The British Touring Car Championship returned to the television screens this weekend true to fashion, with a number of large incidents overshadowing some fantastic racing at Thruxton.
Jake Hill would come out of the weekend with a trio of third-placed trophies and a slender lead in the championship over Josh Cook, who was the star of the day having taken maximum points from races one and two.
While the on-track racing was as close and exciting as could have been hoped, sadly it came at a price as a number of drivers found themselves clambering out of significantly damaged cars after heavy impact with the barriers.
It all started with reigning champion Ash Sutton’s Infiniti Q50 being turned around by Colin Turkington at the complex on the very first lap of the season, and when someone as historically clean as Turkington is getting their elbows out that aggressively that early, you know to brace yourself for what’s about to unfold.
It was half a lap later when the chasing pack struggled with the cold tyre and track temperatures, as Gordon Shedden’s return to the championship lasted just four corners before a sudden trip to the barriers between Noble and Goodwood. The former champion ran into the back of Ollie Jackson’s Ford Focus as the field bunched up, causing Jackson to lose traction, sending both onto the grass and before Shedden’s Honda Civic Type-R slid back onto the tarmac and straight into Chris Smiley’s Hyundai i30, causing the pair to slam into the tyre barriers and bringing the safety car out for the first time in 2021.
With the race finally restarting on lap six, it was the Josh Cook show from then on. Having endured a luckless campaign in 2020, he put all of that clearly in the rear-view mirror as he streaked away from the chasing pack, headed by Tom Ingram proving his move to Hyundai machinery with Excelr8 was the right one. Jake Hill completed the podium positions, with Colin Turkington and Dan Cammish, who was stepping in for a single round in the vacated BTC Racing seat, rounding out the top five.
Race two was more of the same for Josh Cook who once again led from the front, despite the full 75 kilos of success ballast on board, while his team-mate for the weekend Cammish came home to complete a BTC Racing 1-2 in a repeat of its successes at the same circuit in 2020. Jake Hill again rounded out the podium places but it would be Dan Rowbottom in the Team Dynamics Honda Civic who’s result would raise the most eyebrows in race two.
Having been on the receiving end of a lot of social media talk over the winter questioning the team’s decision in hiring Rowbottom, his fourth place in race two, complete with a stunning switchback move on Jason Plato at the chicane. Ash Sutton, meanwhile, put on a typical Sutton display as, starting from ninth, he had made his way up to sixth place at the time of the safety car, before pitting during the safety car intervention. Dropping to the back of the field, he then clawed his way back to ninth place at the chequered flag, which would see him third on the grid for the third and final encounter of the day.
Once again, though, it was crashes that remained the most memorable moments of race two, starting with a colossal incident for the returning Glynn Geddie in the all-new Cupra Leon of Team HARD. Geddie was removed from the race following a heavy impact from Andy Neate, causing the Cupra to spring off the barriers, coming to rest on its roof, collecting Jade Edwards’ BTC Racing Honda in the process and bringing out the red flag. Despite Neate blaming a mechanical fault, was deemed to be at fault and received a £2,000 fine and three points on his licence.
Unfortunately, that was not to be the only large repair bill to come from race two, with Rory Butcher losing the rear of his car off the restart at the fast left-hander Noble, slamming into the same barrier as his brother-in-law Gordon Shedden had done in the opening encounter and providing Toyota Gazoo Racing with a rush to get the car back out for race three.
It was as if every BTCC fan’s Christmas had come early in race three, as the arrival of rain saw a mixture of tyre strategies up and down the grid. Tom Oliphant and Jake Hill were the highest profile drivers to take the slick tyre gamble, and early laps showed they’d made a mistake, with Oliphant dropping from second down to outside of the points in a number of laps.
As the track dried the pendulum swung back into the favour of those on slick rubber, and nine laps inJake Hill drove around leader Ash Sutton at the fast back section of the track. Almost as soon as Hill got past, however, the weather turned once again and brought the race back to the wet runners. Sutton drove back around Hill, leaving the MB Motorsport driver to try and hold off Jason Plato in the final laps, finally succumbing to the two-time champion on the final corner of the race.
Gordon Shedden made up for a disappointing first two races to finish fourth from the back of the grid, while Dan Lloyd rounded out the top five to secure a strong finish with teammate Plato for the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall squad. Further back, penalties for both Tom Ingram and Josh Cook for a grid infraction gave them no hope of a good result, while Rory Butcher tangled with Carl Boardley’s Infiniti to provide yet another heavy repair bill for the newly expanded Toyota team.
As a result of his trio of podiums, Hill leaves Thruxton with a one-point lead over Cook, with Plato a further seven points back in third. Meanwhile, Motorbase/Ford left Thruxton with the lead in the Constructors’ standings, with Cook and BTC Racing leading both Independents’ championships. Despite his starring role in race two, Rowbottom sits behind Sam Osborne in the Jack Sears Trophy standings. It’ll be a month before the BTCC is back in action at Snetterton on the 12th and 13th of June, but that perhaps is a good thing for a number of teams, who now have 33 days to straighten out their body panels…