INGRAM WINS, BUT HON­DAS LEAD THE POINTS AF­TER BRANDS HATCH

Three dif­fer­ent win­ners, but one car stood out as a threat on Sun­day.

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Matt James

The Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship was back with a bang last week­end.

There was a maiden win­ner in Tom Ingram in his Speed­works Mo­tor­sport Toy­ota Aven­sis, a vic­tory for the reign­ing cham­pion Gor­don Shed­den in his Honda Civic Type R and a pop­u­lar tri­umph for Adam Mor­gan in the Cice­ley Rac­ing Mercedes-benz A-class.

The pre­vail­ing mood of the week­end was that Honda is once again at the top of its game. Shed­den and team-mate Matt Neal took four podi­ums be­tween them, and they sit top of the points pile al­ready.

There were some strong cameos aside from the win­ners, with WSR BMW 125i M Sport driv­ers Rob Col­lard, Sam Tord­off and Jack Goff all with a de­cent chance of wins, and the Triple Eight Rac­ing MG pair of Ash Sut­ton and Josh Cook showed re­vi­talised pace from the MG.

But the writ­ing is re­ally on the wall for the rest: Honda has the crown, and it means to hold on to it.

Race one

There were lots of ques­tions for Ingram to an­swer ahead of the open­ing race of the cham­pi­onship. He had set record­break­ing pace in qual­i­fy­ing to line up on his first pole of his ca­reer but could he re­sist the might of the fac­tory Honda Civic Type R duo of Shed­den and Neal be­hind? Ingram was twice a podium fin­isher in 2015, but could be make the break­through?

Af­ter 27 laps, he had re­sound­ingly an­swered those ques­tions with a yes. He held his nerve in to Pad­dock – al­lied to a slug­gish get­away by Shed­den – and soon pushed him­self more than half a sec­ond clear of the rest.

Even af­ter an early-race safety car pe­riod, to clear up Alex Martin’s bat­tered Team Parker Rac­ing Ford Fo­cus from the Cooper Straight, Ingram con­tin­ued to as­sert his dom­i­nance.

“I was keep­ing the gap at the level it was, be­cause I was mind­ful of what had hap­pened to Ja­son Plato at this meet­ing this sea­son [when Plato’s VW CC suf­fered a heart­break­ing punc­ture when he was lead­ing],” said Ingram. “It was Catch-22. I wanted to push on, but I didn’t want to ruin things. But then, with about four laps to go, I de­cided to put the ham­mer down a bit.”

He wasn’t re­ally un­der any pres­sure. Shed­den was left trail­ing by 2.3 sec­onds at the flag. The reign­ing cham­pion wasn’t re­ally un­der any threat from Neal, ei­ther, as the sis­ter car had dropped a few lengths be­hind af­ter the restart on lap seven.

Shed­den was, like Ingram, slightly con­cerned about the tyre wear. “I just wanted to make sure I banked the points and maybe we were a bit re­served there,” said the Scots­man. “I pushed hard early on but I wanted to get to the end. This is a great way to start the cham­pi­onship.”

Neal too was sat­is­fied with the re­sult, but was look­ing for­ward to see­ing how the bal­last would af­fect those around him in the sec­ond en­counter.

Be­hind the Honda duo was the other star man of the race, MG’S rookie Sut­ton. He had lined up fifth in qual­i­fy­ing and slipped inside Tord­off at Druids on the open­ing tour. Form that point, he con­cen­trated on keep­ing Neal’s bootlid in sight and crossed the line in fourth place af­ter a brief mid-race place swap with Goff ’s BMW too.

“That was quite a bap­tism – there was a lot go­ing on dur­ing the open­ing part of the race, but I wanted to go for­ward and I did,” said the 2015 Re­nault Clio Cup cham­pion. “I was try­ing to keep hold of those in front, but I was learn­ing all the time about the tyres and the way other peo­ple race. I had to make a cou­ple of brave moves in to Druids to keep hold of fourth, but then I backed it off a bit to­wards the end.”

The rea­son Sut­ton could take his time was that it was his team-mate Cook run­ning in his wheel­tracks. Cook had forced his way inside Mor­gan’s Merc at the start of lap nine, and then jumped Goff at Pad­dock on lap 15.

Col­lard rounded out the top six, but that was only af­ter lap two con­tact with team-mate Tord­off left him be­mused. The pair raced in to Sur­tees side-by-side and Tord­off was spat on to the grass.

“I had got a run and he just kept com­ing over and over on me,” said Col­lard. “There wasn’t re­ally any need for that.” As you would ex­pect, Tord­off had the op­po­site view…

Aron Smith (Team BKR VW CC) made it to sev­enth place and de­lighted his team, which was mak­ing its de­but in the cat­e­gory. Mat Jack­son’s Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus, which had been fit­ted with the soft tyres, was de­layed by run­ning wide in to the gravel on lap two. But, once he had gath­ered it up, he was on a charge. He sliced up to eighth by the fin­ish and the team was pleased with the pace. Be­hind him, Mor­gan and Goff rounded out the top 10.

