Eight talking points from BTCC at Donington Park

28th April 2022
James Charman

The British Touring Car Championship raced into the future at Donington Park as the all-new hybrid era kicked off in style. Three races filled with typical BTCC action kept both the trackside and armchair punters happy, and as Tom Ingram comes away from the weekend with a slim lead at the top of the standings, we come away with a handful of subjects to keep us chattering until the series resumes at Brands Hatch in three weeks’ time.

Find out everything you need to know about the 2022 BTCC season.


Dan Cammish’s weekend goes up in smoke

The drama started at Donington Park before the racing had even begun. Heading into the season opener, all eyes were on the all-new NAPA Racing UK squad. Run by BTCC stalwarts Motorbase Performance, the team that brings a slice of NASCAR to British circuits had assembled an all-star lineup of reigning double champion Ash Sutton and the returning Dan Cammish, the latter running number nine, in symmetry with NAPA’s stateside driver, Chase Elliott. Pre-season form, backed up by strong pace from both drivers in Saturday’s free practice sessions, put the unmissable blue and yellow Ford Focus pair firmly at the top of everyone’s predictions for the remainder of the weekend. Unfortunately for Cammish, a fuel line issue turned the #9 into a fireball less than 10 minutes into qualifying, with the 2019 championship runner-up forced to bail out into the McLean’s gravel trap.

An intense repair job from the Motorbase squad saw everything from the windscreen forward replaced and repaired overnight, and Cammish lined up at the back of the grid for race one. While the team pulled out all the stops to get the car ready to go, they didn’t get any time to shake it down and fine tune the setup, so Cammish struggled for pace for the remainder of the weekend, finishing with just three points to his name.


Incredibly close grid

While Cammish was having a nightmare in the gravel trap, the 27 remaining cars continued to fight it out for top honours in the only completely equal competitive session of the season. With all drivers able to utilise the full 15 seconds of Hybrid Energy Management (HEM) available to them each lap, the top 17 all set times within one second of each other, showing just how competitive this season is likely to be.

As if that fact wasn’t impressive enough, the front two rows all set times within one tenth of each other, and while Goodwood hero Jake Hill took the first pole position (from qualifying results) of his career, his three-time champion team-mate Colin Turkington was breathing down his neck, just 0.018 seconds behind. Showing it wasn’t only rear-wheel-drive cars that can be quick, Ash Sutton was just a further 0.005 behind Turkington, with Excelr8’s Tom Ingram just a further 0.040 back in his Hyundai i30N.


Tom Ingram becomes a history maker

Tom Ingram has been one of those drivers over the past few years who has always been near the front, having finished outside of the top four in the overall standings just once since 2017. After three wins and a handful of podiums last year in his first season after breaking from the Toyotas of Speedworks, a relationship he had held since his BTCC debut in 2014, Ingram started the new season off in style.

Starting from fourth on the grid in race one, the Hyundai man made the most of the squabbling BMWs to work his way through the pack and take the very first victory of the hybrid era. Ingram backed up his win in race one with a second place in race two, following Team Dynamics’ Gordon Shedden across the line, before taking fifth in race three from an eighth place start on the top-nine reversed grid. The trio of results were enough to see Ingram leave Donington Park with a seven-point lead over Gordon Shedden in the drivers’ standings, with reigning champion Sutton just four points further back.


Swindon with a point to prove

With an all-new TOCA BTCC engine provided by M-Sport for 2022, outgoing preparer Swindon would have been looking for an opportunity to remind the series how good the firm can be at building engines. The chance came courtesy of Excelr8 Motorsport, upgrading from Independent to Manufacturer status for 2022, and with a Swindon-built Hyundai-badged engine under the bonnet for the new hybrid era.

