BTCC report: Thruxton
Adam Morgan stood firm amid chaos in Hampshire.
There were once again three different victors in British Touring Car rounds at Thruxton last weekend but one of them – Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Racing Mercedes-benz A-class – stood out as the big winner.
He led them all home in a troubled opening round after several cars struck tyre trouble, while Morgan then went on to follow Andrew Jordan’s Motorbase Performance Ford Focus and Rob Collard’s WSR BMW 125i M Sport over the line in race two.
Mat Jackson cemented the smiles at Motorbase with a dominant race three win. But, that rapid Merc had picked its way through the pack to come home third and secure Morgan’s best weekend yet in British touring cars.
Leaving the circuit, Matt Neal (Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R) and Collard head the standings, but Morgan is only three points adrift now after his second race-winning weekend of the year. He is turning into a real championship player.
The battle for pole position around the country’s fastest circuit had been absorbing. Neal and Speedworks Toyota man Tom Ingram fought a great fight. On Ingram’s first runs, he topped the times but lost his two best laps to track limits infringements. Neal looked to have put it beyond reach despite the maximum 75kg on Honda – but Ingram returned to combat with nine minutes to go to bank his second career pole. Aiden Moffat put his Ciceley Racing Mercedes-benz A-class ahead of Neal too, but the points leader was still thrilled to have performed so well with the weight handicap.
But the races would all be about tyre usage, and that meant that the ballast-free front row pairing were licking their lips at the prospect of 16 laps around the sizzling hot 2.36-mile speedbowl.
Going on to the opening lap, it all kicked off. Firstly, Ingram defended the inside as Neal sliced inside Moffat at Allard and then the top trio tried to go in to Campbell as one. Predictably, there was contact. Neal fired in to Moffat and Ingram was also delayed. On the exit of the Complex, Neal preserved his lead from Josh Cook (Triple Eight Racing MG6) and Ingram with Morgan and Ashley Sutton (Triple Eight Racing MG6) fighting over fourth.
Neal, carrying the full handicap, was always going to be sluggish.
After a skirmish coming out of the Complex on lap two, Sutton, who had made progress, cannoned in to Ingram and delayed them both – half a lap later Sutton ended up dumped in to the tyres on the entry to Noble. Morgan gleefully grabbed third and set off after the top two: it wouldn’t take him long.
The German hatchback went inside Cook going in to the chicane at the end of lap three and then powered past Neal and into first place at the beginning of lap five. From there on in, he just pulled clear.
Morgan said: “It was carnage ahead and behind. We knew the tyres would be critical and it was a job to look after them, but there was all sorts kicking off behind so that made my job easier.
“I had my dad Russell on the radio telling me to look after the tyres, but even so my left-front was getting close [to the edge] towards the end.”
Indeed it was kicking off behind. Firstly, Moffat recovered his way to third place as Cook was shuffled down the order after being pushed wide. The Scotsman then sliced ahead of Neal for second place at Allard at the start of lap six.
It looked like a good day for Mercedes, with its first ever one-two in the BTCC on the cards. Until lap 10. Moffat’s rubber was the first to suffer. His front-left tyre deflated on lap 10 and put him off, but worse was to follow further back.
“I had contact early on, which damaged the car,” said Moffat. “Then I had more contact later on, which knocked the steering out. Once I got back into second place I was trying to take it easy, but the tyres were taking too much punishment.”
Running in the lower half of the top 10, Mat Jackson (Motorbase Ford Focus) was another to suffer a failure. There was a theme coming.
Neal’s front left also deflated on his way in to the chicane at the end of lap 11, and as he straight-lined the middle part of the chicane, he then darted for the pit entrance on the exit of the switchback without realising that Cook was up his inside. They collided and cars in the following queue scattered. The major casualty, apart from the two instigators, was champion Gordon Shedden. His Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R was clipped and fired in to the pitwall. It brought out the red flags.
With the results taken back a lap but without the non-finishers in the classification, Morgan had won from the survivors: Ingram, Jordan and Jeff Smith (Eurotech Racing Honda Civic Type R).
Martin Depper took a career best to date of fifth place in the Eurotech Racing Honda Civic Type R from WSR trio Collard, Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff in the BMW 125i M Sports.
Ominously, the only front-wheel-drive car carrying serious ballast to have finished the race without woes was Morgan and he would have 75kg for race two. Series bosses knew that the extreme weather – 33 degrees track temperature and rising – was having a detrimental effect on the rubber. Therefore, shortly after race one was completed, they issued a bulletin declaring that the remaining races of the day would be 12 laps, instead of the scheduled 16.
So there was less time to get the job done in race two. But Ingram, from the front row, tried to strike just a bit too early. He jumped the start just fractionally but it wasn’t to his advantage – he actually lost out to second row man Jordan. It would earn Ingram a drivethrough, which ruined his charge. “It was only a marginal movement,” said Ingram. “But I will admit it was my fault.”
Jordan was in the wake of Morgan, who reached Allard first and set about a tyre preservation race.
Even though it was now only 12 laps, he had the dreaded 75kg on the car.
Jordan knew it too. “I could see that Adam was using his front tyres a little bit too hard and I had to bide my time,” said Jordan. “I was just thinking that I would wait for him to drop off, but I got a call on the radio to say that the race was halfway through – because of the shorter distance that had gone pretty quickly.”
