Britain’s biggest and brashest race series, in which elbows-out driving and door banging and paint trading among rivals is encouraged, rumbled back into action yesterday after a six-week break.
And the highly entertaining antics synonymous with the British Touring Car Championship were once again on display after the summer downtime in which drivers’ bruised elbows got a chance to recover and teams could give their cars a respray.
After five rounds – at Brands Hatch, Donington Park, Thruxton, Oulton Park and Croft – and 15 races, the series reconvened at Snetterton for the start of the second half of the season.
Despite the month-and-a-half gap between races, the stars of the show proved that they hadn’t lost their touch after lying on the beach or mowing the lawn.
Why? Because the fastest 17 cars in qualifying for the opening thrash around the three-mile Norfolk venue were covered by less than a second. Just 0.982s covered polesitter Colin Turkington in the fastest of the Team BMR Volkswagen CCs and Martin Depper’s Eurotech Honda Civic.
If that doesn’t go a very long way to proving that the technical regulations governing the series have created a great spectacle and a whose-turn-is-it-this-time feel to the competitive order, not much else will.
Reigning champion Turkington converted his pole into race victory – his first since Donington in April – ahead of BMR team-mates Aron Smith and Jason Plato, before doubling up in the second, also from pole position (earned by taking fastest lap in the opening race).
Crowd-pleasing chaos ensued behind the leaders as argy-bargy and punctured tyres meant 10 cars failed to get to the end. Setting lap times within a whisker of each other in the fight for grid positions is one thing, racing wheel-to-wheel quite another – for some.
The third race of the day, in which the top-10 slots on the grid are shuffled around using an element of surprise, provided Jack Goff with his maiden BTCC win aboard his Triple-Eight-run MG6. The 24-year-old held former double champion and 92-time race winner Plato to become the season’s ninth winner.
The vastly experienced Plato may be almost twice Goff’s age (sorry, JP!), but he used all his nous and cunning to leave Norfolk with the championship lead, thanks to a third-fourth-second strike rate from the three races.
As I watched the afternoon’s shenanigans unfold at Snetterton, I remembered that many of these tin-topped tearaways are set to do battle in the St Mary’s Trophy saloon-car relay at the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September.
The pro-am thrash for early-1960s machinery is one of the most popular events on the Revival programme – so much so that world-class racers from many different generations clamour to team up with the cars’ owners in the two-part event.
Expect to see Plato and his fellow former British Touring Car champions Andrew Jordan, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden, as well as race winners Andy Priaulx and Sam Tordoff, flying the flag for the current BTCC crop.
It’s a mustn’t-miss highlight every year. The door handles may be more valuable and the paint more scarce, but these guys will still try very hard indeed. They don’t know any other way.