Things couldn’t have gone better for Swindon, with Tom Ingram gliding his Hyundai to the top step of the podium in the very first race of the day, meaning Swindon will forever hold the honour of becoming the first victors in the hybrid-era. With strong results from Ingram all day, and a great drive from Dan Lloyd in race three, Excelr8 ended the day with a 19-point lead in the manufacturer’s standings, along with Ingram’s overall title lead. Swindon will be hoping for similar results across the years as the engine builder, in the words of ITV4 commentator Tim Harvey, looks to stick two fingers up to everyone running the M-Sport TOCA engine.


Gamble pays off

Making one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, George Gamble turned a lot of heads at Donington Park. Joining the Ciceley Motorsport camp for 2022, the 2014 Ginetta GT5 champion was quick enough for fifth on the grid in qualifying, lining his BMW 3 Series up ahead of some of the most experienced drivers in the field, including his team-mate Adam Morgan and Stephen Jelley in the third works BMW.

His performances weren’t only confined to single-lap pace, however, with an outstanding podium result in only his second ever race in the BTCC. A drive-through penalty in race three ended his weekend on a slightly sour note, but if his form this weekend is anything to go by, Gamble has to be one of the favourites for end-of-season plaudits in both the Independents’ and Jack Sears Trophies.


WSR inter-team squabbles

West Surrey Racing has always been regarded as one of the strongest teams in the British championship, and it’s hard not to argue with a squad that has won eight teams’ and four drivers’ titles in its 26-year BTCC history. However, Colin Turkington has been largely unchallenged by his teammates in recent years, certainly not to the extent that Andrew Jordan and Sam Tordoff had previously been able to push the Northern Irishman. That has changed for this year, though, as Jake Hill made the switch to rear-wheel-drive for 2022.

Hill and Turkington lined up together on the front row for race one, and you could almost hear the collective intake of breath from the WSR garage over the TV coverage as the two went wheel-to-wheel down the Craner Curves on the very first lap of the season. The two continued their battle for much of race one, before dramas for both took them away from each other in the remaining encounters. It remains to be seen whether Team Principal Dick Bennetts will be happy for them to continue their door-to-door racing for the remaining 27 races of the year, but from our point of view we certainly hope so.


Jake Hill - He’s quite good, isn’t he?

Jake Hill’s switch to BMW, and rear-wheel-drive machinery, had many asking how he would get on with the drivetrain switch for 2022. It turned out no-one needed to worry, as Hill proved he was just as quick, if not quicker, with his power coming from the rear wheels as he was when it came through the front. Not that we had any doubts, because Jake’s appearances at Goodwood over the last couple of years have shown he’s simply quick in anything you put him in.

The best example of this came in race two when Hill, starting from last following an exclusion from race one for a mechanical infringement, clawed his way up through the field to finish ninth. There were times during this epic charge that sent us straight back to his drives in Ric Wood’s Gitanes Capri in the Gerry Marshall Trophy, regularly sliding his way out of Coppice and on to Starkey’s Straight. Ninth in race two was the perfect result for Hill, as series director Alan Gow pulled out that very number for the reverse grid draw, gifting Hill his second pole position of the day. He duly converted that pole position into a totally dominant performance in the final race of the day, winning by a clear margin over Sutton’s Ford.


Hybrid makes a positive impression

The main talking point going into the season was the start of the BTCC’s hybrid era, with the new Hybrid Energy Management system replacing the old success ballast-based equalisation techniques. With all drivers eligible for HEM bursts for the entirety of race one, the first time it became noticeable was in race two, and the tactics were clear to see, with many opting to save their usages until the closing laps.

Not only does the technology allow a standard equalisation technique across the field, from the competitors’ perspective, it meant that the cars were the same all day, no more chucking ballast in or out depending on your result. With close racing up and down the field, the initial verdict is certainly a positive one.

The BTCC now heads to the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, the shortest on the calendar and one which always promises incredibly competitive times and close racing, three weeks from now on the 14th and 15th of May. Television viewers will also need to have their remotes at the ready as the series enjoys its first of two race weekends with three hours of the live show being broadcast on ITV1 as opposed to its regular ITV4 spot.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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