Five things we learned from the BTCC at Brands Hatch
The British Touring Car Championship reconvened, again in front of a limited crowd, on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, where Ash Sutton and Tom Ingram pounced on the woe of their decorated title rivals to carve out breathing space atop the table.
Rowbottom can learn from Oliphant’s example
West Surrey Racing founder Dick Bennetts was the most protective of Tom Oliphant in 2019 when he was signed alongside champions Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan. The vastly experienced Kiwi recognised the time needed for Oliphant to readjust to rear-wheel-drive machinery after a debut season aboard the front-driven Mercedes A-Class.
Oliphant chalked a maiden BTCC win last year and was the driver of the day in Kent last weekend. He won the opening race from fourth on the grid and held on stoutly to third in race two despite carrying the full 75kg of success ballast. Not a bad way to round out the week in which he proposed to his girlfriend.
That race-one success came at the expense of first-time polesitter Daniel Rowbottom, the Honda Civic Type R driver bogging down off the line despite a quick pre-grid call to team boss Matt Neal for pointers.
A third and a fourth place from the opening two races was a fine result, make no mistake. But a first BTCC win slipped through his fingers. However, Team Dynamics has said that hiring Rowbottom comes with a two-year plan to develop him into a regular frontrunner, just as WSR did with Oliphant. The latter’s time has now come. Rowbottom can look to his competitor's improvement and know that his time will surely follow.
Sutton reinforces BTCC’s fine margins
While Ash Sutton didn’t add to his season tally of two wins, one pole and a fastest lap last weekend, he and his Laser Tools Racing-run Infiniti Q50 remain the prime candidates for the officials’ next power or ride height tweak that aim to bring about performance parity.
He gained a total of eight places over the three races to snare fifth, second and eighth. As spectators have come to expect from the defending champion, he was incisive and almost entirely error-free with his passing as he kept undue risk to a minimum.
The initial upshot was that he extended his slender championship advantage from two points to three over Tom Ingram. But as the campaign wears on, the 26-point cushion to third-ranking Josh Cook and a now sizeable 39-point gap over Colin Turkington could prove all the more devastating.
Ingram knew better than many
Eyebrows were raised when Tom Ingram joined the middling Excelr8 team for 2021 to continue the development of the Hyundai i30 Fastback N. The reality was that personal backing from Ginsters didn’t align with the increased Toyota GB branding received by the Speedworks squad with which he had remained since a BTCC debut in 2014.
Despite the new employer, Ingram occupies very familiar territory in the standings. He departs Brands Hatch second in the table and breathing down the neck of Ash Sutton.
Sixth in the opener preceded victory in race two. A final-lap nudge with Tom Oliphant into Paddock Hill Bend sent the BMW 330i M Sport wide enough for Ingram to pounce. He remained bullish while the stewards arrived at their decision not to intervene: “[Oliphant] left the gap. That’s when I didn’t need a second invitation”.
But if Ingram had been a touch lucky to avoid a reprimand, the good fortune ran out when he drew the lottery for partially reversed race three grid and gave himself only 12th. He maintained the position to keep the pressure on Sutton, two wins under his belt and evermore doubters about his Excelr8 switch proved wrong.
Turkington and Shedden are fallible
Colin Turkington doesn’t seek rivalries or controversy. He’s reserved out of the car but ruthlessly efficient when belted up and harvests points. As a result, he shares only the company of Andy Rouse as a four-time BTCC champion. The truly bad days are very few and far between.
However, last Sunday must add to that rare collection, as he snared just two points from the three contests and even took to social media after race two to apologise to his fans. The problem, chronic understeer, arrived in practice and stayed put to hamper his progress in the pack. Being tagged into a spin in race one summed up a trying outing.
Returning three-time title winner Gordon Shedden shared similar misfortune as the day wore on. He missed out on race one pole to his team-mate Daniel Rowbottom by just 0.009s and after a circumspect first few laps, did recover to second past the Infiniti of Aidan Moffat.
In race two, he was swiftly punted into the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend by the BMW of Stephen Jelley. Although able to rejoin and shed some of the gravel as he weaved behind the safety car, 21st was waiting at the flag before 16th in race three completed a weekend that offered promise but soon unravelled.
Morgan has justified the Ciceley expense
Ciceley Motorsport flashed the cash to West Surrey Racing during the off-season to buy a brace of BMW 330i M Sports for 2021, deciding that spending more to develop the leggy Mercedes A-Class was to wonder down a path of diminishing returns.
Although now equipped with a title-winning saloon, Ciceley couldn’t fall back on the three years of data religiously recorded by Dick Bennetts to immediately understand what made the saloon tick. It entered the weekend with a sole top-six result to show for this term.
But Adam Morgan, starting the day 21st on the grid, pounced when he was drawn on pole for race three. He aced his launch to lead from lights-to-flag in the finale, a ninth series win notched up, and vindicating his family team’s switch from front- to rear-wheel-drive.