BTCC Croft 2023 | 6 talking points

31st July 2023
James Charman

With the summer break now firmly in the rear-view mirrors, the British Touring Car paddock headed north to Yorkshire for the start of the second half of the 2023 campaign. After a near-perfect start to the weekend for NAPA Racing UK, taking a pair of 1-2-3 results, a dramatic final race means overall honours are still very much all to play for.

While the racing may have been a little less frantic than fans may have hoped for, there was still plenty to sink our teeth into as we begin the countdown to Brands Hatch in October.


1. Summer break provides mini BTCC silly season

The talking points started before the teams had even arrived in the paddock for setup ahead of the Croft weekend, thanks to a driver domino effect kick-started by the sudden release of Will Powell from One Motorsport. Jade Edwards was swiftly slotted into the now-vacant Honda Civic Type-R, returning to the team she competed with in 2021 and 2022, then known as BTC Racing. 

Edwards’ move left an empty seat in Tony Gilham’s Team HARD stable, and one quickly became two as ‘the current economic climate, coupled with the increase in costs to compete’ forced Bobby Thompson to step down from the CUPRA Leon squad. The decision brought an end to an impressive season for the reigning Jack Sears Trophy winner, who took second at Brands Hatch earlier in the year and was the leading CUPRA driver in the points. 

The empty seats were filled by 17-year-old rookie Daryl DeLeon and the returning fan favourite, Michael Crees. DeLeon was running as high as 12th at one point in the final race of the day, before a drive-through penalty (due to a team member leaving the grid too late) ended any chance for points on his debut. Crees, meanwhile, came home an impressive – and popular – 10th on his return to the championship.


2. NAPA domination continues while Rowbottom plays the team game

If there’s one thing you can say about this season, it’s that it’s been consistent. Consistent dominant performances from the NAPA Racing Fords, that is. Filling the top three places in qualifying at a circuit more often known as a rear-wheel-drive friendly circuit was a signal of intent from the Motorbase Performance-run team, and very much a warning shot to their rivals going into Sunday.

With the top three positions under its control for the start of race one, it was a display of excellence from the NAPA trio in the opening 15-lap encounter. Dan Cammish converted his pole position into a third win for 2023, and his first since the opening round at Donington Park, making it look like a simple Sunday morning drive to the shops. Meanwhile team-mates Dan Rowbottom and Ash Sutton ran line astern in the remaining podium positions whilst holding back the chasing pack, headed by Sutton’s closest championship rival, reigning champ Tom Ingram. A ‘missed gear’ from Rowbottom coming out of the final corner allowed Sutton to jump up into second and secure two more vital championship points.

It was more of the same in race two, with the only real difference being an almost choreographed move from the Ford Focus trio allowing Sutton to jump to the lead off the line, leading home a second NAPA Racing UK 1-2-3 of the afternoon and taking his seventh win of the year. Despite some drama for the championship leader in race three, Cammish and Rowbottom were able to secure strong teams’ points for the team by coming home fourth and fifth respectively. The NAPA squad now holds a 90 point lead in the teams championship over Team BMW. In the Manufacturers’ standings, however, BMW has leaped ahead of Ford, taking a 14 point lead into the final 12 races of the year.


3. Ingram, Hill and Turkington handed major title lifeline

It must be difficult to get enthused about competing in the BTCC this year if you’re not wearing blue and yellow overalls with a large NAPA logo emblazoned on them. It was evident in a pre-race interview with Paul O’Neill that reigning champion Tom Ingram is finding it hard to work out what to do about his rivals in their Fords. Ingram has enjoyed a hugely successful year so far, finishing on the podium at every round at least once, including a win at Snetterton, yet you still just can’t look past Sutton in his Focus for the trophy in October.

Even the West Surrey Racing BMWs are struggling to keep up with the Ford outfit, despite five wins shared between Colin Turkington and Jake Hill, the three-time champion earning his third of the year this weekend. It’s not even like it’s been a particularly inconsistent year for Dick Bennetts’ BMW squad - Colin Turkington has finished all but one race inside the top ten. In contrast, Sutton has finished outside the top ten twice and even failed to finish on three occasions.

