Seven talking points from a damp Brands Hatch

16th May 2022
James Charman

The rain came down at Brands Hatch as the British Touring Car circus rolled into Kent, but the damp track certainly had no effect on the spirits of the competitors, with three fantastic races laid on for the hardy trackside fans. It was also a major moment for the series’ TV coverage, with races two and three being broadcast live on ITV1 as opposed to their usual ITV4 slot.


With the national championship being put in front of many more eyes than usual, perhaps helped by the fact it was a wet day keeping people at home in front of their telly, it was up to the stars of the BTCC to deliver the goods to hook in some new fans. The cast duly delivered, and while it may be a while before the likes of Tom Ingram, Ash Sutton and Josh Cook become household names, if the BTCC can continue to produce entertainment like this in front of bumper TV audiences, then we could well be looking at the next “golden age” of the championship.

That aside, let's have a closer look at the comings and goings from rounds four, five and six of the 2022 British Touring Car Championship.

Hybrid reduction

There was a slight tweak to the new hybrid rules ahead of the second meeting of the year, specifically for Brands Hatch due to the short nature of the Indy circuit. While qualifiers were still entitled to their full 15 seconds – or relevant amount based on championship positions, the figure was reduced to just 10 seconds during racing laps. It is likely that similar alterations will be made for both the Knockhill and Silverstone meetings, but a decision will be made on those following data extrapolated from the Brands Hatch meeting.


Turkington reaches milestone as BMW lock out front two rows

With Jake Hill getting the upper hand on his West Surrey team-mates at Donington Park, despite being excluded from the first race, it was Colin Turkington's turn to prove why he’s won four championships with the team. Taking his 25th pole position in the BTCC (and the 100th for an NGTC car), the Northern Irishman beat the field by a relatively large margin of 0.167 seconds, with Hill lining up alongside him in a reverse of their qualifying results at Donington.

Team BMW boss Dick Bennetts was hopeful that there would be a little less aggression between his drivers than we saw at the Donington Park opener, where Hill and Turkington went door-to-door and allowed Tom Ingram to leapfrog the pair and take the opening win of the season.

It was a brilliant session for those in a BMW 330e M Sport, with the final Team BMW car of Stephen Jelley taking the third fastest time, ahead of Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Motorsport-run 3 Series.


Rory Butcher’s slick gamble

A heavy rain shower soaked the circuit ahead of the first race, but a dry line began to appear during the support races before the BTCC cars headed to the grid. Seeing an opportunity to roll the dice and work his way forward from his ninth place on the grid, Toyota’s Rory Butcher (and Team HARD debutante Will Powell) decided to throw on a set of slicks, while the rest of the field lined up on their wet tyres. It seemed like a mistake on the green flag laps, as the Corolla slid off the track after Graham Hill Bend, and Butcher struggled for pace during the first half of the race, lapping some three seconds slower than the leading pack. However, at the halfway point Butcher started setting fastest laps and began carving his way through the field.

It very nearly paid off with a top five result, but Butcher skidded off the road at Clearways and dropped back to seventh – still an improvement on his ninth place start, but not as good as it could have been. That seventh place was enough to set up a strong afternoon for the Scot, who would work his way up to a podium result in race two, before fighting his way from ninth back to fifth in the safety car-interrupted final race. Powell, meanwhile, was unable to keep in touch on his slick tyres, and finished last and a lap down.


Josh Cook doubles up

While Butcher and Powell took a gamble, every other driver lined up for the race on the grooved wet weather tyres. Josh Cook, starting from fifth on the grid, made a great getaway in his Honda Civic Type R and jumped two of the BMW quartet ahead of him to lie in third. A slide saw him pushed back down to fourth, but it was head down from that moment for the BTC Racing driver, passing Stephen Jelley on lap seven, before dispatching the remaining BMWs of Jake Hill and Colin Turkington on laps 13 and 17 respectively. Cook never looked back from then on, with series leader Tom Ingram also working his way past the BMWs before the chequered flag fell.

With an incredibly greasy track causing a lot of position shuffling throughout race two, Cook was able to hold firm, despite only having nine laps of hybrid power to utilise. He was subjected to pressure from Jake Hill for the majority of the race, before Hill, who was also trying to keep the charging Dan Cammish at bay, tried a little too hard going into Druids with just two laps to go and lost the rear. That opened the door for Cammish to try and get the first win for the new NAPA Racing UK squad. Despite having no hybrid to defend himself with, Cammish was able to hold on, giving viewers on ITV1 a true example of the BTCC at its finest.


Team BMW finally comes good in wet race three

It wasn’t until the third, final, and wettest, race of the day that the BMW squad finally managed to piece it all together and work their way into the podium positions. With conditions seemingly at their least favourable for the rear-wheel-drive cars, Colin Turkington and Jake Hill, starting from third and sixth respectively, worked their way past the pole-sitting Tom Chilton with identical moves around the outside of Clark Curve. The two were streaking away from the rest of the field before Chilton beached himself in the gravel at Clearways, causing the second Safety Car period of the race. The first was for a stricken Jason Plato, who went straight into the barriers at Druids on the opening tour.

With their large gaps reset, and just five laps remaining, a straight fight ensued that harked back to the BTCC’s origins when Tommy Sopwith and Jack Sears went head-to-head in similar conditions to decide who would become the first ever British Saloon Car champion. No matter how hard he tried, Hill just couldn’t get close enough to his West Surrey stablemate and had to settle for second in a BMW 1-2 at his home circuit. Turkington cruised towards his 61st career victory.


Bobby Thompson gets his first taste of BTCC champagne

Team HARD’s Bobby Thompson had never finished in the top five of a BTCC race going into the Brands Hatch meeting. But going into the final race, a top 12 reversal courtesy of McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown meant that Thompson lined up on the front row alongside Tom Chilton.

While Thompson was unable to hold back the charging BMWs, he was looking comfortable in third before the second safety car period left a five-lap dash to the flag. With championship leader Tom Ingram now breathing down his neck, Thompson had to make his Cupra Leon as wide as possible, but was handed a lifeline when Ingram had the Toyota of Rory Butcher to contend with, leaving Thompson to take a career first podium – meaning he will now be ineligible for the Jack Sears Trophy in future seasons.


Ingram leaves with points lead intact, Manufacturers’ title gets tasty

Going into Brands Hatch with a seven-point lead courtesy of a win, a second and a fifth at Donington Park, Excelr8 Motorsport’s Tom Ingram knew that consistency would be key if he wanted to put together a real shot at the overall title this year. And consistent he was. Finishing second to Josh Cook in the opening race, he battled his way to a fifth and a fourth in the final two races, meaning he is yet to finish outside of the top five in the opening six rounds of the season. Despite an incredibly solid weekend, Josh Cook’s double meant that Ingram’s lead only has only extended by a single point going into the third round at Thruxton in two weeks’ time. Reigning champion Ash Sutton sits a further 13 points back in third.

The eight-point margin at the top of the drivers’ standings looks rather large in comparison to the manufacturers’ standings, however. A strong weekend for both Team BMW and NAPA Racing UK means that just one point separates the top three in the table, with Hyundai/Excelr8 and Ford/NAPA tied on 151, with Team BMW sitting on 150 after the first two meetings of the year. Josh Cook leaves Brands Hatch with a 15-point lead over George Gamble in the Independents’ title race, while Bobby Thompson’s podium result brings him just one point behind Gamble in the Jack Sears Trophy.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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