RE­VIEW: BRI­TISH TOUR­ING CARS SHEDDEN

A record num­ber of win­ners and a hard-fought ti­tle spiced up the BTCC. By Matt James TO THE RES­CUE

Motor Sport News - - Review: British Touring Cars - BTCC DRIV­ERS CHAM­PI­ONSHIP 2016

T

he Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship was set­tled with a whim­per rather than a bang at Brands Hatch when Gordon Shedden sim­ply pow­ered ahead of his ri­vals to earn a third crown by a mere two points.

There was no great drama, no con­tro­versy and no ac­ci­dents. It was all very un­like the sea­son that had gone be­fore that cli­max.

There were 12 dif­fer­ent win­ners over the course of 2016, which goes to show how com­pet­i­tive the cat­e­gory is. But that in it­self is a dou­ble-edged sword. Does it mean that win­ning a race in the BTCC has be­come too easy? Not nec­es­sar­ily. What it means is that all of the fac­tors have to be spot on for a driver to pre­vail in a sin­gle round.

There are a num­ber of ways that a driver can be im­peded over the course of a race week­end. There is the suc­cess bal­last that is fit­ted to the fastest cars, the op­tion tyre that has to be used at least once over the week­end and the re­versed grid anom­aly too.

It is rare that a driver will have all of those things in his favour. Even when he does, there is the ul­tra-tight com­pe­ti­tion it­self to deal with.

While all of that adds up to mak­ing each in­di­vid­ual race a very tough nut to crack, the spin-off is that the ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers, the ones who have been around the block a bit, know how to put a ti­tle chal­lenge to­gether.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that, of the eight driv­ers who went into the fi­nal show­down at the Brands Hatch Grand Prix cir­cuit with a chance of lift­ing the ti­tle, five of them were for­mer out­right cham­pi­ons.

Go­ing in to that fi­nal bat­tle, though, the man at the head of the points ta­ble was Sam Tord­off in the WSR BMW 125i M Sport, one of the few who hadn’t lifted the sil­ver­ware be­fore.

That marked a huge step up for the racer, who was only in his sec­ond

TEAM/CAR

sea­son in a rear-wheel-drive BTCC car and his fourth full year in to­tal.

He showed con­sis­tent rather than stun­ning pace over the open­ing pe­riod of the sea­son be­fore things kicked into life with a win at Oul­ton Park. He won again at the eighth meet­ing of the year at Rock­ing­ham (which was re­mark­able af­ter an elec­tri­cal prob­lem in wet weather meant he started race one from the back of the pack).

Even by that stage though, the writ­ing had been on the wall. The en­gine equal­i­sa­tion for­mula turned down the out­put slightly over the lat­ter part of the sea­son and from there, Tord­off was in de­fence mode.

There was a tweak to the BMW’S Neil Brown-de­vel­oped pow­er­plant over the win­ter, with di­rect in­jec­tion added and Team Dy­nam­ics Honda Rac­ing Civic Type-r WSR BMW 125i M Sport Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus Team BMR Subaru Levorg BMW 125i M Sport Team Dy­nam­ics Honda Civic Type-r Team BMR Subaru Levorg Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus Cice­ley Rac­ing Mercedes-benz A-class Speed­works Rac­ing Toy­ota Aven­sis Team Hard Toy­ota Aven­sis Triple Eight Rac­ing MG6 Triple Eight Rac­ing MG6 Cice­ley Rac­ing Mercedes-benz A-class Team BKR VW CC

run­ning with less boost than they been granted just to make sure stayed within the rules. That is why the cars were so far away from the front at Croft, but it pointed the way for the re­main­der the year. Shedden ad­mits that as well as the en­gine woe, the cars were a long way from the ul­ti­mate set-up win­dow. Af­ter Croft, there was lots of head­scratch­ing at Team Dy­nam­ics and solution was found. From the start of the sec­ond half of sea­son, race one at Snet­ter­ton in July, Shedden’s av­er­age fin­ish­ing po­si­tion was sixth. He clawed back mas­sive points at most races and ul­ti­mately nicked two more than Tord­off when he over­took him at Brands Hatch dur­ing that fi­nal round.

The late-sea­son mo­men­tum had been firmly with Shedden, while his team­mate Neal had the re­verse: he started strongly but suf­fered as oth­ers got on top of new cars. Neal’s tac­tic over the open­ing part of the year, when he was weighed down with suc­cess bal­last and tyre op­tion dilem­mas, was to get all of that pain out of the way early on and build to­wards a race three win.

That worked well and he led the stand­ings ini­tially – but that also came with the whammy that he went into each meet­ing with the max­i­mum 75kg of bal­last.

He was in the hunt un­til the end but was spat out of race two at Brands fol­low­ing an elec­tri­cal fail­ure. Neal ended up in the tyres and ul­ti­mately the med­i­cal cen­tre with mild con­cus­sion. It was a very un­sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion to the sea­son.

