Three title contenders shared the spoils at Snetterton this weekend as the British Touring Car Championship rocked up in Norfolk for the second round of the 2021 season.
Strong results for Colin Turkington, Ashley Sutton and Tom Ingram mean the trio sit incredibly close at the top of the table after six races, setting up a mouth-watering season-long tussle for the 2021 BTCC Drivers’ crown.
The weekend seemed to be going the way of three-time championship-winning returnee Gordon Shedden, taking pole position and looking to make amends for a tricky opening weekend at Thruxton. It all came crashing down in post-qualifying inspections, however, as the rear wing angle on his Honda Civic Type R was found to be one degree out of legal tolerances. As a result the Scot went from the front of the grid to the very back, and the game plan for the weekend was immediately turned on its head.
With Shedden being demoted to the back of the field, Turkington inherited pole in the Team BMW 330i M Sport, with Ingram’s Hyundai i30 Fastback N lining up alongside. Ingram pushed his Hyundai as hard as he could in the opening laps, trying to capitalise on the superior tyre heat generated by his front-wheel-drive car when compared to the rear-driven BMW. However, the hot weather combined with the return of the Goodyear ‘option’ tyre meant Turkington was able to hold his ground despite Ingram getting alongside on two occasions, and the BMW man held on until the finish line.
Having led the vast majority of the second race, Turkington would have thought he was on for more of the same, despite carrying the 75kg of success ballast for winning the opening encounter, had it not been for Ash Sutton doing what Ash Sutton does best. Starting from 11th on the grid, the reigning champion stormed his way up the field, hustling his Infiniti Q50 into the lead on the ninth lap of the 12-lap race.
Ingram meanwhile tried desperately to secure a second podium finish of the day, but ended up losing out after a race long battle to the MB Motorsport Ford Focus of Ollie Jackson, who had launched up to second by the end of the first lap having started from fifth on the grid. Meanwhile Rory Butcher was putting in a solid stint in only his second weekend with the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK squad. Having taken third in a somewhat lonely opening race, the Scot continued his fine form with a fifth place in race two, making up for his double DNF at Thruxton last month.
Gordon Shedden was also waving the Saltire with pride on the eve of Scotland’s first appearance in a major footballing tournament in 23 years, working his way up to eleventh at the close of race two and in contention for a potential reverse grid draw. Unfortunately for the Honda man, only the top seven were reversed, resulting in an all-BMW front row of Stephen Jelley and Tom Oliphant.
It is unlikely that Team BMW boss Dick Bennetts expected what was to come, however, as Jelley and Oliphant went toe-to-toe, with Oliphant tangling with the chasing Ollie Jackson, ending a potential BMW 1-2 result and putting Tom Ingram right on the boot lid of leader Jelley. It was around the halfway stage that Ingram finally worked his way past Jelley, with the BMW driver running wide at Riches and Ingram not needing a second invitation into the tight Montreal hairpin, before storming to take the first ever win for a Hyundai in the BTCC.
Jelley’s pace faded throughout the closing stages, allowing both race two winner Sutton and Gordon Shedden to bully their way through into the final podium places, giving the latter a small piece of redemption after the tough end to Saturday. Jelley finally crossed the finish line in fifth, also having lost a place to Josh Cook, who had had a somewhat lacklustre day himself up until that point.
With six races now in the book, Ash Sutton sits atop of the standings, just two points ahead of Colin Turkington with Tom Ingram only a further three points back. Josh Cook sits fourth, 15 points behind Turkington while Jake Hill, who led the championship going into the Snetterton weekend, only managed to bring home 11 points from the three races and leaves Norfolk fifth in the standings.
Elsewhere, Jessica Hawkins returned to Snetterton for her second meeting in a BTCC car, having sampled the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra in 2020, as she stepped in for Andy Neate in the Racing with Wera Ford Focus, who was taking a short step away from the series following a difficult Thruxton and, more significantly, a rather poor response directed towards him on social media as a result. Unfortunately for Hawkins, she was unable to break into the points as she finished 23rd, 21st and 23rd across the three races.
After a five week break between the first two meetings, BTCC fans have much less time to wait for their next fix, with less than two weeks before rounds seven, eight and nine around the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit.