BTCC 2016: Brands Hatch Indy…

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Last weekend saw the start of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and its looking like the most open and exciting championship in recent years.

If last weekend was anything to go by, the young guns are making the move up the ladder to challenge the established runners and unpredictability is the watch word for 2016…

So, heres how it all panned out…

QUALIFYING…

TOM INGRAM TAKES MAIDEN POLE POSITION

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Speedworks Motorsport’s Tom Ingram secured his first ever BTCC pole position after setting an impressive lap record in the opening qualifying session of the new tin-top season at Brands Hatch. The result was also a maiden pole for the Speedworks squad and the first for a Toyota in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship since 2012.

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Clear blue skies made way for a drizzly qualifying contest, although the early exchanges were run in prime conditions.

Ingram completed his benchmark lap after ten minutes of the session and became the first ever BTCC driver to set a time inside the 47 seconds bracket around the 1.2-mile Indy Circuit. Spots of rain fell before anyone could respond, leading to a greasy track and a flurry of cars heading for the pit lane. Conditions subsided almost as quickly as they had arisen, but the thin layer of moisture on the surface had seemingly put paid to further improvements at the top of the timesheets.

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This left reigning champion Gordon Shedden – who was himself looking for a first pole position since Donington Park in 2013 – in second. The Scotsman couldn’t improve late on but his Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal made every attempt as the circuit dried out.

Triple champion Neal produced a rapid effort in his Honda Civic Type R but still had to settle for third at the finish, whilst FP2 pace-setter Sam Tordoff was another to leave it late as he completed the second row order.

MG’s young gun duo of Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton continue to turn heads, with the latter pipping his team-mate to take fifth. Sutton starred in the official pre-season test at Donington Park last week and the reigning UK Clio Cup champion backed up that potential with a stellar lap in his first ever BTCC qualifying session.

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Adam Morgan took seventh for WIX Racing while Team IHG Rewards Club’s Jack Goff deserves special praise in eighth. Although by no means his highest qualifying result, Goff was languishing down in 31st when the mid-session rain fell. Undeterred by the setback, Goff went on to complete a series of representative times under intense pressure as he rose to 24th, to 18th, to 11th and then eighth, ensuring that it was damage limitation for the BMW 1-Series driver.

Motorbase Performance racer Mat Jackson claimed ninth while Aron Smith recovered from an off-track excursion to round out the top ten. A number of others had minor moments, with both Stewart Lines and rookie Kelvin Fletcher running onto the grass in separate incidents.

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The session proved incredibly close, with the top 22 drivers in the record 32-car line-up blanketed by less than a second. With success ballast not applicable until the second race of the campaign, this session was run under base weight conditions – the only time that it will be all season – and the ultra-competitiveness was there for everyone to see in Britain’s biggest and best motor racing series.

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Subaru made its long-awaited BTCC debut after the Team BMR-run squad produced a herculean effort to ready four Levorg GTs in time for the Brands Hatch weekend. Without any representative testing behind them it was always going to be a tough challenge in qualifying, but the outfit responded with an impressive effort. Colin Turkington set the team’s fastest lap to take 11th, less than half a second behind Ingram’s pole position time.

Tom Ingram said: “We stressed all the way through the winter that we would only see everybody’s true pace in qualifying here, and it’s quite mental to think I’ve just taken my first touring car pole! I saw it was going overcast, so I knew we needed to put a ‘banker’ lap in early to be safe. All the guys at Speedworks have done an amazing job with the Avensis, and this is an absolutely superb result.”

Gordon Shedden said: “I’m very happy. It was a tricky session with the weather, but I’m over the moon to be starting from the front row of the grid. I think pole was probably within reach, but we couldn’t quite put it all together at the right time. It’s fantastic to have Matt [Neal – team-mate] right up at the front too, so hopefully we can hustle and race well as a pair tomorrow.”

Matt Neal said: “In a glass half-full way, I guess I should be pleased but it really didn’t quite work out given the combination of traffic, rain and other factors. The Honda was definitely capable of pole and I don’t like to miss out on such opportunities. Sitting in the car before the session started I thought anything but pole would be a disappointment, but we’ve got two cars in the top three and there are plenty of positives there.”

Sam Tordoff said: “Fourth is okay – I can live with that. We reproduced the same time as we did when we went quickest in second practice, but we probably came into the pits just as the track was at its fastest in the changeable conditions. Overall, though, it’s pretty good. We have put ourselves in a really good position on row two of the grid and we should be able to score some good points tomorrow.”

Colin Turkington said: “I’m a bit surprised to be so high up and I’m not sure that’s a true reflection of the car’s pace at this stage in its development. I really put my neck on the line doing that lap and I certainly couldn’t do 24 laps like that! The guys have done a great job simply to get all four cars out and running, so to be just outside the top ten is a great result for them. We’ve learned quite a bit today already; the car is reactive to changes. Now hopefully we can make it even better for tomorrow.”

