Five talking points from BTCC at Oulton Park

14th June 2022
James Charman

As the sun (mostly) beat down on the picturesque village of Little Budworth in Cheshire, the British Touring Car Championship rolled into Oulton Park for its popular traditional summer visit. With mixed fortunes for all of the championship challengers and questionable driving standards rearing their head once again, there was plenty for us to sink our teeth into and keep us talking until the stars of the championship arrive at Goodwood House for the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard in a couple of weeks.


Tom Ingram shakes off Oulton gremlins

Oulton Park has always been somewhat of a bogey circuit for Excelr8 Motorsport’s Tom Ingram, having never finished on the podium going into the weekend. Sitting fourth in the standings after a slightly disappointing trip to Thruxton, Ingram would have been hoping for a turn of form as he arrived in Cheshire, and that’s exactly what awaited him. So happy was he with the setup of his car from the start of the first practice session on Saturday that the car remained untouched all weekend as he stormed to his first pole position of the year. Making the most of his qualifying performance, Ingram made it look easy on Sunday, converting pole into a comfortable win in race one, before holding off a charge from reigning champion Ash Sutton in race two.

The winner of race two was tasked with carrying out the reversed-grid draw for race three, and Ingram could not have made it harder for himself, drawing out ball number 12 and knowing that the chances of a rare hat-trick were all but gone from the moment he made the draw. Getting caught up in the lap one dramas, Ingram had to settle for a non-score in the final race, but his earlier performances had been enough to leapfrog into second in the standings.


Driving standards suffer on tight Oulton track

The first few rounds so far in 2022 have been relatively calm, in BTCC terms at least. Unfortunately, that all went out the window as the series rolled into the tight and twisty Oulton Park. The first few laps of the opening encounter saw shards of bodywork flying in every direction possible. Jake Hill, who’s usually one to steer well clear of the argy-bargy stylings of the BTCC, spent the majority of the first race with a huge dent in his bonnet of his BMW 3 Series as a result of a coming together with team-mate Stephen Jelley on the opening lap.

The first of the major incidents brought out the safety car in the first race, with Gordon Shedden sending Adam Morgan into the barriers on the infield exiting Lodge Corner. The three-time champion claimed he had made an acceptable move and that Morgan had simply turned down on him. The stewards disagreed and handed Shedden a three-place penalty post-race, enough to remove him from the top three. Morgan, meanwhile, was forced to retire and the rest of his day was turned into a damage limitation drive, finally salvaging some points in the third and final race.

The most damning of incidents, however, came in the final race of the day, often known for driving standards to slip a little as drivers know they have time to get their cars fixed before the next round. Heading towards the Hislop’s chicane on the first lap, Dan Lloyd squeezed the Toyota Corolla of Ricky Collard, leaving the latter nowhere to go except sending Lloyd off to the right and onto the grass. With drivers spearing off in varying directions to try and avoid an incident, Colin Turkington found himself with nowhere to go as Lloyd’s Hyundai appeared in front of him, resulting in a large head-on collision. Behind, Tom Ingram and Ash Sutton were forced to pit after filling their air intakes with grass in avoidance, while Bobby Thompson also had to head down the pit lane during the safety car period to remove the large Kwik-Fit banner that had become attached to the front of his car.

Both Turkington and Lloyd were checked over at the circuit medical centre as is customary, with Lloyd later being transferred to hospital for precautionary x-rays. Thankfully his injuries were limited to just a bruised lung and some swollen nether regions, and he held his hand up to his mistake in the build-up to the incident.


Ash Sutton continues consistent start to season - just can’t get a win

Although he has been unable to find his way to the top spot on the podium in 2022, Ash Sutton has been proving that consistency is key in the BTCC. Sitting second in the standings heading into Oulton Park, and failing to finish outside the top ten all year, he would have been hoping for a similar weekend to Thruxton, where he finished on the podium in all three races. Qualifying in fifth, Sutton clawed his way up through the first race to finish in second, albeit some three seconds behind race-winning Tom Ingram in the safety car affected race. It was a much closer affair in the second encounter, with Sutton hounding Ingram throughout the entire 15-lap sprint. The Hyundai man held his nerve, however, and Sutton was forced to settle for a second runner’s up spot of the day.

With the reversed grid causing as much of a shake-up as possible, Sutton started the final race of the weekend on the sixth row of the grid, alongside Ingram, whom he sat just three points behind in the standings. Unfortunately, Sutton’s five race run of podium results, and season-long run of top tens, came to an end when he got caught up in the huge accident coming down Hill Top on the opening lap. While Sutton suffered no damage in the melee, he took avoiding action on the grass, and was forced to pit under the safety car to remove the grass and stop the Ford Focus from overheating. Luckily for Sutton, championship rival Ingram suffered a similar fate, but Josh Cook, who had a mediocre start to race day, salvaged a podium, swinging the championship pendulum back in his favour at the end of the day.


