GRR

2024 BTCC Brands Hatch | 7 Talking Points

13th May 2024
James Charman

While most of the UK was still revelling in the awe of the aurora borealis lighting up the night sky, the British Touring Car Championship lit up the shortest circuit on the calendar as fans were treated to some classic touring car action with plenty of twists and turns (or not, if you’re Jake Hill) along the way.

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BMW lock out front row at favoured Indy circuit

Brands Hatch has long been a friendly circuit to the rear-wheel-drive BMW 330e M Sport from West Surrey Racing, and qualifying ahead of this weekend was no different. Drenched in sunshine on an unseasonably hot May weekend, traffic was the unsurprising talking point around the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit, with Aiden Moffat one of those losing out in Q1 - a sharp drop following his win at Donington Park just two weeks ago.

Not only does the Indy circuit bring with it a battle for real estate, but the 1.2-miles almost guarantees close margins when it comes to lap times. With such a short lap, hybrid power was also at a premium, and championship leader Tom Ingram, as well as expected front runner Jake Hill, found themselves missing out on the Quick Six as a result. In the end, it would be the BMWs of Colin Turkington and Adam Morgan who would take the front row for the West Surrey team, while NAPA Racing UK’s Dan Cammish took third, just 0.066 seconds behind Turkington. Ash Sutton completed an all-Ford second row, with Josh Cook and Dan Rowbottom completing the Quick Six.

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Colin Turkington dominates to kickstart title charge

The start of Colin Turkington’s season was solid if not spectacular at Donington Park, and was pretty much a perfect embodiment of how he has been in the BTCC over the past couple of years. Always there, but never quite there enough to be a serious threat for the title. The opening two races at Brands Hatch this weekend, however, was a real statement of intent from the four-time champion.

Leaping off the line from pole position, Turkington was unchallenged throughout the first race, making it look easy as he led every lap and secured the bonus point for the fastest lap in the process, while using up the soft tyre as early as possible. Keen to prove that the result wasn’t simply a case of getting the tyre choice right, Turkington repeated the feat in race two, producing another drive that showcased just why he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest BTCC drivers of this generation, if not all time.

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Ronan Pearson takes maiden win with mature drive

Handed the best possible chance of a victory when Colin Turkington pulled out the number 11 ball for the reverse grid draw, Ronan Pearson found himself sitting on pole position and with soft tyres on his car for the final race of the day. Veteran Árón Taylor-Smith, looking for his first win since 2016, jumped to the lead off the start line, but would hold it for less than a lap as Pearson took a much tighter line through Clark Curve and worked his way back into the lead.

A puncture later in the race for teammate Ingram, who was also running the softer rubber, was perhaps the most unnerving moment for Pearson, but the young Scot managed the race to perfection and would cross the line almost four seconds ahead of team-mate Tom Chilton. Chilton’s move to secure second place was rather robust, diving to the inside of Taylor-Smith’s Vauxhall at Paddock Hill Bend and going door-to-door with the Irishman. The move forced the Astra wide, and gave reigning champion Ash Sutton third place on a silver platter.

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Tyres struggle in the heat as Cammish can’t catch a break

The first weekend of the soft tyre brought with it the first time this season that teams had to make the tactical decision of when to use which tyre. Across the three races, drivers were required to run one race with the softer Goodyear boots, which provide greater speed but wear much faster, and then compete in the other two races shod with the standard medium compound. What perhaps wasn’t expected was the heat that greeted the grid, as ambient temperatures reached a barmy 23℃, while track temperatures were read at 36℃, and the softer rubber seemed to struggle to cope at times.

The first drama came less than halfway into the opening race of the day, as NAPA Racing UK’s Dan Cammish suffered a puncture while chasing down the leading BMW of Colin Turkington, adding further fuel to the theory that Cammish may well be the unluckiest driver on the grid. There were additional tyre dramas for Daryl DeLeon later in the race, while Tom Ingram also suffered a puncture in the third race as he tried to work his way up the field.

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Bad day in the office for Jake Hill

Things were looking positive for Jake Hill, who managed to work his way up to fourth at the end of race one having started down in 12th place following a less-than-ideal qualifying result. Sadly, that would be the end of the positivity for Hill, as he would end race two early and embedded in the Druids gravel trap, courtesy of a steering failure leaving him no choice but to head straight into the barriers - thankfully at the slowest corner of the circuit and not heading into Paddock Hill, Surtees or Clearways.

Starting from the back of the grid in race three, Hill could only work his way up to 12th at the finish line, ending a pretty bad day at the office that brought home only 17 points across the three races, compared to the 42 he accrued via two podiums and a further top five finish at Donington Park’s season opener.

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2023’s title battle reignites on track as Ingram and Sutton go head-to-head

Tom Ingram spent much of 2023 chasing the rear bumper of Ash Sutton, regularly only being able to follow the Ford home rather than put together a challenge for the win. Continuing with the attitude shown at Donington Park two weeks ago, Ingram once again came out fighting at Brands Hatch, showing Sutton he was going to make it as difficult as possible for the NAPA driver to become the first ever five-time champion.

The two would end up battling for position in the closing stages of race two, and it was clear there would be no quarter given by either driver. It was a perfect example of the close, exciting racing that the BTCC is famous for, with the added extra of hybrid tactics also coming into play. Eventually, Ingram would dive down to the inside of Sutton at the top of Paddock Hill Bend on lap 24 of the Safety Car-extended 27-lap race. The reigning champion tried his hardest to retake the position, but Ingram modified his Bristol Street Motors car into the world’s widest Hyundai i30, holding on to second at the finish.

Ingram’s determination to keep the NAPA Ford at bay would have felt like déjà vu for Sutton, having been embroiled in an equally tight battle with close friend Josh Cook in race one. Once again, Sutton would come off second best as the satellite Toyota Corolla of Cook forced its way through.

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Consistency brings Sutton to the top of the table

A first glance at the points table might paint a bit of a gloomy figure to the casual viewer, who may well think “Oh great, Ash Sutton’s back at the top, here we go again…” but it was clear that the Ford Focus was not going to enjoy the dominance it displayed in 2023. Both Josh Cook in race one and Tom Ingram in race two showed that Sutton could be beaten, and with some pretty audacious moves too - ones you’d more often expect to see Sutton himself executing.

However, while the reigning champion may have let his rivals get the better of him a couple of times throughout the day, he leaves Brands Hatch with a slim lead of two points thanks to his consistent finishes. Being the only driver to finish on the podium in all three races means Sutton heads to Snetterton with a two-point lead over Colin Turkington, who leaps up the table after his double victory. Ingram sits third, just ten points behind Sutton, before there’s a jump of 26 points back to Jake Hill in fourth.

It’s equally close at the top of the manufacturers’ table, with BMW just two points ahead of Ford, and Hyundai a further nine points behind them. The rest of the points tables are dominated by Power Maxed Racing, with the Vauxhall squad leading the independent teams table by 22 points over Restart Racing and Árón Taylor-Smith holding a 10 point lead over team-mate Mikey Doble in the independent drivers standings. Doble also heads the Jack Sears Trophy table ahead of Ronan Pearson, taking a lead of 28 points to Snetterton in another two weeks' time.

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