SUBARU SHAKES UP THE BTCC

Colin Turk­ing­ton lands Levorg’s first tin-top win

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Matt James

T

here were many signs that the tide was turn­ing in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship rounds at Oul­ton Park. Subaru is a force with its first win, and BMW’S Sam Tord­off laid down some pretty se­ri­ous cre­den­tials for a maiden ti­tle with three top three fin­ishes.

But, through it all, Matt Neal and Team Dy­nam­ics held on to its con­sis­tent scor­ing flow. His race three win had been part of the plan from the time the fully laden car rolled into Oul­ton Park. He left the Cheshire venue only one point in ar­rears, just a sin­gle mark be­hind Tord­off.

That was job done for him, but there could be trou­ble ahead. Croft is next on the sched­ule, which is rear-wheel-drive heaven. Tord­off and Subaru will be aim­ing for even more in two week’s time.

Race one

It was some­thing of a strange qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion with a lot of driv­ers fail­ing to hook up their fly­ing laps and a clutch of stars much fur­ther back than they should have been.

Turk­ing­ton, ben­e­fit­ing from engine tweaks to the Subaru Levorg, was free from any of those wor­ries but was sur­prised to find him­self ahead of the pack, ad­mit­ting a top six was his tar­get.

Along­side him, Dan Lloyd in the Eurotech Rac­ing Honda Civic turned heads with sec­ond place, ahead of Tord­off and Tom In­gram’s Speed­works Toy­ota Aven­sis.

Joint ti­tle leader Neal was pleased enough with eighth in the 66kg-laden Honda Civic, while the other man at the head of the stand­ings, WSR’S Rob Col­lard, was only 0.6s off pole - but that equated to 16th place.

The two big losers were Adam Mor­gan (Cice­ley Rac­ing Mercedes-benz A-class), who was a han­dling-in­flicted 27th, and Mat Jack­son’s Ford Fo­cus, which was sim­i­larly stymied, in 25th po­si­tion.

One of the sto­ries was about who had the soft tyres for race one, and it was the ma­jor­ity of the fron­trun­ners. Very high tem­per­a­tures for the opener meant that the white-walled Dun­lops would be the pre­ferred op­tion.

Turk­ing­ton ex­ploited them off the line to reach Old Hall first, while Tord­off used the rear-wheel-drive ad­van­tage of the BMW to usurp Lloyd be­fore the righthander. From there, that was all any­one would see of Turk­ing­ton.

“I was look­ing af­ter the tyres, but they felt awe­some,” said the North­ern Ir­ish­man. “In the mid­dle part of the race, I felt Sam was clos­ing up on me a bit and so I pushed on.”

He didn’t re­ally need to bother. Tord­off took one tenth of a sec­ond out of Turk­ing­ton’s 0.7s lead on lap five, but the leader’s re­ply took him to 2.8s clear at its height.

The fight for the fi­nal ros­trum slot was tense. Firstly, Gor­don Shed­den slipped his Honda Civic in­side Lloyd’s car at the hair­pin on lap two to grab third. But the trou­ble started when Ja­son Plato’s Subaru came alive. He con­tro­ver­sially nudged the back of Lloyd’s Eurotech car into the hair­pin on lap seven to grab the po­si­tion.

Lloyd was prag­matic about the in­ci­dent. “I was ex­pect­ing it,” said Lloyd. “Well, it is Ja­son, isn’t it? But he didn’t do it to any­one else, which was a bit strange.”

Plato was later given a slap on the wrist for his part in the in­ci­dent by of­fi­cials and col­lected a fine.

Shed­den and Plato then fought a mighty bat­tle over third place, with the es­tate­shaped Ja­panese car clearly stronger but the cham­pion putting up a great de­fence. Time and again, Plato looked for a move at the Is­land hair­pin and at Lodge, but noth­ing was do­ing.

It wasn’t un­til he man­aged to get a su­perb launch from Lodge and in to Dear Leap on lap 13 that Plato was able to make it stick. “It was some­thing I re­ally had to work on,” said Plato. “I was try­ing to get along­side him but I couldn’t do it in a straight line. I had to think it through and fi­nally made it work by get­ting slightly along­side on the exit to com­pro­mise him.”