Mixed emotions for West Surrey Racing

Oulton Park has a reputation for being a circuit that favours rear-wheel-drive power, with West Surrey Racing enjoying a plethora of great results. In a turn of events that would not have pleased team boss Dick Bennetts, you had to look down to ninth before you could find one of the WSR-run Team BMW cars. Colin Turkington was able to work his way up the field in race one to fourth place, before getting the better of Toyota’s Rory Butcher in race two after a phenomenal move around the outside of the tight Island hairpin.

The reversed grid draw gave West Surrey Racing a chance to end the day on a high, with Stephen Jelley handed pole position after finishing 12th in race two alongside the rear-wheel-drive Infiniti Q50 of Aidan Moffat. The two shot off the line, making the most of the rear-wheel-drive superiority at the start, and looked to be settling in before all hell broke loose behind them. With Turkington getting caught up in the biggest accident of the day, and leaving the WSR mechanics a lengthy repair job on Monday morning, it was down to Jelley to try and salvage some positivity for the BMW squad.

As the race got back underway following the safety car period to clean up the lap one mess, Jelley got his head down and charged away from the chasing pack, while Moffat was left to try and hold off Toyota’s Ricky Collard. Collard was desperate to get past the Infiniti to try and shake off a five second penalty for being out of his grid position and score his first podium result with the Speedworks-run Toyota Gazoo Racing squad, on the day Toyota dominated Le Mans once again. Moffat held his nerve until the end of the race, to come home behind the BMW of Jelley - Jelley’s first win since the series visited Oulton Park in 2019.

Jake Hill, meanwhile, had a day to forget in the WSR-run RoKIT MB Motorsport BMW. Qualifying down in 15th place meant Hill was right in the thick of the action for the start of race one, and suffered as a result. Collecting his team-mate on the opening lap, Hill drove the majority of the first race with a huge dent in the front of his 330e M Sport, and could only manage to finish 13th in a race that saw him involved in his fair share of physical manoeuvres. Hill improved in race two to finish in seventh and bank a few valuable points, but struggled in race three, locking up at the Island Hairpin on lap one and plummeting to the back of the field. A recovery drive to 13th, as well as setting the fastest lap, banked some more points for the early season favourite, who remains in fifth in the overall standings.


Cook retains lead, Ingram & Sutton close the gap

It was a tough morning for championship leader Josh Cook, and even though you’d usually be happy to score a couple of top ten results from the first two races, he had to watch as his main title rivals came home in the first two positions on both occasions. Cook and Ingram went into the final race of the day tied on points, while Sutton sat just a further three points back. With the Hyundai and Ford drivers getting caught up in the Lloyd/Turkington incident on lap one and non-scoring, Cook was able to come through in third, after Ricky Collard’s penalty was applied, and leave Oulton Park with a relatively comfortable gap of 15 points at the top of the table. Ingram sits second, while Sutton is just three points behind. Despite non-scoring in race three, Turkington retains fourth in the standings, just 11 points back from Sutton, and Jake Hill rounds out the top five, but sits 21 points behind Turkington and 50 behind Cook. Following Sutton's unfortunate third race, Cook also now holds the honour of being the only driver to finish every race in the top ten.

BTCC 2022 Drivers' Championship standings

Strong results from both Sutton and Dan Cammish were enough to see Ford jump to the top of the Manufacturers’ standings, just one point ahead of BMW, with Hyundai 20 points further back in third. Honda and Toyota have started to lag behind slightly, and while they’re far from being mathematically out of contention, their realistic shot at the title seems to already be slipping away.

It’s just as close at the top of the Teams’ championship, with Tom Ingram’s Bristol Street Motors with Excelr8 tied on points with NAPA Racing UK. Meanwhile, Josh Cook and BTC Racing have a strong grip at the top of both independent drivers' and teams' tables.

Finally, Bobby Thompson extended his lead at the top of the Jack Sears Trophy table, having got the better of George Gamble in the opening two races. Ash Hand took the Jack Sears honours in the final race, and continues to try and claw his way into contention, but it’s increasingly looking like a two horse race for the remainder of the year.

Only two weeks sit between now and the halfway point of the season at Croft, where Colin Turkington and Jake Hill will be hoping to get their title challenges back on course at what has historically been a very strong circuit for West Surrey Racing and BMW. However, if you can’t quite wait that long, you can catch championship leader Josh Cook at the Festival of Speed, along with Dan Cammish, Adam Morgan and series legend Jason Plato. The quartet will be at the Festival on both the Thursday and Friday, with Cammish hustling the two-seat NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus in the Timed Shootout, before hot footing it up to Yorkshire for the next three instalments of what is shaping up to be a thrilling BTCC season.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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