So Jordan got on with the job. He outdragged Morgan coming out of the chicane at the end of lap 10 to chop ahead at Allard and into a lead he was never to lose.
“I love racing with people like Adam,” enthused Jordan afterwards. “He is the sort of guy who gives you just about enough room to make the move stick.”
Morgan, on the other hand, had concerns of his own. “I could feel a vibration on the front left-hand tyre, so I was being cautious,” explained the Merc man. “Andrew was strong and I couldn’t resist him.”
Nor could Morgan resist Collard, who used a superb start to leap from sixth to fourth, which became third when Ingram had his drivethrough penalty. As Morgan tried to wrest the lead back from Jordan going in to the Complex by looking down the inside on lap 11, Collard pounced around the outside. He was the last of the late brakers to round the Mercedes and take second place. It was worth it too, because that result gave him the championship lead.
While all of the front-wheel-drive cars were concerned after the opening race, the rear-wheel-drive BMWS were making hay while the sun shone. The drivetrain format steers with the front and powers with the back, which gives it an inherent advantage when it comes to tyre wear. Collard had initially led team-mates Goff and Tordoff running in third, fourth and fifth.
But the fly in their ointment was Shedden, up from an incredible 23rd on the grid after his race one line up. He was into the top 10 after only five laps and picked them off one by one until he was up to Goff ’s bootlid for fourth on the final tour. He forged ahead going into Church corner.
“It was just a case of everything going for me, as opposed to race one, where it went against me,” said the champion.
“It was a great race and we have managed to salvage something. It is a real credit to the guys who put the car back together again in such a short time. It was all I could have asked for.”
Behind Goff and Tordoff, returnee Dan Lloyd was the sole remaining Eurotech Honda Civic inside the top 10 in seventh place. All three had been competitive and run with the leaders, but Jeff Smith spun off early on and Depper suffered a heartbreaking puncture on lap 11.
Jordan’s team-mate Jackson was eighth, while a second ninth place of the weekend for Dan Welch’s Proton was a boon – especially as he was pulled on pole for the final race of the weekend.
Neal recovered to 11th place behind Rob Austin’s Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis, while Cook claimed 12th. Neal was particularly pleased, and echoed Shedden’s comments. “That was all I could manage,” said Neal. “The car was a bit loose but, given the damage that the car sustained, it was remarkable that we were there at all.”
The temperatures were slightly cooler in the latter part of the day, and that was a relief for all of the drivers – and, more importantly, the Dunlop technicians. For Welch, it was his first pole position in his BTCC career, the first for Proton and the first time he had been on the front row since Oulton Park in 2013.
The joy for Welch was shortlived. He lost out to Jackson on the run to Allard, but was comfortably established in second position. Even he was starting to believe: “I was even gaining a bit on Jackson, I thought. For four laps, I was there. Then, I went in to the Segrave corner and it just wouldn’t steer. I think I must have had a breakage.”
That served to give Jackson a mammoth advantage of 1.7s. He was virtually home and hosed, and could even afford to back right off on the last lap.
“To get the second win of the day for Motorbase felt great, the hard work everyone puts in is paying off and we’re in a good place,” said Jackson. “The car’s performing well and we just need to keep clocking up the points and we’re all looking forward to going into Oulton Park in the championship fight.”
The man stalking him to the finish line was Neal, who had benefited massively from the fighting ahead. Goff and Shedden had been at it for second position. Shedden looked like he would be able to gain the place, but there was trouble headed his way. Again.
Goff explained that he was losing grip in his rear tyres after about five laps and that was holding Shedden up.
Collard, who was following in fourth, takes up the story: “Around the fast bits, I could see Jack was struggling and that was backing things up. Strangely, on lap seven, Shedden went to the outside of Goff in to Village. I went for the inside, because there was a big gap there, and then Shedden came back across – I can only think I caught him unawares.
“I hit the brakes and went down a gear to stop him having a big accident, but that is how Neal got ahead of me.”
Another lap later and Neal was up to second ahead of the struggling Goff, which put Goff and Shedden back together again. It came to a head between them at the end of lap 10.
Goff explained: “I went in to the chicane on the inside line, but I was struggling for grip under braking. As I hit the brakes with Gordon on my outside, the rear got away from me and I slid in to him. It is racing, but there is only one line into that chicane and you have to question Gordon’s positioning.”
The Scotsman, who was understandably upset afterwards, refused to talk to the press.
Shedden was out with damage and Goff plummeted to 18th. Watching it all unfold in front of him was a grateful Morgan, who powered ahead to collect his third podium of the weekend and move into third in the standings – just three points behind Collard and Neal.
Collard himself would have had a fourth, but he was attacked by the MG duo of Cook and Sutton (in that order) with two laps to go and decided that collecting points was more important than collecting the barrier. He came home in sixth.
Race two winner Jordan’s good luck only lasted one race – he was ruled out while running in sixth when he sustained a genuine puncture.
While he had mixed fortunes, his team didn’t. Two wins for Motorbase – and three overall this season – has put a smile back on the faces of the people from Kent. “And both our drivers are winning,” said team boss David Bartrum. “You can’t ask for more than that.” ■
Adam Morgan was
Neal was ruled out of the opening race after a puncture and a crash
was the weekend’s biggest winner Morgan made his mark at Thruxton
Tom Ingram was once again on the podium
Andrew Jordan took his first ’16 victory
Mat Jackson heads race three as Gordon Shedden and Jack Goff clash