Astras were at the heart of what’s being lauded as one of the most exciting weekends of BTCC action in the competition’s sixty-year history…
Power Maxed TAG Racing’s amazing end to the 2018 British Touring Car Championship.
Power Maxed TAG Racing (PMR) occupied second place in the team standings when the British Touring Car Championship arrived at Brands Hatch for the final weekend of action in a year marking the competition’s sixtieth anniversary. Free practice set a trend, with the Astra K driven by PMR pilot, Senna Proctor, outpacing the sister Vauxhall driven by Josh Cook. The latter struggled with balance, especially around the Grand Prix loop, a complaint continuing into qualifying. The frustrated speed merchant from Somerset languished down in twenty-first place, although it should be noted his Vauxhall’s ballast was a significant factor in a disappointing performance. In contrast, Proctor was all smiles thanks a setting the sixth-fastest lap and for being the fastest driver outside of those in charge of hot Honda Type Rs.
Qualifying was played out in warm, balmy conditions, and though weather forecasters predicted cold temperatures for race day, the reality was a dose of late summer sun. This suited Proctor due to his Griffin rolling on the harder prime tyre, a setup which enabled the angry Astra to make a fantastic launch off the tricky sloping grid before arriving at Paddock Hill bend holding onto sixth place. He lost out to Sam Tordoff’s pink Ford as the cars piled into Druids, but showing great grit and determination, Proctor immediately fought back, decisively passing the Focus into Surtees as the multicoloured chain of motorsport machines headed onto the aforementioned Grand Prix loop.
He then passed Dan Lloyd’s Norlin Racing Civic Type R to clinch fifth position, with Cook beginning to make ground in the rear-view mirror. An overnight engine change sent his Astra to the back of the grid, but a shift up to nineteenth place looked as though fortune would soon favour the brave. Unfortunately, the number sixty-six Astra began to look out of sorts, almost immediately dropping back down the pecking order after a sly overtaking move from Cook’s championship points rival, Adam Morgan, and then from Matt Simpson and his Honda.
By the seventh lap, Proctor was firmly on the tail of the leaders, having built up a significant gap between his Astra and Lloyd’s Japanese joy toy. Two laps later, Proctor and Jack Goff (another Honda driver, this one racing in a Eurotech Civic) were the fastest men on the track, both eager to score a podium finish. The order and gaps between cars, however, remained constant, meaning that at the end of a hugely competitive fifteen-lap race, Proctor brought his Vauxhall home in fifth. An understandably frustrated Cook crossed the line in twentysecond place, losing out to the BMW of Stephen Jelley on the final lap.
By the time the second race of the day arrived, temperatures were starting to drop, even if tension on the track was hotting up! Proctor, now riding on the softer Dunlop option tyre, but with 39kg of ballast on board, got too much wheelspin on launch and slipped back to eighth place on the run into Druids. He dropped another place being
muscled out of the way while exiting Surtees. Not to be outdone, he immediately fought back, diving inside his former PMR teammate, Tom Chilton (now driving a yellow Motorbase Shredded Wheat Focus), and closing the gap behind Lloyd. The Astra man was then ambushed by the Toyota of Tom Ingram pushing wide through Dingle Dell, forcing the Vauxhall behind the brightly coloured Fords. The proud Lancastrian was having none of it, proving his mettle by dispatching Chilton all over again and moving back into ninth place.
From P22, Cook once again strode forward, clawing his way to seventeenth position before the appearance of a mid-race safety car (surprisingly, the first and last of the day) on lap six. When the carnage of Goff’s bruised and battered Honda was cleared, Cook steamed all the way through to eleventh.
Meanwhile, Proctor kept swapping places with Chilton. As if he didn’t have enough to content with, the PMR driver found himself under increasing pressure from Colin Turkington’s BMW. Expertly avoiding a clash involving Lloyd and Turkington at Paddock bend, however, enabled him to accept a well-deserved seventh place finish.
The third and final race of the day provided a fitting end to the competition’s special celebratory year. Once again, PMR was at the heart of the action. Both Astras were on Dunlop’s prime tyre, and hopes were high for the gang to consolidate second overall in the team standings. From pole, Cook was out-dragged by the lone Alfa Romeo on the circuit, forcing the Vauxhall into second place as all cars swept down the hill at breakneck speed. Once again, Proctor struggled to execute a clean start, slipping from P4 to P8 by close of the opening lap. Four rounds of the track later, Cook pulled a great move to slide up the inside of the Alfa on the exit of Clearways, immediately lapping six tenths quicker and pulling away. In retaliation, the diminutive Italian race car gained speed and held the gap, pushed along by the eager Subaru Levorg driven by reigning champion, Ashley Sutton, who managed to fight his way to second place before one of the
BTCC’s greatest ‘cat and mouse’ games ensued.
From the tenth lap to the end of the race, Sutton and Cook showed amazing racecraft and a healthy dose of mutual respect as they ran side-byside. The Scooby probed left and right, not quick enough to pass the Vauxhall, but challenging every aspect of its driver’s extensive defensive armoury. It was captivating, edge-of-the-seat stuff!
Proctor was firmly slotted into seventh place, and with Cook leading the pack, PMR was on course for a remarkable finish regardless of the double one-two achievements of the factory Hondas at the end of the first and second race of the weekend. It certainly looked as though Sutton had run out of ideas, dumbfounded by Cook’s ability to position the Astra in every inch of space the Subaru was heading for. Then, just as the finish line came into view, Sutton let rip, a move which saw both cars sprint to the finish alongside each other in spectacular style, the Subaru nudging forward by just 32/1000ths of a second to take the win. Obviously, Cook and the PMR family were gutted to lose out by such a narrow margin, but everyone in the team garage was proud to have watched two heroes of the series perform so well in a race neither deserved to lose.
Proctor managed to retain his twelfth place in the driver’s championship by ending the race in seventh, with the width of a leaf forcing Cook to drop to sixth. PMR finished third in the team’s championship, equal on points with Honda, but defeated on countback. A brilliant result which offers great hope for a title challenge in 2019.
“It was a weekend that will stick in the memory!” smiles PMR’s technical director, Martin Broadhurst. “Senna was on the pace from the start, as proved by his three top ten finishes, the result of hard work on and off the track, the latter in partnership with his engineer, Rob Peacey. They put together a storming car for the weekend. I was hoping for more pace from Josh’s car after the engine swap, but his performances in the second and third race of the weekend were epic, even if he was disappointed to have been pipped to the post in what will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best races ever seen in the BTCC!”
PMR team principal, Adam Weaver, expresses similar sentiment. “As always, the BTCC never fails to disappoint. We started the season with a ground-breaking race at Brands Hatch, witnessing Senna make up twenty-seven places to take his first win, before watching Josh fight one of the greatest battles of the series at the end of the season’s last race. I couldn’t be prouder of both Astra drivers and the entire PMR team.”
You may be wondering what’s in store for PMR and its cars now the season is over. It certainly doesn’t involve having a rest, with ‘behind the scenes’ work already beginning in preparation for 2019’s competition! In forthcoming issues of Performance
Vauxhall, we’ll bring you news of what’s happening during the ‘off season’. Subscribe to the mag and never miss out on an update.
Josh’s efforts in the final race of the season are already the stuff of legend