SUBARU SHAKES UP THE BTCC
Colin Turkington lands Levorg’s first tin-top win
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.
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.
“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?
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
Tordoff claimed the most points