s brakes had been glowing through the gloom all race and as he hurtled down Pilgrim’s Drop towards the high speed Hawthorn Bend the back end let go, sending him careering across the gravel and into the tyre barrier at sickening speed - his brakes had failed, causing the axle to lock and shoot him straight on and off the circuit at one of the fastest corners on the circuit.
The gasps from the packed crowd were audible, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing – neither could we. Whoever you support, you’d have to be made of stone to not feel so desperately sorry for Cammish. It was truly heartbreaking.
In the blink of an eye, Cammish’s championship dreams were over and Turkington’s despair had turned to ecstasy, he completed the final two laps without incident to finish behind Andrew Jordan on the tarmac, but two points ahead of him in the title race with Cammish relegated to third on races won. In taking the chequered flag, Turkington was crowned champion (although he didn't realise until a third of the way around his warm-down lap) and in doing so matched Andy Rouse’s record of winning four British Touring Car Championships. Once in parc ferme, he uncharacteristically leapt to the roof of his BMW in one of the most spectacular shots of the season.
Understandably, he couldn’t quite believe it.
“That was so hard,” said Turkington. “We’ve had such a tough day. That was the race of my life. I got my head down and got stuck in. I couldn’t believe after one lap I was on the pack. I could see Andrew and Dan so I just kept fighting and fighting. I was determined to get past Dan and I knew I could put the pressure on him. I don’t know what happened to him. Thank you to everyone at home and my fans.
“It’s all about that moment when I jumped on my roof there. You can’t get that emotion anywhere else. I just wanted to be number one this year. Records are great but all our hard work was dedicated to that. We just never gave up. I thought we were done when the slick tyres didn’t switch on in race two. To come from P25 to wherever I finished in this one is much better than a win. Thank you to all the people at home and all my fans in Northern Ireland – it means so much.”
To us watching from the back of the pit lane, this was a truly unbelievable end to an incredible day’s racing. If it was a script from a Hollywood movie, you would have dismissed it a fanciful, pure fiction – yet here it was unfolding in front of us.
A veteran proving he still has the ability and machinery to win, the top three drivers separated by two points, a stellar final drive from 25th for the champion to be crowned, a driver narrowly missing out having missed three races after an incident not of his own making, and another suffering the most desperate of bad luck less than two laps from the end of the season and what would have been a maiden BTCC title.
Breathtaking. Fantastic. Heartbreaking. The final round of the 2019 season had it all.
This is why we love the BTCC.
This is why we go racing.
This is why we’ll come back in our thousands in 2020.
Thank you for reading our 3-part recap, we hope it’s whetted your appetite for 2020, and we’ll see you at some of the circuits this year (once we get going after this Coronavirus takes itself away)
Take care, all the best, stay safe, and keep following The Hard Compound.
Rich – THC