Five talking points from a thrilling weekend at Croft

30th June 2022
James Charman

The British Touring Car Championship reached the halfway point of its season in style, as two drivers completed their own respective comeback stories across the course of the weekend in Darlington. With driving standards vastly improved on the slight blip seen at Oulton Park, and while Max Chilton was smashing records outside Goodwood House in the McMurtry Spéirling, the BTCC fraternity were putting on a show of their own in North Yorkshire. Some brilliant racing wowed the fans at Croft, giving them, and us, plenty of subjects to keep chattering about as the season pauses for its traditional half-time holiday.


Colin Turkington sets the pace in retired car

It was a tough job for the West Surrey Racing team heading into Croft, with the repair work on Colin Turkington’s car, following a heavy impact with Dan Lloyd in the final race at Oulton Park, eventually proving too much to repair in time for the trek up to North Yorkshire. Reverting back to Turkington’s title-winning BMW 330e M Sport from 2019, the Ulsterman showed no signs of being in a three-year-old car as he stormed to pole position at the historically favourable circuit for rear-wheel-drive cars.

Unfortunately for Turkington, he could not convert his pole position into victory on this occasion, losing out to his nearest front-wheel-drive competitors on the opening lap of both of the first two races of the day. No matter how hard he tried, the four-time champion was unable to force his way back past, held back by the Excelr8 duo in each race, and had to settle for second behind Dan Lloyd and third behind Lloyd and Tom Ingram in races one and two respectively. The reverse grid saw Turkington start down in tenth for the final race of the day, working his way up to sixth by the chequered flag. His performances, tied in with some bad luck for Ash Sutton in race three, were enough to climb ahead of the reigning champion in the points standings and into the top three ahead of the summer break.


Lloyd does the double on home ground

There were few drivers, if any, leaving Oulton Park in more discomfort than Dan Lloyd. His huge accident on the opening lap left him in hospital for check-ups, although thankfully suffering from nothing worse than a bruised lung and some swelling in a rather delicate area. While Lloyd focussed on his recovery (which included a temporarily suspended race licence on medical grounds), the Excelr8 team worked their magic on getting his Hyundai i30 repaired in time for the trip up to Darlington - Lloyd’s home race of the year.

Qualifying in a hugely impressive third on the grid for the opening race, Lloyd leapfrogged the Honda Civic Type-R of Dan Rowbottom off the line and set about hounding Team BMW’s Colin Turkington - ironically the two involved in the Oulton Park accident. Desperate to get ahead before the BMW’s tyres got up to temperature, Lloyd pulled a beautiful sweeping move past Turkington on the run to the Jim Clark Esses and began a strong defensive charge. Turkington had the upper hand in the final sector of the lap, but never was able to get his car in a position to get alongside or past the Hyundai. Two safety car periods gave Turkington a chance at squeezing back past the hometown hero, but two perfect restarts from Lloyd cemented his position and secured him his second win in the BTCC.

Starting from pole for race two, Lloyd had his Excelr8 team-mate to hold back this time, as Tom Ingram pulled a similar move on Turkington that Lloyd had used in the opening encounter. Once again Lloyd soaked up all the pressure, as his title-chasing team-mate was locked on to his rear bumper for the vast majority of the race. Lloyd was given a slight reprieve in the final few laps as Ingram focussed on holding back Colin Turkington, and he stormed home to become the fourth successive double winner this season, taking his second win of the day and third of his career, all of which have come at Croft.


Shedden gets redemption in race three

Gordon Shedden’s return to the BTCC has been a little underwhelming when you consider he had finished in the top four in the championship every year between 2010 and 2017 before his foray into the World Touring Car Cup with Audi in 2018. A strong opening weekend at the season opening Donington Park, where he took two wins in the latter stages of 2021, however, suggested that we could be in for a title charge from the three-time champion. Some solid, if unspectacular results at both Brands Hatch and Oulton Park saw “Flash” sit sixth going into Croft, and knowing he needed a strong haul going into the summer break to keep his title aspirations realistic.

The pace was clearly there for the Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type-R at Croft, as Shedden set the fastest time in second free practice, before lining up fifth on the grid for the opening race of Sunday. Unfortunately his weekend suffered on the very first lap of Sunday, struggling to get off the line and making contact with the Ford Focus of Ash Sutton, damaging the suspension on the Honda and forcing Shedden into the pits and out of the race. It was then we got a real reminder of why Shedden is regarded as one of the best drivers in the history of Britain’s premier tin-top series. Starting from absolute rock-bottom in race two, the Scot put his head down and clawed his way up the field, ending up 12th at the finish line. Luckily enough, the reverse grid draw saw yet another top 12 reversal, meaning Shedden, who never even managed to complete a lap in race one, would line up on pole for the final race of the day. 

