GRR

BTCC returns in style at Knockhill

31st July 2022
James Charman

Having enjoyed a well-earned summer break, the BTCC paddock was back in action north of the border, and the ever-popular Knockhill – backed up by a sea of spectators on every bank – provided yet another example of why it’s so universally loved by driver and fan alike. The season began its second half, with three action-packed races and plenty of twists and turns in the title race as we begin the run-in to the championship finale.

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BMW dominates the in qualifying

Going into the second half of the season, there was an air of positivity from the rear-wheel drive competitors, knowing that the majority of circuits still to come favoured those with power sent through the rear axle. Knockhill was one of those circuits, and it was a theory proven with gusto in qualifying for the annual Scottish trip. Five of the top six qualifying positions were filled by BMW 330e M Sports, with Ash Sutton spoiling the party in his NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus by lining up second alongside pole sitter Jake Hill. Rows two and three were aesthetically pleasing, with Team BMW cars on the inside and Cars Gods with Ciceley Motorsport cars on the outside of each. Colin Turkington and Adam Morgan took the second row, with Stephen Jelley and George Gamble in fifth and sixth respectively.

Championship leader Tom Ingram could only manage eighth in his Hyundai, lining up alongside top local hero Rory Butcher, who would be hoping for a strong performance at the circuit owned by his father. Ingram’s rival Josh Cook could only manage 14th on the grid – a performance he said was an accurate representation of the team’s speed, rather than any other issues during the session. In an interesting parallel with Ingram, Cook also lined up against one of the hometown favourites, with Gordon Shedden, Knockhill’s Commercial Director when not in the driving seat of a Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type-R.

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Jake Hill and Ash Sutton battle for victory

Starting from pole position, Jake Hill went into race one knowing that he had a huge opportunity to fire up his championship challenge for 2022. While he started the opening race of the year at Donington Park from a similar position, a hard battle with team-mate Turkington allowed Tom Ingram to take the opening win of the season, and Hill was determined to ensure lightning didn’t strike twice. Jumping back to the present day, Hill got a good jump off the line, but then had a three-time champion in Ash Sutton to contend with. Enjoying superior tyre temperature in the early stages from his front-wheel drive Ford Focus, Sutton made his way through with an outstanding move around the outside of Duffus Dip, and set about trying to gap the BMW quintet in his mirrors.

With Sutton throwing his Ford around the crests and curves of the picturesque Knockhill circuit, the BMWs began to reel him back in, and some robust racing ensued, including Hill locking up and sliding into the back of Sutton at the hairpin. Hill made his way through as the field started their eighth tour, but Sutton wouldn’t give up easily and forced himself back to the head of the pack. One lap later, though, Hill once again took the lead over the line, but this time was on the inside heading into Duffus Dip, and was able to hold on to the lead. The young RoKIT MB Motorsport driver never looked back and cruised to his second victory of the season. Meanwhile, Sutton was locked in a battle with four-time champion Colin Turkington. The Team BMW driver tried his best to get past his biggest rival in recent years, and had a couple of opportunities for do-or-die moves, but decided discretion was the better part of valour, and settled for third over the line.

While the top of the field enjoyed one of the best races of the year to date, Adam Morgan was left to wonder what could have been, with his BMW failing to make it to the grid having pulled over on the sighting lap. A swift repair job from the Ciceley Motorsport team meant that Morgan could start from the back of the grid, rather than missing the race entirely. With the bit firmly between his teeth, the Lancastrian worked his way back into the points by the time of the chequered flag, including a hard and closely fought battle with Josh Cook for the final two points-paying places in the closing tours of the 24-lap race.

Despite the short nature of the circuit, sideways excursions off the tarmac for Jason Plato’s and Jade Edwards’ BTC Racing Honda Civics, and a spin for the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra of Michael Crees, the race ran from start to finish with no safety car intervention, providing one of the most action-packed, yet fair races of the entire season.

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Sutton finally breaks his 2022 duck

The opening few seconds of race two were near enough a carbon copy of what had happened in race one; Hill getting a jump on Sutton, while the Ford driver tried to hold back the swarm of BMWs behind him. However, the similarities ended at the very first corner. After a drama-free race one, a series of incidents between Duffus Dip and Clark’s corner involving Will Powell, Ollie Jackson and Jason Plato meant the Porsche Panamera Safety Car was called into action for the first time.

With racing resuming two laps later, Sutton set about trying to make the most of the Ford’s better tyre temperature in the early laps. He didn’t need to try too hard, though, with Jake Hill making a mistake at the chicane allowing Sutton to slide his way past with minimal trouble. Meanwhile, Colin Turkington had his mirrors full of the Hyundai i30N of Tom Ingram. Eventually Turkington would drop the championship leader as the race began to spread itself out in the middle stages. As the BMWs reeled in Sutton, another mistake from Hill at the chicane gave Turkington an easy route into second place, but just two laps later the roles would be reversed as Turkington ran deep into Duffus Dip, gifting Hill the position again. A last lap charge from Hill was not quite enough to dethrone Sutton, who held his nerve to take his first trip to the top step of the podium in his 2022 campaign, and the first win for the new NAPA Racing UK squad.