Mo­tor­base weren’t, how­ever, pleased with the per­for­mance of Andrew Jor­dan’s sis­ter car. The driver was un­happy with a loose rear-end, al­lied to un­der­steer. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter the race showed the en­gine was down on boost, which went some way to ex­plain why he was re­stricted to 11th po­si­tion.

A lot was ex­pected of the brand new Team BMR Subaru Levorg ma­chines but, in truth, they were too late on pa­rade to de­liver too much. In the open­ing race, all of them were struck by an is­sue with the ECUS, which de­tected too much heat in the en­gine and backed off the revs.

By that stage, Turk­ing­ton’s run had been stymied by a mid­field clash at Gra­ham Hill Bend on lap two, while War­ren Scott’s car was in the pits hav­ing a prop­shaft re­placed.

James Cole pit­ted with the prob­lem, but Ja­son Plato stayed out. The is­sue rec­ti­fied it­self when the air flowed through the en­gine bay. He fin­ished in 21st po­si­tion.

Race two

If Shed­den thought he needed to push his Civic a bit harder in the sec­ond race, even he couldn’t have pre­dicted what would hap­pen. He man­aged to pick up his 42nd ca­reer win but it was due to dra­mas that hap­pened ahead of him.

Ingram, now sad­dled with the softer tyres and 75kg of bal­last, nailed his start and reached the crest of the hill at Pad­dock be­fore any­one else but eyes were look­ing to his rear. From row three, Col­lard got his tra­di­tional light­ning get­away to snatch sec­ond around the out­side of Shed­den as the cars turned in to the right-han­der ahead, while the Scot was fend­ing off his team-mate Neal.

Col­lard was not for hang­ing about. He knew that pass­ing Ingram early on would be vi­tal and he dragged along­side his ri­val across the start and fin­ish line at the end of the first lap. The pair went side-by-side through Pad­dock with Ingram on the out­side but the duo made side-to-side con­tact on the way up Hail­wood Hill. The con­tact broke Ingram’s sus­pen­sion, and Col­lard spun to the rear of the field.

Both, un­der­stand­ably, had dif­fer­ing opin­ions: “We had gone through Pad­dock to­gether and then Tom just kept mov­ing over on me. I had the ad­van­tage and surely he knew he had to con­cede, but he just didn’t. Why didn’t he give me room?” asked Col­lard.

Ingram was de­jected too. He coun­tered: “We had the room to go up there side-by­side, but Rob just felt he had the right to be there and we touched. I am just dis­ap­pointed re­ally.”

All that was to the ben­e­fit of the Honda pair. Shed­den and Neal mo­tored around the out­side of the stranded cars over the course of the next few cor­ners to scam­per clear to the team’s first one-two of 2016.

“It was get­ting a bit con­gested with Tom and Rob off,” said Shed­den. “I thought they were go­ing to col­lect me, but I just man­aged to make it through on the out­side. Af­ter that, it was all about get­ting my head down and es­cap­ing.”

Neal, fol­low­ing, was com­fort­able but, with five laps to go, there was drama. An uniden­ti­fied cul­prit dropped oil at Gra­ham Hill Bend and it nearly came apart for a lot of driv­ers.

“I ra­dioed the team – as did Gor­don and just the same time – say­ing that I thought I had a right-rear punc­ture,” ex­plained Neal. “There was cer­tainly some panic in the team at that stage. But, when I got to the next cor­ner, it was clear it wasn’t a punc­ture, so that was a relief.”

With Col­lard and Ingram ex­it­ing stage

left, Cook was able to run in third in his MG. He had the softer tyres too, as did his pur­suer Aron Smith. The VW man got a run on Cook com­ing out of Clear­ways as the cars rushed to start lap seven and the Dubliner made it ahead.

Worse was to fol­low for Cook as he fell prey to the Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance train of a re­ju­ve­nated Jor­dan and Mat Jack­son, who teamed up to de­mote the MG twice at the start of lap 10.

That seemed like it would be the or­der set un­til the slip­pery sur­face mixed things up late on. Jack­son erred but held on to his spot, while sixth-placed Cook and his team-mate fol­low­ing him, Sut­ton, both ex­plored the scenery.

Sut­ton re­gained the Tar­mac for sixth place, ahead of Goff, Mor­gan and Tord­off, who had pow­ered up from 16th on the grid. He would be glad he did too, be­cause it landed him a re­versed-grid pole po­si­tion in the draw, con­ducted by for­mer cham­pion Robb Gravett.

One of the most heart­break­ing sto­ries of the race was Jake Hill’s re­tire­ment from a solid 10th place in his Team Hard Toy­ota Aven­sis, which would have rep­re­sented a ca­reer best for him. Un­for­tu­nately, he was thwarted by a fuel pres­sure sen­sor on lap 15.