The third of those retirements came in the final race at Croft this weekend, handing a major title lifeline to the chasing pack. A coming together between two of the NAPA Racing Fords and Team BMW’s Stephen Jelley resulted in Sutton losing his left front tyre and, having attempted to make it back to the pits, was forced to park up agonisingly close to the pit entry.

Desperate to make hay while the sun shone (which itself was a rarity at Croft), Turkington and Ingram battled tooth and nail for the victory in race three. The BMW would eventually get the better of the Excelr8 Hyundai and cruise home, with Josh Cook’s Honda Civic rounding out a promising day with third position.


4. Jake Hill throws away golden opportunity

One driver who will look back at the Croft weekend as one that ‘might have been’ will be Jake Hill. Piloting the Laser Tools-backed BMW 3-Series, Hill looked like he’d be able to hang on to the leading pack after a strong fifth-placed finish in race one, following team-mate Turkington across the line with Ingram firmly in his rear-view mirrors.

However, a spin in race two demoted Hill to 11th place, having been sitting in sixth up until that point. Not only did this lose Hill five crucial points in the championship, but also denied him a reverse-grid pole for race three. With race two winner Sutton having drawn number six, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Hill to back up his double victory at Oulton Park. Instead, the pole would go to Turkington, who duly converted despite an early race challenge from Tom Ingram. As if one spin wasn’t bad enough, Hill’s hard work in race three was nullified with another pirouette in the closing stages, and has now slipped to fourth in the points table, falling behind Turkington, as a result. 


5. ‘Gimmicks’ make very little difference

One of the biggest selling points of the British Touring Car Championship since its inception in 1958 has been its ability to always throw up entertaining races. Over the past 25 years, some of this excitement has come courtesy of a number of gimmicks thrown in to keep the drivers on their toes and the fans on the edge of their seats. From pitstops, one-shot qualifying and night races of the Super Touring era, to the successful ballast and reverse grids in recent years, something’s been there to spice things up.

This year, though, there seems to be very little the organisers can do from stopping the cream from rising to the top. Now, there will be a select number reading this who will claim that is no bad thing, and it simply makes a more ‘genuine’ title picture at the end of the year, but the question needs to be asked; if they’re not making a difference, do they really need to be there?

This weekend’s Croft weekend saw all three tyre compounds used in the three races, but it was only when drivers were on the hard tyre that you really noticed any difference. The only problem with that is that all of the title protagonists saved their hard tyres for the final race of the day, meaning it’s almost completely nullified. As for the hybrid boost deployment, the only time you’re aware of someone using their hybrid boost deployment at the moment is when Tim Harvey or David Addison point it out on commentary. Otherwise it’s barely noticeable.


6. Title fight hangs in the balance for Scottish trip

There’s still very much a long way to go, with 268 points still on the table across 12 races. Sutton’s retirement, compounded by his rivals finishing strongly, means that only 6 points now separate Sutton and Ingram, while the BMWs of Turkington and Hill are just 34 and 42 points back respectively. Dan Cammish rounds out the top five, just four points behind Hill.

In the Independents tables, Josh Cook now holds an 80-point lead over team-mate Aiden Moffat, so there’s no surprise that their One Motorsport stable also sits atop the Independent Teams’ standings, just 46 points ahead of the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhalls. The PMR cars currently sit atop the Jack Sears Trophy table, with Mikey Doble leading team-mate Andrew Watson by 64 points. 

The BTCC rounds come thick and fast now, with just two weeks to wait for the annual trip north of the border and to the ever-frenetic Knockhill. With a championship leader desperate to regain the margin he’d worked so hard to create, and a chasing pack looking to continue their momentum from the final race at Croft, the ingredients are already in place for another weekend of Scottish excitement

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

  • BTCC 2023

  • Croft

  • BTCC

  • btcc-donington-2022-mi-main.jpg


    2023 BTCC standings and calendar

  • andrew_jordan_btcc_croft_2017_goodwood_12062017_0_009_list.jpg


    Andrew Jordan: BTCC 2017, Croft – "A lucky escape and plenty of valuable points"

  • 2023-btcc-season-preview-main.jpg


    2023 BTCC season preview