Be­hind fourth placed Shed­den, Lloyd was de­moted from fifth on the very last tour. In­gram had a torrid first lap to drop down to sev­enth and en­gaged in a fierce bat­tle with Ash Sut­ton’s MG. He fi­nally man­aged to shake off the MG at­tack and ze­roed in on Lloyd, pounc­ing on the last half of the last lap as the soft tyres on the Honda ahead wilted.

Af­ter a slip at Hizzy’s chi­cane, Sut­ton dropped back and team-mate Josh Cook was able to grab sev­enth place. Aron Smith (VW CC) took eighth from Neal and An­drew Jor­dan’s Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus.

One of the ma­jor ca­su­al­ties came on lap two and it was Col­lard. He was brak­ing for the Is­land hair­pin when Jeff Smith’s Eurotech Rac­ing Honda Civic can­noned in to the back of the Ger­man car and it spun. Col­lard could only re­cover for 23rd.

Race two

“It was all about the start,” said Turk­ing­ton af­ter the flag had fallen at the end of race two.

He was right be­cause he turned into Old Hall cor­ner look­ing at the bootlid of Tord­off ’s BMW. That was to be his view for the ma­jor­ity of the race.

Tord­off, for his part, knew that he was go­ing to have to play a strate­gic game if he was to earn his first vic­tory of the sea­son. There were plenty of un­knowns around him.

“We didn’t have a clue how the tyres were go­ing to last, or even how the Subarus were go­ing to get on with the weight they were car­ry­ing,” he ex­plained. “I was in con­stant con­tact with John [Water­man, his race en­gi­neer] and we were man­ag­ing the gap to those be­hind. That meant it wasn’t an easy race.”

De­spite that, Tord­off was one sec­ond clear by five laps and grad­u­ally stretched the buf­fer out to 1.6s by the che­quered flag.

Turk­ing­ton, for his part, was de­lighted with the per­for­mance of his Levorg. Given the strug­gles that the ma­chine has had so far this sea­son, there was no data gath­ered re­gard­ing the way the es­tate car would carry its bal­last. He had 75kg of lead in the pas­sen­ger foot well, and team­mate Plato, who reached Old Hall on lap one in third place, was fit­ted with 66kg.

“It was the first time we had any­thing like that amount of ex­tra weight in the car and it be­haved re­ally well,” said Turk­ing­ton. “It did not have the bal­ance that it had dur­ing the open­ing race, but that is to be ex­pected.”

Turk­ing­ton had looked in his mir­rors for Plato over the open­ing five laps un­til fourth placed Shed­den started to bother the num­ber 99 car. That gave the North­ern Ir­ish­man the breather he needed.

Plato ex­plained that he was pleased with the progress made with the han­dling of the Levorg as he clocked up an­other third placed fin­ish.

Be­hind them, Shed­den had ac­tu­ally gained bal­last on the Honda Civic by fin­ish­ing fourth in race one and had 48kg, so was pleased to bank that slot again – although he would have just the same hand­i­cap in the fi­nale.

In­gram had closed on Shed­den over the fi­nal pe­riod of race two but those top five had main­tained the same po­si­tions since the off.

Cook’s ten­ure of sixth place was un­der at­tack through­out the event. Neal was the main man nib­bling at his heels and the pair made con­tact on lap eight try­ing to go side-by-side through the Is­land hair­pin. The MG held on, but they were all back­ing them­selves into the charg­ing Col­lard, up from 23rd on the grid. On lap 12, Col­lard made a move stick on Neal go­ing into Old Hall and, a lap later, re­peated the trick on Cook.

How­ever, the BMW slewed wide on the exit of the cor­ner and as he re­gained the track on the Av­enue, there was con­tact with Cook which prompted a punc­ture on Col­lard’s ma­chine. Cook con­tin­ued for sixth.

Col­lard ex­plained: “I had put some great moves on peo­ple – some real stuff from my hot rod back­ground. I had tried to get ahead of Josh two laps be­fore, and he chopped me off. I got a re­ally good run on him again and went for the right-hand side of him across the pit straight, but he ran me along the pit wall, through all the de­bris.