Desperate to make amends for his difficult start to the day, Shedden stormed away at the head of the field, helped in part by Josh Cook and Rory Butcher battling hard for second, and had a one-and-a-half second lead by the end of the first lap. Showing all of the talent that earned him three BTCC titles, Shedden just controlled his lead at the head of the field, eventually winning by 2.5 seconds ahead of Cook and Butcher.


Cook suffers

Fresh from his appearance at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, Josh Cook went into Croft in a strong position in the points standings, holding a 15-point lead over nearest rival Tom Ingram and proving himself as one of the favourites for the top spot as the season reached its halfway point. However, it all began to unravel for the BTC Racing driver, who’s Honda Civic was desperately down on power in every session across the weekend - the worst of all in qualifying where he was in the bottom four of the speed trap figures in every sector of the lap.

The lack of pace forced Cook to qualify down in 20th place, a position he was quick to point out wasn’t due to bad luck in qualifying, it was just all he could muster with a lack of grunt in a straight line. Knowing he was very much on a damage limitation charge across the weekend, Cook worked hard to drag his car up into the points in the opening two races, and started from the front row of the grid for race three by virtue of the reverse grid. With no option but to go out and do 15 consecutive qualifying laps, the four-time winner in 2022 was able to hold his place and take second place behind the Team Dynamics Honda of Gordon Shedden.

The BTC squad have admitted they will be putting a lot of work in over the summer break to get a grip on the straight-line speed problems, which began to be seen at Oulton Park, as Cook pointed out that if they are unable to get over the current struggles, any thoughts of the championship come October will be unravelling right in front of them.


Ingram comes out on top

Making the most of Josh Cook’s speed struggles, though, was title rival Tom Ingram. Heading into the Croft meeting 15 points back in second place, Ingram bagged some useful points in the first two races. Finishing fourth in race one before following team-mate Dan Lloyd home to an Excelr8 1-2 in the second race, Ingram also set the fastest lap in both, scoring a pair of valuable bonus points in the process. A complete top-12 reversal for the grid in race three allowed Cook to salvage some points, finishing second while Ingram could only manage seventh, but it was not enough to hold on to the top spot.

Ingram now takes a three point lead heading into the summer break, while Colin Turkington is a further nine points back in third. Ash Sutton, who took a pair of sixth-placed results before a puncture forced him out of race three at Croft, sits fourth, 24 points back from Ingram, with Jake Hill rounding out the top five, a further 16 points back from Sutton.

Despite Excelr8 enjoying a double victory, including a 1-2 result in race two, BMW has taken a stronger hold on the Manufacturer’s points table, 14 points ahead of the Hyundais. Ford, meanwhile, has slipped from the top spot down to third, 38 points behind BMW. In the Teams’ standings, however, Excelr8 has pulled out a 49 point lead over NAPA Racing UK. The two were level going into Croft, which shows just how difficult a weekend it was for the Ford squad when compared to the Hyundai outfit.

While Cook lost his lead in the overall standings, he has pulled even further from the chasing pack at the head of the Independents’ table, holding a 70-point advantage over Adam Morgan. BTC Racing also extended their lead over Ciceley Motorsport by just a couple of points in the Independents Teams’ standings.

Finally, a pair of Jack Sears Trophy wins for Bobby Thompson saw him pull away at the top of the Jack Sears Trophy points table. George Gamble had taken the honours in race one but a retirement in race two and subsequently difficult race three gave Thompson the advantage, while allowing Ash Hand to close the gap to Gamble for second to just 15 points.

The series now takes its annual summer vacation, returning in a months’ time for its hugely popular trip across the border to Knockhill. With the final race at Croft seeing Gordon Shedden take the honours, and share the podium with fellow Scot (and brother-in-law) Rory Butcher, the Scottish fans will be hoping the momentum will continue, making up for the lack of a home winner in 2021. With Knockhill traditionally being a rear-wheel-drive circuit, and Snetterton and Silverstone still to come later in the year, the second half of the season is where we may expect to see the likes of Colin Turkington and Jake Hill kickstart their charge to the top, while Cook and Ingram will be hoping they can hold on for the remainder of the year. Whatever happens, we now have a month to prepare ourselves for what’s to come, and if the first half of the year is anything to go by, we’re going to be in for a treat.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • BTCC

  • Colin Turkington

  • Gordon Shedden

  • Dan Lloyd

  • Josh Cook

  • Tom Ingram

  • Croft

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