RACE ONE…

TOM INGRAM SCORES FIRST EVER BTCC WIN

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Young star Tom Ingram has taken his first ever Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship victory after producing an impressive lights-to-flag performance at Brands Hatch.

While the opening race of the season was frenetic further down the order, the top three contenders in Ingram, Honda’s Gordon Shedden and his team-mate Matt Neal remained steady throughout. A slowing backmarker and a mid-race safety car spell proved to be the only issues for Ingram, but the Speedworks Motorsport racer dealt with both interruptions with consummate ease.

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The bumper-to-bumper action kicked off as soon as the lights went out on the 2016 BTCC campaign, with a number of incidents influencing the latter half of the points-paying positions.

The Subaru of Colin Turkington was in the wars early on, as was the BMW of Sam Tordoff after contact with his West Surrey Racing team-mate Rob Collard. Motorbase duo Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan went side-by-side across the line on lap three, narrowly avoiding each other, but the major moment came later on the same lap.

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Power Maxed Racing’s Hunter Abbott lost control on the run through to Surtees, and Alex Martin spun wildly while trying to avoid contact with the Chevrolet ahead of him. Although the Dextra Racing driver succeeded in that respect, his striking yellow machine went on to make heavy contact with the barrier.

A short safety car intervention followed, which ultimately led to dramas for two particular BTCC race winners. Adam Morgan was the first car to be shuffled down the order, as his WIX Racing Mercedes dropped to ninth in the blink of an eye. Team IHG Rewards Club’s Jack Goff was next to fall foul of the chasing pack as he attacked Ashley Sutton’s MG for fifth. Goff’s failed attempt left the BMW running wide at Paddock Hill Bend, and he found himself down in tenth by the end of the race.

Back to the front and Ingram crossed the line to the rapturous applause of both his team and the filled spectator banks and grandstands of Brands Hatch, whilst the two Halfords Yuasa Racing cars completed the podium positions.

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MG’s young duo continue to belie their relative inexperience by finishing fourth and fifth, with debutant Ashley Sutton getting the better of stablemate Josh Cook. Collard took a top six finish while Aron Smith produced an impressive BTCC bow for BKR by bringing his VW CC home in seventh.

Jackson eventually got the better of his Ford Focus team-mate to finish eighth ahead of the fading Morgan and Goff, whilst Pirterk-backed Jordan had to settle for 11th.

Subaru’s introduction to the BTCC was a difficult one as Turkington got caught up in an incident in the early running while team boss Warren Scott was unable to make the start. Both Jason Plato and James Cole reached the finish, although some way down the order as the Team BMR-run outfit continues to develop its quartet of Levorgs in racing conditions.

Tom Ingram said: “This is what all the hard work over the winter was for. With the way we finished last season, we knew we had a good package underneath us, and Speedworks Motorsport are such a fantastic bunch of guys – this result is for all of them. When I saw the team celebrating as I climbed out of the car afterwards, it brought a tear to my eye, and the emotion just goes to show how much this first victory means to us. It’s unbelievable.”

Gordon Shedden said: “Second place represents good points to start the season. We didn’t take any risks and perhaps went a little bit too soft on the set-up. I think I would have had the pace to run in front of Tom [Ingram], but I’m not sure I had the pace to pass him because we were so equally-matched – and in any case, when you get too close round here, the aerodynamic effect takes over. Congratulations to Tom on his first win – he drove a faultless race.”

Matt Neal said: “I’ve got to be happy with a podium finish and a pot. The car felt solid and I focused on looking after my tyres and being careful over the kerbs during the first few laps. When the safety car came out, I got on the team radio to say ‘we need to get the hammer down now, so tell ‘Flash’ to pull his finger out’, and when the race got going again, he did that and I sat still! We probably went a bit too safe with the car due to the conditions, so we’ll make some changes for race two.”

RACE TWO…

GORDON SHEDDEN LEADS HOME HONDA ONE-TWO

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Halfords Yuasa Racing scored its first one-two of the new BTCC season as reigning champion Gordon Shedden led home team-mate Matt Neal in the second contest at Brands Hatch.

Pole-sitter and race one winner Tom Ingram endured a torrid time after contact with Rob Collard’s BMW sent both cars out of contention.

Ingram’s Toyota maintained the lead off the line while West Surrey Racing’s Collard blitzed from sixth on the grid into second before the 32-cars reached Paddock Hill Bend for the first time.

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Collard immediately set about attacking Ingram for the lead and the duo touched at Paddock on the second tour before more violent contact at Druids sent the BMW into a spin. Ingram continued in the lead for half a lap but then slowed with damage, which was caused as a result of the incident with Collard.

Honda inherited the top two positions and never looked back following a short spell behind the safety car, but the final place on the podium did change as the race progressed.

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Aron Smith had already hauled his VW from seventh into fourth, but the Irishman was determined to reach the rostrum. He made his move on Josh Cook’s MG on lap six and was then able to pull away from the gaggle of cars behind.

The soft Dunlop tyre shod Ford Focus of Andrew Jordan came out on top of that particular battle as he took fourth after a squabble with Cook’s MG. Jordan’s move also helped his team-mate Mat Jackson, as the Duo-backed Focus slipped by while Sutton was busy regaining his composure.

