WHO ARE THE BTCC’S CIR­CUIT SPE­CIAL­ISTS?

OUR RE­SEARCH SHOWS THE PICK OF THE BUNCH

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Matt James

The for­mat of the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship has re­mained un­changed for sev­eral sea­sons now, and it has some pretty well-es­tab­lished pat­terns.

Cer­tain driv­ers seem to have an affin­ity with cer­tain lay­outs, and Motorsport News wanted to find out just who has the knack at any given track. We have cal­cu­lated the av­er­age fin­ish­ing po­si­tion for each win­ning driver in the cat­e­gory over the last five years, and the re­sults are sur­pris­ing.

In the mod­ern day BTCC, there are cer­tain tracks that suit rear-wheel-drive cars, and those which are more prof­itable for front-wheel-drive ma­chines.

Those can have a big influence on the out­come of any given driver’s av­er­age, but it is not im­pos­si­ble to over­ride this – as Ja­son Plato, who has spent the ma­jor­ity of the last five sea­sons in a front-wheel-drive car, has proved with his fan­tas­tic record at Oul­ton Park.

Two-time cham­pion Plato, who is due to re­turn to the BTCC for a 19th sea­son in 2017, said he was shocked by some of the re­sults.

“I am sur­prised that my best isn’t Brands Hatch Grand Prix [where he has had four wins in the last five years but tem­pered by only one other podium]. But I am pleased with the stats from Oul­ton.

“It is a proper driv­ers’ track, and it is a real com­pro­mise. Be­cause you have so many dif­fer­ent types of cor­ner, you never re­ally get the car sorted for the whole cir­cuit. You have to take the next best op­tion in terms of set-up to get a good time from the track, so then it comes down to the driver – but you would ex­pect me to say that now I have just found out I am top there! It is all about cor­ner speed, and that is where the more ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers and the more skil­ful in terms of set-up can ex­tract the most from the cars.”

Plato’s av­er­age fin­ish­ing po­si­tion at Oul­ton of 2.6 is far bet­ter then any­one else’s, and it is the low­est of any driver at any other cir­cuit. As well as top­ping the charts in Cheshire, Plato also has an en­vi­able record in Norfolk too.

“Snet­ter­ton is an­other cir­cuit that has plenty of cor­ners, so the key there is to keep­ing the min­i­mum speed up as much as pos­si­ble,” he ex­plains. “It is also a very long cir­cuit, so there are plenty of chances to make a mis­take there. You have to be right on top of your game to string it all to­gether.”

The man who has strung it all to­gether bet­ter than any­one else is reign­ing cham­pion and three-time ti­tle holder Gor­don Shed­den. He has pow­ered his Team Dy­nam­ics Honda Civic to 24 vic­to­ries in the five-year pe­riod in ques­tion, and is the man who topped the stand­ings on the most cir­cuits.

Ex­clud­ing new­comer Ash Sut­ton, who has only con­tested three rounds at each venue af­ter his de­but sea­son, Shed­den is top or joint top at five of the 10 venues.

“That is ob­vi­ously the way to win cham­pi­onships,” says the three-time ti­tle win­ner. “You can see a pat­tern though – I am strong at the start of the year and I strug­gle in the mid­dle.

“That is be­cause we start the year with no weight, and then we go to Thrux­ton, which is a track that doesn’t pe­nalise a heavy car too much. Af­ter that, we are straight in to two back-to-back rear-wheel-drive friendly cir­cuits.

“I was strong at Snet­ter­ton last year [with two podi­ums] but that is only be­cause I had such a tough time at Croft and then I went to Norfolk with no weight in the car.”

The Honda has tra­di­tion­ally strug­gled at some of the faster tracks on the cal­en­dar and usu­ally has a mid-sea­son bat­tle. That is also high­lighted on Sil­ver­stone’s long straights so the Scots­man has to make hay where he can.

“I am pleased with the Knock­hill score,” adds Shed­den. “It is my home cir­cuit, of course, and yet I re­ally don’t feel like I have had great week­ends there. But, it is so hard to pass that you need to re­ally think about how to put to­gether a strong week­end. That is why the top av­er­age fin­ish­ing po­si­tion is higher than at any other cir­cuit.”

Along­side Shed­den and Plato, two-time cham­pion Colin Turk­ing­ton is an­other who tops the charts. He has had the ad­van­tage of a rear-drive BMW and Subaru for four of the five sea­sons in ques­tion, but he also leads the way at Sil­ver­stone too.

Turk­ing­ton says: “I guess I pre­fer the tech­ni­cal tracks, the ones where I feel that a driver can make the dif­fer­ence as well as a prop­erly set-up car. You also have to fac­tor in the rear-wheel-drive ef­fect. Most of my pre­vi­ous sea­sons have been in reardrive cars, and there are cir­cuits on the cal­en­dar that suit that kind of lay­out. Croft is cer­tainly one of those and that is why I am not sur­prised that I am top of the charts there.”

While he knows how to ex­tract the most from the rear-wheel-drive friendly cir­cuits, the Sil­ver­stone sta­tis­tics do raise an eye­brow – even for the driver him­self.

“Sil­ver­stone, where I am also top, is a bit of an in­ter­est­ing one. Although peo­ple think that it is just a tri­an­gle with a wig­gle, there is more to it than that,” ex­plains the North­ern Ir­ish­man.

“You have the flat-out bit like Copse, which I think most peo­ple take nailed these days, and then you have the twisty bit at Brook­lands and Luffield, which is test­ing. That is where I guess I can make up time.

“I am a bit gut­ted about Knock­hill though,” ad­mits the 2009 and 2014 cham­pion. “I stud­ied at Stir­ling Univer­sity and I re­gard that as my home track. I love it there, it is a proper gritty cir­cuit. I will have to work hard to put that right in the record books.”

In truth, there are two re­sults that weigh Turk­ing­ton down when he heads North of the bor­der. They were two shock­ers with the Team BMR VW CC in 2015, when the team was strug­gling to get on top of the han­dling of the Ger­man sa­loon.

Aside from the cham­pi­ons, Rob Col­lard man­aged to top the charts at the rear-wheel-drive friendly Knock­hill track – an honour he shared with Shed­den – while rookie Sut­ton had three strong races at Brands Hatch last year to be top of the pile there. That, how­ever, is likely to change when he has more races in the top flight. ■

Who is the most ver­sa­tile BTCC racer?

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