With the sun beaming down across the Norfolk countryside, and the Snetterton run-off areas looking more like a dustbowl than lush green grass, both drivers and cars were put through a real test of endurance as the British Touring Car Championship rolled along for its seventh meeting of the year. Temperatures on the ground were clocked at 40 degrees while the drivers were having to manage 60 degrees+ in their cockpits, however they didn’t let that hold them back, as the fans were treated to three more exhilarating rounds of BTCC action.
Five talking points from a baking BTCC weekend at Snetterton
BMWs dominate qualifying for second meeting running
Having completely swept the competition aside in qualifying for the previous outing at Knockhill, BMW enjoyed yet another dominant performance under the scorching heat at Snetterton. Championship leader Colin Turkington was the cream of the crop once more, lining up alongside Jake Hill, as was the case in Scotland. Stephen Jelley and Adam Morgan lined up fourth and fifth respectively, with four of the five BMWs lining up in the top five places on the grid.
Championship contender Tom Ingram lined up in third, promoted from fourth after Jelley had been found to impede another driver, while Ash Sutton, who went in to Snetterton just one point behind Ingram, could only manage ninth on the grid. Jason Plato, meanwhile, enjoyed a strong Saturday, starting in sixth for the first race of a day where he would be celebrating his 650th start in Britain’s premier motorsport series.
Further down the field, early season pace-setter Josh Cook’s woes continued, languishing down in 22nd place at the end of Saturday after having his fastest time deleted for track limits infringements. The BTC Racing driver had enjoyed a very strong start to his 2022 campaign, but a distinct lack of pace in his Honda Civic in recent months has seen his title challenge unravel in front of his very eyes, having gone into Snetterton 24 points behind Turkington and with a miniscule chance of shrinking that gap on Sunday.
Turkington and Hill put on a strong display
As would be expected from a front row full of BMWs, Colin Turkington and Jake Hill streaked away off the line, leaving Tom Ingram to fend off the chasing pack, led by the BMWs of Stephen Jelley and Adam Morgan. A phenomenal move from Morgan around the outside of Jelley promoted the Ciceley Motorsport-run 3 Series up to fourth, but could not find a way past Ingram, which would become the theme for the remainder of the race. As Turkington and Hill casually drove away from the field, Ingram acted as the head of a train of cars filling the remainder of the top ten.
It was a relatively serene start to the day by BTCC standards, with cars and drivers having a short respite at the halfway stage as the Safety Car was deployed for a solitary lap to clear the stricken Vauxhall Astra of Michael Crees. The restart allowed Jake Hill to put more pressure on championship leader Turkington, the former enjoying five laps of hybrid power across the course of the race against Turkington’s two.
Hill’s attack came to a premature end, however, as a crash for Aidan Moffat brought the safety car out for the second time. With Josh Cook suffering from a lack of pace in his Honda, Moffat attempted a move around the outside of Riches, turning down on the BTC Racing car and causing the Laser Tools Racing Infiniti to spear off into the tyre barriers. Cook, who had worked his way up into the points in the early stages of the race, had faded somewhat in the second half – a cruel reflection of his season so far – and out of the points before the incident with Moffat dropped him back down to his starting position of 22nd.
After a lengthier Safety Car on this occasion, a three-lap sprint ensued to the finish line. Despite some elbows-out racing further down the field, it was a sensible final couple of laps for the front runners. The closest racing came from Ash Sutton, trying to get past Dan Rowbottom’s Team Dynamics Honda Civic, opening himself up to an attack from Gordon Shedden in the second Halfords-sponsored car. Sutton worked hard to get past, eventually getting ahead of Rowbottom for eighth place in a drag race to the finish line.
Up the sharp end, though, it was a clean sweep for Turkington, not only winning and taking pole position, but also racking up bonus points for the fastest lap and also being the only driver to lead a lap through the 15-lap (extended from 12 due to safety car laps) encounter. Jake Hill completed a BMW 1-2, with Tom Ingram rounding out the podium positions. Adam Morgan and Stephen Jelley ensured that four of the top five positions were filled with BMW machinery, while Jason Plato equalled his best result of the season in sixth.
More of the same for brilliant BMW in race two
With Turkington and Hill lining up alongside each other again for the second encounter, all the signs pointed to a very similar showing as the first race and, despite Hill trying his absolute hardest to force his way past his BMW stablemate around the first lap, they were all correct. The two went side by side for the first three quarters of the opening lap, making contact on multiple occasions, but some strong defence from Turkington kept his fellow BMW at bay.
A late race challenge from Hill could not find a way past the four-time champion, and with two fewer hybrid laps than race one – running out with three laps to go – things were, if anything, easier for Turkington this time around as he once again took every point available to him. The top five crossed the finish line in identical fashion to that in race one, with Tom Ingram the only non-BMW in the top five, taking his second trophy of the day for third.
