BTCC 2015: BMW Rules At Croft

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The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship moved to Croft for its fifth weekend of racing and the final weekend before the halfway point and the series summer break. Now if anything was certain in the BTCC, it is that Croft is a RWD circuit, regardless of how good or bad the car maybe that year, RWD rules at this circuit and 2015 was nothing different…in fact, it cemented the race weekend…

Lets see how it panned out…

QUALIFYING…

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Sam Tordoff claimed his first pole position with West Surrey Racing in qualifying for round 13 of the British Touring Car Championship season at Croft, ahead of team-mate Andy Priaulx and the Honda of Gordon Shedden.

Setting a best time of 1:23.886s, Tordoff claimed his first pole position since Rockingham last year to beat his team-mate by 0.050s, with Shedden a further half second back in third. It was the former WSR driver Colin Turkington who set the early pace in the session, lapping his Volkswagen CC in 1:24.728s.

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The yellow flags made a brief appearance shortly afterwards when the third BMW of Rob Collard spun in the final sector, although the nine-time race winner was able to recover to the pits. Having experienced an under-par start to the campaign, Rob Austin went fastest briefly in his Audi A4 at the midway stage, before Priaulx went fastest with Tordoff splitting the pair.

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The two then stayed in that order until the final five minutes of the session, when Priaulx improved to become the first man to break the 1:24s barrier that weekend, only to be usurped by Tordoff. Collard looked as though he had given the team a 1-2-3 on the grid for the opening race, only to have his time disallowed for exceeding track limits. That put him back in fourth, with Shedden benefiting – the Scot carrying 66 kilograms of ballast.

Fifth place went the way of Turkington, who finished with a time one-hundredth-of-a-second faster than Matt Neal in the second Honda Civic and an improved Austin in seventh. Jack Goff was eighth ahead of Adam Morgan, while Andrew Jordan completed the top ten.

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RACE ONE…

Andy Priaulx claimed a first win since returning to the British Touring Car Championship, heading team-mates Sam Tordoff and Rob Collard for a West Surrey Racing 1-2-3 in the first race at Croft.

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The result, Priaulx’s second win in the championship and first in nearly 13 years, was West Surrey Racing’s first podium lockout in the BTCC. It was Priaulx who got the better start as the race got underway, but polesitter Tordoff held his lead into Clervaux as Collard swept by Gordon Shedden into third.

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The front three began to pull away in the early stages, with Shedden having to defend from the fast-starting Audi of Rob Austin, who had jumped Colin Turkington and Matt Neal off the line. The decisive moment in the race came on lap six, when Tordoff made a small error on the exit of the chicane to allow Priaulx to close up, with the three-time World Champion completing a move up the inside into Tower bend.

And although Tordoff stayed with the Guernseyman for the remainder of the race, he was unable to retaliate as Priaulx brought his BMW home for a first victory in the series since Knockhill 2002.

Collard had threatened the leading pair for much of the race, but began to drop towards the end of the race with the soft tyres and came home a distant but welcome third, with Shedden putting in a sensible drive to claim fourth.

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Fifth went to his team-mate Neal, who finished just in front of Andrew Jordan. Turkington had been set for fifth, but an issue on the final lap dropped him behind the duo, and forced him to fend off Tom Ingram to hold onto seventh, while Adam Morgan and Jack Goff completed the top ten.

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Erstwhile championship leader Jason Plato was forced to join after the start of the race, and was make any progress, while newcomers Max Coates and Nic Hamilton finished 21st and 25th respectively.

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RACE TWO…

Sam Tordoff made it two wins from two races for West Surrey Racing in the second British Touring Car Championship race at Croft, as he eased to victory ahead of Team BMR stablemates Jason Plato and Colin Turkington.