Mak­ing the flag with smiles all around was the Subaru pair­ing of Plato and Turk­ing­ton. Both were scyth­ing through from the back af­ter the prob­lems in the open­ing race now well be­hind them.

Plato man­aged to claw his way in to the points-pay­ing po­si­tions just af­ter half dis­tance, with Turk­ing­ton then pass­ing him, and Plato ben­e­fited when some ahead struck the oil. He fin­ished 13th to land the pro­gramme’s first BTCC points.

The car’s de­signer, Carl Faux, ex­plained: “This is noth­ing more than an ex­tended test and we are learn­ing ev­ery time we go out. But it seems we are learn­ing well, which is good news.”

Race three

With Tord­off on pole and run­ning the stan­dard tyres, as op­posed to the softer rub­ber, the smart money was on him to bank a com­fort­able win in the fi­nal en­counter. Also a bonus for him was a drop in the am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture, which meant that those on softs – which was five of the other ri­vals in the top 10 – were go­ing into a race with con­di­tions that are less favourable to the more per­ish­able rub­ber.

But that was all count­ing with­out the in­cred­i­ble Mor­gan and his MercedesBenz. Tord­off did launch well, but Mor­gan used the in­cred­i­ble trac­tion out of Clear­ways at the end of the open­ing lap, when Tord­off was still get­ting heat in to the rub­ber of his rear-wheel-drive car’s ma­chine, to launch an as­sault. It worked as the cars dived in to Pad­dock Hill Bend.

A two-lap safety car to clear up some er­rant back­mark­ers did not give Tord­off a chance to gen­er­ate any heat into his nor­mal rub­ber, and Mor­gan made good his es­cape when rac­ing re­sumed on lap five. While Tord­off and Goff stayed in his wheel­tracks, there was no un­seat­ing the hatch­back ahead.

“I was in tyre preser­va­tion mode from the out­set, think­ing about how the rub­ber would last,” said Mor­gan. “I knew the BMWS would come on strong over the clos­ing pe­riod of the race, I had worked out where they were stronger, which was at Clear­ways. So long as I de­fended in to there, then I knew I would be OK.”

So Mor­gan chalked up his third ca­reer win. The WSR cars be­hind, with Tord­off ahead, were be­ing care­fully con­trolled from the pit­wall.

Team prin­ci­pal Dick Ben­netts ex­plained: “Sam was free to have a go for the lead be­cause we had spo­ken to Jack and we knew he wouldn’t at­tack. But over the clos­ing stages, Jack got on to the ra­dio to us and told us he was faster. It was a tough co­nun­drum, but we man­aged it…”

The fight for fourth place was re­solved in the fi­nal few yards when Jor­dan man­aged to sneak his Ford Fo­cus down the inside of Neal’s soft-shod and 66kg-heavy Honda. It was a feat he man­aged by 0.037s.

“I could feel the rub­ber go­ing off,” said fifth-placed Neal af­ter­wards. “It was shot. I thought I had enough in hand, but it just wasn’t there – by a frac­tion.”

Jor­dan’s race had been ro­bust from the start, when he and team-mate Jack­son had barged in to each other at Pad­dock on the open­ing lap – a move that ul­ti­mately led to Jack­son get­ting a punc­ture. There was a bit of ill-feel­ing knock­ing around the Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance garage af­ter­wards…

Be­hind Neal was Col­lard, who had driven a stun­ning race up from 16th on the grid. His launch was once again the best on the grid and he was on the soft tyres, which worked well and gave him the chance to power to sixth. It was just as well they did too, be­cause Jeff Smith was clos­ing in fast over the clos­ing stages in his Eurotech Rac­ing Honda Civic Type R. He took sev­enth.

The big­gest name miss­ing from this list is Shed­den. The race two win­ner, who had been sad­dled with 75kg of suc­cess bal­last, was also on the soft tyres so he knew he would suf­fer some pain.

When it came, it was the nas­ti­est of pains. He was sev­enth af­ter 15 laps, but knew some­thing was wrong.

“I could feel the tyre go­ing,” ex­plained the dou­ble champ. “I was fall­ing back but ob­vi­ously I had the max­i­mum weight and I didn’t know what the prob­lem was. Then, when I got to Pad­dock on lap 21, it went. I have had bad week­ends at Brands Hatch be­fore, and this wasn’t the worst! We’ve taken a win, so I will have to take what hap­pened in race three. Still, we look for­ward.” ■

Shed­den won the sec­ond race Ingram cel­e­brates his first vic­tory in tour­ing cars

Ingram’s week­end goes off the rails af­ter con­tact with Col­lard in race

two

Mor­gan was on top in race three

Jack­son (7) and Jor­dan (77) head for trou­ble

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