Five things we learned from the BTCC at Brands Hatch
Just seven days after the season’s opening rounds at Donington Park, the British Touring Car Championship rolled into Brands Hatch for the next wave of frantic tin-top action.
Rory Butcher has pace, but no luck
With all eyes on the Infiniti of Ash Sutton following his trio of impressive performances at Donington, it was Motorbase Performance who turned heads on Saturday for qualifying. Piloting the new Ford Focus ST for Motorbase, Rory Butcher narrowly took pole from Honda’s Dan Cammish with team-mate Ollie Jackson taking third, as the top four were separated by less than one tenth of a second.
Butcher controlled the field for much of the opening encounter, setting up what appeared to be the perfect start to the day for the Knockhill native. A late race safety car would prove costly, as not only did his lead evaporate, but immediately following the restart the Ford suffered a front-left puncture. Butcher was forced to retire, having to line up 25th for the start of race two and any chance of a strong weekend went out the window.
Race two was a real signal of intent for Butcher. Starting from the back row of the grid, Butcher’s weekend was to be a damage limitation exercise from then on and his best bet would be to get in with a shot at the reverse grid for race three. It seems no-one told Butcher, though, as he carved his way through the field, reaching 12th by the time the safety car came out on lap four. After a lengthy safety car period Butcher was able to claw further up through the field to fourth by the finish line.
Starting from ninth in the reverse grid race, Butcher once again found himself at the sharp end of the pack, running third before yet another puncture ruined a good looking result. Had he not had the two retirements, you can guarantee that the Scot would be much higher in the standings than the sixth he came away with.
A new Ollie Jackson
Ollie Jackson has always been there or thereabouts in the BTCC. No more, no less. But this weekend he seemed to come alive with the all-new Ford Focus. With everyone focusing on the performances of his team-mate Rory Butcher, Jackson somewhat went under the radar with his results at Brands Hatch.
Qualifying only a fraction of a second off the top spot, Jackson started race three from fourth, and following the demise of his team-mate’s left-front tyre, inherited the final place on the podium. But to say that almost does a disservice to his performance. Other than his team-mate, the only two drivers ahead of him for the majority of the race were Colin Turkington and Dan Cammish - the two everyone is tipping to be the key players in this season’s title hunt.
Many expected Jackson to slip down the field in race one, but he held his own, keeping pace with the front runners and holding back Tom Ingram, Tom Chilton and Ash Sutton fully on merit. If both Butcher and Jackson can keep this up, we may have a dark horse emerging for the Teams’ Title when we return to Brands Hatch in November.
If Rory Butcher had an unlucky day, it was nothing compared to the total rollercoaster of a day endured in the Team Dynamics/Honda camp. A Honda of some sort had finished in the points in every race since Snetterton in 2015, a run of a staggering 137 races. That all came crashing down, literally, in race two at Brands Hatch, as not even an independent Honda could make it into the Top 15.
The day had started relatively well for the Honda works squad. Despite an incident with Senna Proctor’s Hyundai forcing Matt Neal’s retirement, the crash brought out the safety car, which in turn allowed Dan Cammish to close up to race leader Butcher. With Butcher’s puncture forcing him out of the race an agonising three laps from the end, it gave Cammish the lead which he comfortably converted to a win. It was somewhat poetic for the Honda driver, who’s last visit to Brands Hatch saw his BTCC title dreams go careening through the gravel along with his Civic Type-R at the 2019 season finale some ten months prior.
A bogged down start and a power steering issue for Cammish in race two meant the championship hopeful would drop to the back of the field, eventually joining Neal, who was already in the pits with a separate mechanical fault of his own.
Knowing they had a tough task to get anything out of the final race of the day, Neal proved why he’s still worthy of a seat in one of the strongest teams on the grid. Despite starting on the back row of the grid for the second time of the day, Neal worked his way up to sixth to score some valuable points for Honda in the championship. Cammish had managed to get up to 12th from 19th before another mechanical gremlin ended his day prematurely.
Turkington doing what we needs to
Colin Turkington knows how to win titles, which may be a ridiculously obvious statement about a four-time champion, but it’s true. Knowing that they were only in round 4 of a 27 round season, he was happy to sit behind Dan Cammish at the end of race one, not only taking the points for second place but giving himself a front row slot for race two.
Starting alongside the front-wheel-drive Honda, Turkington was expected to take the lead thanks to the BMW’s better traction off the line. Helped by a terrible start from Cammish, he took the lead and never looked back. A lengthy safety car period meant much of his lead was held in a neutralised race, but he just controlled the pack from the restart, and secured another trophy for his growing cabinet.
Despite pulling out number 12 on the reverse grid draw for the second week running, Turkington picked his way through the field in the final race, helped in part by the incident involving Adam Morgan, Jack Goff and Tom Ingram on lap one. Finishing up fifth by the chequered flag, another three strong results means that Turkington takes a 16 point lead to Oulton Park in two weeks’ time. Ash Sutton, who had a quieter race day in the Infiniti than at Donington Park, but still claimed a solid points haul with a brace of podiums.
BMW take control
It was not just Turkington doing the business for BMW, and where others struggled in the sweltering heat, BMW pulled out an incredibly successful day in the Kent sunshine. The two West Surrey Racing 330i M Sports filled the third row of the grid in qualifying, and there would be a WSR representative in the top three for each of the races across the weekend.
Tom Oliphant silenced any doubters with an outstanding win in race three. Having impressively held off both Sutton and Butcher in the early stages of the race, he then turned his attention to the leading duo of Aiden Moffat’s Infiniti and the older BMW 1 Series of Stephen Jelley. As the pair went side-by-side through Clearways, Oliphant saw his chance and powered around the outside heading into Paddock Hill Bend, a move well worth the win that would follow.
Oliphant’s win came after a brace of top-ten finishes to see him leave Brands Hatch in third in the standings, while BMW hold 54- and 63-point leads in the Constructors’ and Teams’ Standings respectively.