While the race at the front was fairly spread out for the majority of the 26-lap encounter (increased from 24 due to safety car laps), there was plenty of action to keep the fans at the circuit and watching on ITV entertained, with Gordon Shedden battling hard with Team BMW’s Stephen Jelley for the final spot in the top five, followed closely by the rest of the top ten. A couple more incidents, including an awkward coming together between Ash Hand and Rick Parfitt, were not enough to bring back the safety car.

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George Gamble secures first BTCC victory

Thanks to John Cleland drawing the number seven out of the reversed-grid pot after race two, George Gamble was handed a golden ticket to achieve his first ever BTCC win. Starting on the front row alongside the front-wheel drive Toyota Corolla of Rory Butcher, Gamble used the superior speed of his four-wheel-drive machine off the line to his advantage and leapt into the lead while Butcher was focusing on the chasing pack – not unlike the previous starts of Hill and Sutton.

All hell then broke loose behind as Tom Ingram and Gordon Shedden came together through Duffus Dip and went flying into the gravel at McIntyre’s. Shedden came back on track right into the path of Dan Cammish, the latter ending up flying on two wheels and landing heavily, his race over before he’d even made it to the chicane on lap one. However, with Cammish removing his car into a safe place, the safety car was not required, and the race ran stoppage free for the remainder.

Butcher tried his hardest to utilise the stronger early-race pace of the Toyota but Cicely Motorsport’s Gamble held his nerve with some canny defending, and was unchallenged for the rest of the race, eventually pulling out a five second gap as the chasing pack battled to score his first ever victory in the BTCC.

Meanwhile Jake Hill, who had a rematch of his close battles with Sutton during the early laps, had begun reeling in the leaders. Receiving next to no challenge from West Surrey Racing stablemate Colin Turkington, he set about targeting hometown hero Rory Butcher. It was clear that Butcher was going to do whatever he could to ensure he left Knockhill with silverware, but after three laps of holding back the lightning quick Hill, he eventually had to concede the position. With Turkington and Sutton joining the party for the final two laps, Butcher held on to take a popular third, while Turkington scored valuable points in fourth, and Sutton settled for fifth.

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Advantage Turkington after BMW dominance

It was a good weekend to be in a 3 Series, with BMWs filling six of the nine possible podium positions across the day. For Colin Turkington, who took home two third placed trophies and crossed the line fourth for the final race of the day, it was just what the doctor ordered with regards to his hunt to become the first ever five-time BTCC champion. In a 17-point swing, Turkington jumped from third to first in the standings, five points clear of Tom Ingram, while Ash Sutton and Jake Hill each moved up a place in the standings as Josh Cook slid down to fifth.

It was a weekend to forget for BTC Racing’s Cook. Having gone into the start of the second half of the season just three points behind Tom Ingram, he leaves Scotland in fifth in the standings, 23 points off Turkington. Starting down in a lowly 14th place for the opening race of the day, Cook was unable to improve his pace for Sunday, finishing 13th and 15th in races one and two respectively. There was a better display in race three, but could still only manage eighth place at the chequered flag. Cook has been quick to point out that the pace of his BTC Honda has not been where it needs to be in recent events, and will be desperate to turn his fortunes around in the final four meetings of the season if he’s to be in the hunt come October.

Despite a tough day in the office for Cook, he continues to sit at the head of the Independents’ standings, and has extended his lead by seven to now hold a 77-point lead over Adam Morgan in second. Despite Cook extending his lead in the standings, trouble for both Jason Plato and Jade Edwards meant that BTC Racing saw their lead cut in half by Morgan’s Ciceley Motorsport – helped by George Gamble’s breakthrough win, who now sit just 14 points behind the Honda squad. Gamble’s win also closed the gap at the top of the Jack Sears Trophy standings, with the BMW driver becoming the first contender all season to take a trio of Jack Sears victories. A slender gap of just five points now separates the championship’s newest winner from leader Bobby Thompson, who’s non-finish in race two allowed Gamble to eradicate the Team HARD driver’s lead.

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It almost goes without saying that BMW has pulled further ahead at the top of the Manufacturers’ standings, stretching a further 46 points ahead of second-placed Hyundai to now sit 60 points clear at the top of the table. NAPA Racing UK, meanwhile, have brought Ford much closer to the Excelr8 i30Ns, now just 12 points between the two. Honda and Toyota continue to lose ground on the leading trio, Team Dynamics now 145 points back from BMW, while Toyota are a further nine points back.

All five drivers in BMW machinery will be hugely confident going into the next round of the season at Snetterton, another circuit that has favoured the rear-wheel drive competitors over the years. However, it’d be a brave person to bet against Ash Sutton, who has shown once again that he can get results even when the odds are stacked against him, and having topped the mid-season test at the Norfolk circuit, will be hoping to turn test speed into race pace in two weeks’ time.

Images courtesy of Motosport Images.

  • BTCC

  • Knockhill

  • Colin Turkington

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