MG’s efforts worsened when oil was spilt at Graham Hill Bend in the closing moments. Cook’s car slid onto the grass, as did Cook’s, with the likes of Colin Turkington and Mat Jackson following suit.

Some recovered from the incident, some didn’t, but it was Jackson who eventually took fifth from Sutton. Goff held on from Adam Morgan’s Mercedes, whilst Sam Tordoff took an impressive ninth. The Yorkshireman had to respond following a frustrating opening race when contact with Collard sent him tumbling down the order. Starting 16th in race two, Tordoff made solid progress throughout to eventually finish ahead of Jeff Smith, with the latter rounding out the top ten. 

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Jake Hill was cruelly robbed of a tenth place finish when his Team HARD car limped out of the race with a suspected fuel pressure sensor issue.

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Tordoff’s joy was further heightened after the race when #9 was picked at random in the reverse grid draw, meaning the Team JCT600 with GardX car will start race three from pole position.

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Aiden Moffat’s Mercedes was 11th while Dan Welch is enjoying his best day in the BTCC for nearly three years, backing up his race one points finish with another in the second bout.

Jason Plato scored the first ever points for Subaru in 13th, with Rob Austin’s Toyota and Hunter Abbott’s Chevrolet completing the scoring order.

Gordon Shedden said: “It all got a bit congested early on, and I thought I was going to get collected at one point when Ingram and Collard came together. Fortunately, I managed to avoid it all and then made my best plan to escape. I think my car was actually slightly better with the ballast on-board, which wasn’t at all what we had expected, but it’s fantastic to come away with a one-two finish for myself and Matt with the Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R.”

Matt Neal said: “Two races and two podiums – it doesn’t get much better than that! I’m over the moon – dead chuffed with the day so far. The race got a bit sketchy at times; ‘Flash’ and I were settled in third and fourth when it all kicked off ahead of us between Ingram and Collard, and then there was oil down on the track at Graham Hill Bend later on. We both called into the pits almost simultaneously saying we had a puncture, but thankfully, that obviously turned out not to be the case.”

Jeff Smith said: “This one’s for the team. Hats off to the whole BKR crew – they’ve been unbelievable. To think that three weeks ago we weren’t even racing here, to be back on the grid and back on the podium almost straight away is incredible.”

RACE THREE…

MORGAN’S MERCEDES HOLDS OFF BMW CHALLENGE

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Adam Morgan celebrated victory in race three of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch after holding off a near race-long threat from the West Surrey Racing duo of Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff.

Morgan’s win made it three different winners on the opening day of the BTCC season, but the WIX Racing driver was forced to work extremely hard throughout this contest. He started the race on the attack after getting a good getaway and slotting in behind pole-sitter Tordoff.

Running the soft Dunlop SportMaxx tyre, the Mercedes of Morgan was crawling all over the back of the fast-starting BMW after just one lap. Morgan immediately eyed his opportunity and darted past on the run down to Paddock Hill Bend.

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The action behind the lead trio was also fast and furious, which included slight contact between the two Motorbase Performance Fords. Andrew Jordan recovered after a wild slide and while team-mate Mat Jackson continued for the next few laps, he was eventually forced into the pit lane with a puncture.

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The safety car was called for after Kelvin Fletcher’s Chevrolet and Mark Howard’s VW visited the gravel in separate incidents, but the drama soon returned.

Both Hondas of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden squeezed by Aron Smith’s VW on lap seven, but reigning champion Shedden would face a disappointing finish. His ballast-laden Civic Type R was already fading down the order before a puncture sent him off and into retirement at Paddock Hill Bend.

Neal couldn’t hold on to fourth, as the recovering Jordan dragged his Ford Focus alongside as they crossed the finish line. Jordan got the nod by just 0.037s as WSR’s Collard looked on behind in sixth.

The Jordan/Neal battle wasn’t the closest scrap of the finishers, however, as Jeff Smith went side-by-side with Aron Smith and took seventh by an incredible 0.003s. Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat took ninth, whilst Ashley Sutton recovered to take tenth despite getting bogged down off the line and dropping way down the order.

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The final laps for the rostrum positions can be described as tense with the BMWs of Tordoff and Goff hauling their machines onto the back of Morgan’s Mercedes. The WIX Racing man kept his powder dry, however, and saw off several attacks to take the win.

With an opening weekend that saw 3 different winners in three different makes of car and one of those winners being a first time victor, this year is going to be a hard one to predict. What is clear is that the Halfords Yuasa Honda Team are fast out of the blocks, meaning that they will be the pace setters for the beginning… but expect the field to catch up soon.

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Donington Park is a fantastic place for Touring car racing and it never disappoints when the BTCC arrives. Expect the field to close up even more and for those not ballasted by championship weight in both Qualifying & Race one to make inroads into those already coping with weight. Again, Donington has some great pedigree for racing.

So until next time, All the best!!

Phil

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