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After starting on pole for the second race in a row, Tordoff steadily increased his gap back to second – even when Plato and Turkington overtook the second WSR BMW of Andy Priaulx on Lap 3 and then for the entirety of the race to claim a second win in three BTCC races. Much like the race one start, Priaulx made a marginally better getaway than pole-sitter Tordoff, but the latter was able to hold his lead through Clervaux and into the rest of the lap, as Turkington resisted Rob Collard in the third BMW.

As Tordoff began to ease away, Plato saw the need to pounce and carried his speed through the chicane before throwing his Volkswagen CC down the inside of Priaulx for second on lap three, with Turkington following suit through the next turn. But Tordoff remained composed and despite carrying 66 kilograms of ballast, raced home in the remaining laps to claim a second win of the season.

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Plato and Turkington nevertheless picked up welcome podiums, the former having opted to miss the start of race one in order to set a faster time in clear air after qualifying in 12th, while Priaulx stayed with the duo with 75 kilograms onboard his BMW.

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Gordon Shedden made a bold move on Rob Collard stick late on to claim fifth ahead of the WSR driver, with Rob Austin right on their tail in seventh. Tom Ingram had another useful run to eighth, ahead of Adam Morgan and Jack Goff.

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Josh Cook had been set for points until the penultimate lap, when he appeared to pick up a puncture and went head on into the tyre wall at Clervaux. Cook was unharmed, but his car received substantial damage in the crash.

RACE THREE…

Rob Collard won the third British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Croft ahead of team-mate Andy Priaulx and the Honda of Gordon Shedden to give West Surrey Racing a clean sweep of race wins at the Yorkshire circuit.

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Having forfeited the lead to Shedden on the third lap, Collard came back into the race as the former’s tyres fell away, and after giving the Honda driver a small nudge on lap 12, raced clear to claim a tenth career win. Collard made a traditionally quick getaway at the start of the race, with minimal contact through the opening corners aside from some rubbing between Rob Austin and Tom Ingram.

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But despite the quick start, Collard was not allowed to escape down the road and Shedden quickly returned to his tail. The 2012 champion had a look for the lead into Clervaux, but after lining up a move into Tower, he made the pass stick into Sunny In, with Collard quickly closing the door to stop team-mate Priaulx following him through. In a race that threatened to get messy but stayed relatively clean, the gaps stabilised for some time before Collard began to reel the Honda in.

By lap ten, the pair were nose-to-tail throughout much of the lap and after getting a run onto the start/finish straight two laps later, Collard forced his way through after a slight tap to Shedden’s rear through the chicane, before escaping off into the distance. With Shedden unable to catch up to the BMW, his attentions quickly turned to defending second from a charging Priaulx.

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The Honda man looked to have done so, but after holding off Priaulx through much of the final lap, Shedden drove slightly too deep into the penultimate corner, with Priaulx rounding the hairpin onto the straight in second as Collard took the chequered flag. Behind the podium finishers, Colin Turkington headed team-mate Plato home in fourth, ahead of race two winner Sam Tordoff who stole sixth from Matt Neal after a pass two laps from the finish.

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Neal fell to ninth as he was re-passed by Tom Ingram and Jack Goff before the flag, while Warren Scott came through the field to claim a first top-ten finish of the season.

So, as proven once again, only a fool would bet against a BMW win at Croft, except this year it was a crushing BMW performance from all three WSR drivers with the Honda’s & VW’s the closest to them. The outcome? Sam Tordoff is now fourth in the Drivers Championship and is poised in the second half of the season to be an outside challenger for the Title, should Plato, Neal or Shedden falter…

Add into this that the Turk is in fifth place in the championship and improving further and thats at least five drivers. Snetterton is next after the Summer break and judging by the recent tyre test, Motorbase will be a threat on their return having spent the first half of the season testing updates on the Focus and their new Mountune EcoBoost engine whilst searching for sponsors.

Doubts on this? Well I’ll silence those here and now. Remember back in 2012 when the NGTC Focus made its debut at Snetterton, scoring points and taking a race victory at Silverstone?

Yeah, this series is about to get even closer in the 2nd half…

All the best!

Phil!!

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