New cham­pion Shedden, who’d fin­ished third in that fi­nal show­down, was joined on the ros­trum by round 30 win­ner Mat Jackson.

Jackson’s vic­tory helped him to third spot in the points. He was the joint most suc­cess­ful driver in the year in terms of race wins but came up just short.

The Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus was a very po­tent weapon last sea­son and the en­gine equiv­a­lency for­mula pegged it back a lit­tle over the win­ter, but the team was con­fi­dent that the up­grades to the chas­sis would com­pen­sate.

Mo­tor­base also had the most po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive driver line-up on the en­try list too, as it added 2013 cham­pion An­drew Jordan to the sta­ble.

There was an im­me­di­ate flash­point in the open­ing rounds at Brands Hatch, and the pair had a frank dis­cus­sion af­ter­wards. Har­mony was re­stored and Jackson got his charge rolling with a win at Don­ing­ton Park in meet­ing two, but the in­creased com­pet­i­tive­ness of the series meant it was go­ing to be a long shot.

There was a cruel punc­ture at Thrux­ton where points went beg­ging, and he was also af­flicted by an ECU prob­lem at Snet­ter­ton. In a year when the mar­gins were so fine, those were cru­cial come the end of the cam­paign.

Jackson now has the un­wanted ac­co­lade of be­ing the driver with the most race wins to his name with­out a ti­tle. Third in the points would be good enough for most men, but he felt it was an­other chance missed.

Team-mate Jordan, who claimed the In­de­pen­dents Tro­phy, would go on to fin­ish in eighth in the stand­ings in an­other tough year. He felt that he never re­ally hooked a week­end up as the en­gi­neers were push­ing the car through the course of a week­end. When it did all click, like at Sil­ver­stone in the ninth meet­ing of the sea­son, he was the high­est points-scorer of all, but it was too lit­tle too late and Jordan has now left the team.

The story of Subaru’s first foray into the BTCC as a man­u­fac­turer-blessed en­try was a dra­matic one. The box­erengined Levorg GT, which re­sem­bles an es­tate car, had the en­gi­neers buzzing with ex­cel­lent drag and per­for­mance fig­ures be­fore it hit the track, but those did not trans­late.

The chas­sis was fine, as could be seen when the weather was change­able, but the power was not there.

Ini­tially there were prob­lems with the fuel rail on the car, which led to a spec­tac­u­lar con­fla­gra­tion for James Cole at Don­ing­ton and ul­ti­mately meant all four ex­am­ples of the car were with­drawn from Thrux­ton.

Al­lied to that, the rapidly ex­pand­ing out­fit had not had time to ho­molo­gate a be­spoke man­i­fold and that meant that the car was breath­less. There was a tweak to the tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions be­fore Oul­ton Park in June and then their ri­vals’ worst fears were recog­nised: the Levorg was a mon­ster.

Turk­ing­ton took the first win at Oul­ton Park and went on to col­lect four more vic­to­ries. From its dif­fi­cult birth, it had be­come the car to beat and Turk­ing­ton’s sprint to fourth in the points was stun­ning.

Team-mate Ja­son Plato, one of the prime movers be­hind the en­tire Subaru Team BMR pro­gramme, was also in the ti­tle hunt at the death. He was per­haps try­ing to push the en­ve­lope in terms of the car’s set up be­yond the more cau­tious Turk­ing­ton. When it worked it flew, such as at Knock­hill, but there were some blind al­leys along the way, which left him be­hind the sis­ter car.

Plato was rac­ing a rear-wheel-drive BTCC car for the first time in his ca­reer. This can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated. Turk­ing­ton had taken his two ti­tles (2009 and 2014) in rear-wheel-drive cars and he and his en­gi­neer Kevin Berry knew the tricks. Plato was learn­ing.

Look at 2015, when Turk­ing­ton and Plato were paired in a front-wheel-drive VW CC. Plato had the edge when it came to the last frac­tions of a sec­ond, and that was re­versed when the driv­e­train was swapped. With one year’s learn­ing, Plato will be back in the hunt in 2017. ■

There was a third crown for the Fly­ing Scot Shedden fought back from a bad start Shedden claimed 10

Tom In­gram won the first round

A con­tro­ver­sial shunt at Knock­hill knocked the wind from Rob Col­lard’s sails

The Mo­tor­base Ford Fo­cus was a ti­tle threat in the hands of Mat Jackson

Colin Turk­ing­ton and Ja­son Plato were strong when the car was de­vel­oped

Sam Tord­off was left to fend off a queue of cars as the sea­son pro­gressed

Up-and-com­ers Ash Sut­ton and Josh Cook (MG) get very per­sonal...

10 podium fin­ishes in ’16

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