“I don’t know if I picked up a punc­ture there, but when I turned into Old Hall, the car snapped side­ways,” he con­tin­ued. “I nearly spun, and as I got back on to the track, I made side-to-side con­tact with Josh. It wasn’t in­ten­tional, but I knew the tyre had gone at that point.”

Cook thought that Col­lard had been less than gen­er­ous: “He wasn’t in the pit wall and he wasn’t into my car ei­ther. He was along­side, and then he lost it go­ing in to Old Hall – that was noth­ing to do with me.”

All that gave Neal sev­enth from Jor­dan, Jack Goff (WSR BMW 125i M Sport) and Mat Jack­son – some sal­va­tion for the lat­ter af­ter a truly lack­lus­tre week­end.

Neal was drawn on pole for the fi­nale, and it seemed like Team Dy­nam­ics could have pulled a mas­ter­stroke, with Shed­den on the sec­ond row as well.

The cir­cuit is not kind to the Dy­nam­ics boys and they had weight com­ing into the meet­ing. Both Neal and Shed­den had col­lected de­cent points in the open­ing two events, and now they were near the front for the re­versed grid clash. Could it be about to play in to their hands?

Race three

It looked like it would play per­fectly for the Honda men. Firstly, Neal nailed his start in to Old Hall to head Cook’s MG, while fur­ther back, Shed­den ran side-by-side with In­gram through the open­ing turn and down in to Cas­cades.

The sec­ond Honda dealt with the Toy­ota on the exit of the left-han­der to scam­per off af­ter Cook. When they ar­rived at Druids, Shed­den fired in to the back of the MG ahead and Cook was sent into a wild side­ways slide.

“That was so dan­ger­ous – the fastest cor­ner on the track with the least run-off,” pointed out the ag­grieved racer. It slowed him enough on the exit to al­low Shed­den through and into sec­ond place.

The Hon­das then set off in a for­ma­tion race and the fierce scrap­ping be­hind meant that they were seven sec­onds clear when dis­as­ter struck – Shed­den’s frontleft Dun­lop failed and he was forced to pull in to the pits.

Neal was wary of a prob­lem too in the clos­ing stages, but it never hap­pened: “You are al­ways hear­ing noises in the car as the laps count down. There are mar­bles that get flicked up on the whee­larch and things like that. The team had told me, so I backed it off. I will take a win any way they come and that was a sweet one.”

Even though Neal backed it off, he was still 9.4s clear of Tord­off at the end of 15 laps. Tord­off had im­pres­sively carved his way through the traf­fic ahead – spurred on when his team-mate Col­lard had ap­peared on his bootlid when he was run­ning at the back of the queue fight­ing for third – which would be­come sec­ond with Shed­den’s woe.

“I knew Rob wouldn’t hang about, so I had to get on with it,” said Tord­off. “Every­one was hug­ging the in­side line and I went to the out­side – some­times you have to be brave.”

That queue was be­cause In­gram, bat­tling to pre­serve his soft tyres, was fend­ing off Cook. The pair ex­changed paint on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

“He was so ag­gres­sive de­fend­ing,” said Cook. “He was chop­ping to the white line on the in­side of ev­ery cor­ner. There comes a point when you have to re­alise that your car is not fast enough and let a quicker car through.”

In­gram was in a de­fi­ant mood. “Why should I let some­one though? I am here to fight for my po­si­tion.”

So they both fell to Tord­off and, in the end, they were so ea­ger to look for each other that nei­ther of them paid much at­ten­tion to Plato at the last cor­ner.

The Subaru man had been run­ning be­hind the battlers ahead, but as they parked on the apex at Lodge, he sim­ply drove around the out­side of them both to nab third.

Be­hind In­gram and Cook, Col­lard also fi­nally had some luck when he ben­e­fited from the con­certina ahead to edge around the out­side of Turk­ing­ton and power to the fin­ish line ahead of the North­ern Ir­ish­man for sixth place.

Turk­ing­ton pow­ers ahead in race one

and Tord­off salute the crowd In­gram, Plato, Turk­ing­ton

Matt Neal built his week­end around a vic­tory in the fi­nal race of the day

Photos: Jakob Ebrey

Tord­off claimed the most points

In­gram and Cook (r) bat­tled all week­end

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