WHO ARE THE BTCC’S CIRCUIT SPECIALISTS?
OUR RESEARCH SHOWS THE PICK OF THE BUNCH
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. ■