The only major change of order at the sharp end was Jason Plato being shifted down to seventh as a result of Ricky Collard dragging his Toyota Corolla up to sixth, his best result in the BTCC to date. Further down the order, there were a few battles for the lower positions, with a four-car fight for the final points-paying positions in the early stages of the race. George Gamble and Josh Cook later took over the fight for 14th and 15th, neither in positions they would have wanted to have been in, but it was a rather calm race in the height of the sun in Norfolk.
Sutton and Collard benefit from reversed-grid
Thanks to a nine-place reversed-grid from 1990 BTCC champion Robb Gravett, Ash Sutton was handed a big help to his 2022 title campaign as he lined up on pole position for the final race of the day. A lightning start from Team Dynamics’ Dan Rowbottom saw the Honda take the lead off the line, but Sutton retook the lead, allowing two-time champion Jason Plato into second in the process. For Rowbottom, it was a sign of things to come as he contended with a lack of hybrid power throughout the remaining 11 laps, eventually shuffling his way down to ninth by the finish line.
Sutton went about his business and proved why he was regarded as the best on the grid by John Cleland at Knockhill, driving away from the field and cruising to his second victory of the year, and second in as many meetings. Jason Plato had an equally professional performance in his 650th BTCC start, taking a solid second place behind Sutton, and scoring his first podium in the driver’s seat of a Honda.
The race as a whole was a relatively calm affair, with no real dramas up or down the field, exemplified by the fact it was the only race of the day where the Safety Car wasn’t required at any point. The biggest drama of the race came on lap three, when Stephen Jelley found himself facing in the wrong direction on the exit of the chicane following heavy contact from the Toyota of Rory Butcher. There was also a heart-in-the-mouth moment for title challenger Tom Ingram on the final lap. Having dived down the inside of Ricky Collard, aiming to secure his third podium of the day, Collard was determined to hang on to his first trophy in the BTCC and sent his Toyota straight back past the Hyundai in a typically robust touring car move, causing Ingram to run incredibly wide and loose. Luckily for Ingram he was able to hold on to fourth and secure some important points in his hunt for Turkington’s top spot.
Turkington tightens grip on title lead
Going into Snetterton with just a six-point lead over Tom Ingram, Turkington’s double victory in the first two races gave his title aspirations a real boost. Despite Ingram’s equally impressive results at what is a typically rear-wheel-drive circuit, the BMW man leaves Snetterton with a 17-point lead over Ingram. Jake Hill’s brace of silver medals has also seen him leapfrog Ash Sutton into third, even with Sutton taking victory in the final race of the day. Hill sits just seven points behind Ingram, with Sutton just a single point further back. The circus now rolls on to Thruxton on the Bank Holiday weekend, and Sutton will be hoping to go even better than his trio of podiums at the Hampshire circuit earlier in the year. However, both Turkington and Hill enjoyed strong results in their BMWs, meaning it really is a level playing field around the fastest circuit in Britain.
Rather unsurprisingly, BMW have pulled out even further in the manufacturers’ standings, now holding an 89-point lead over the Hyundai squad, who have equally extended their gap over Ford by three points to 15. The fight to not be last is separated by just four points, with Honda holding the smallest of margins over their Japanese rivals, Toyota.
Despite another disappointing day overall that meant he now sits 72 points back from the top spot in the overall standings, Josh Cook still holds his lead in the Independents’ Championship, although his lead has been sliced down from 77 points to 55, with Adam Morgan hunting the crown in his BMW. Cook will be hoping for more of the form he showed at the series’ first visit to Thruxton, where he took two wins and a fifth, and with team-mate Jason Plato having his best weekend of the year at Snetterton, morale should be high in the BTC Racing camp as we head to Hampshire. BTC Racing continues to lead in the Independent Team’s standings, too, with Morgan’s Ciceley Motorsport closing by just three points across the Snetterton weekend to sit 11 points back with nine races still to run this season.
Finally, Bobby Thompson managed to hang on to his lead in the Jack Sears Trophy, for drivers who hadn’t scored an overall podium prior to the start of the 2022 season, but only just. George Gamble’s difficult opening race, which saw him have to be towed back to the pits on the formation lap before starting from the back of the grid, meant he couldn’t quite gather enough points to overthrow Thompson this week. The gap, which was only five points to begin with, now sits at just two points going into the final three meetings of the year.
With Thruxton just around the corner, and with everyone on the grid already having data to go from after their visit back in May, it should be another incredibly close weekend of racing around the Hampshire airfield. With raw pace being an incredibly important factor in the BTCC this season, and plenty of chatter around about the effectiveness of hybrid boost when compared to the old success ballast system, it’s going to be even more important to be quick right out of the box. With just nine races left of the 2022 season, things are really starting to heat up – and that’s not just from the scorching temperatures in Norfolk this weekend!
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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