Emotional BTCC title for Turkington
The Team Dynamics Civics showed pace and poise around Brands Hatch, but the championship was decided at the tail end…
Never has a 22nd-place finish caused so much emotion. But, after the finish of the second race at Brands Hatch last weekend, it was a snapshot of the rollercoaster ride Colin Turkington has endured on his way to sealing a third British Touring Car Championship crown.
The WSR BMW 125i M Sport driver had come to Kent with it all to lose. He had a 34-point buffer, which he extended to 36 before race two after claiming 12th spot in the opener with a full complement of 75kg of success ballast. That came as a bonus in that Turkington finished ahead of his main title rival, Tom Ingram, who had also struggled with the 66kg of extra lead installed within the passenger footwell of his Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis.
Race two was the crunch point, and Turkington was doing enough to seal the title. He was 11th in the pack, but was beginning to feel the heat because those around him were scrambling to make their way into the top 10.
It came to a head at the top of Paddock Hill Bend on lap 13 when Turkington went for the inside of Dan Lloyd’s BTC Norlin Honda Civic Type R and the two collided. Turkington skittered into the gravel, but had enough momentum to crawl his way out of the other side. He returned to action dead last, and that is where he finished.
“At that point I was making a plan, trying to work out what I had to do in race three – I knew it would be tough from there,” said Turkington. “I was in shock when my engineer Kevin Berry came on the radio to tell me that I had done enough [to win the title]. I couldn’t believe it.”
It was enough because Ingram came up just slightly short of keeping himself in the hunt going into the last race of the weekend.
Ingram started off promisingly, blasting up the order from 14th in a car shorn of its success ballast. It took him nine laps to slice into fourth place, and he was right on the bootlid of third-placed Andrew Jordan’s
WSR BMW. But he needed more. Finishing fourth would mean being 23 points behind Turkington – and that would leave Ingram, a three-time race winner in 2018, out of the hunt even though the points leader wasn’t likely to score.
Try as Ingram might, he could not unpick Jordan’s determined grasp on third place. Turkington got the radio message to confirm his third crown on the slowingdown lap – but Ingram had received his own message a few moments earlier.
“Spencer [Aldridge] came on the radio and told me that Colin was out of the points and we needed to be looking at second or third to keep the title alive,” said Ingram. “For me, that was where I was aiming to get to anyway. We were hopeful that we could have got a little bit higher, and we were maximum attack.
“With five laps to go, I had no brakes, no tyres, everything was gone. It was hard because at that point I needed something to attack with and I had nothing. I could have gone for something desperate and fired Jordan off or spun him around, but I would have taken absolutely zero gratification in doing that because we would have done it by cheating.
“When I went across the line, I asked, ‘Is it over, is that it, is it gone?’ And Spencer said yes. My world sunk at that point. I went and had a little cry in the truck and had five minutes to myself. It’s hard to take, but we can’t look back at anything and think we should have done it differently.”
Turkington was drained of all emotion after the second event and limped to 23rd in race three, an event in which he didn’t really want to take part. Ingram had to regroup and battle to fifth place in the finale to help Speedworks to the Independent Teams Championship, having already taken the Independent Drivers silverware.
Those were the championship players in a weekend where the BTCC once again delivered some excellent racing, and there were plenty of other subplots that kept the crowd entertained throughout.
The biggest winner was Dan Cammish in the Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R. The rookie, who stepped into Gordon Shedden’s shoes at the beginning of 2018, has been promising a breakthrough all season but had been forced to wait.
Qualifying on the front row with no success ballast was the launchpad for his weekend, and then he overcame pole winner Brett Smith after one lap. He dominated the race and wasn’t headed again until the third encounter of the weekend.
He secured his back-to-back wins – the second with 75kg of ballast – in front of team-mate Matt Neal, and showed the prowess of the Civic chassis on the fast sweepers around the back of the circuit.
“It’s a mark of the progress we have made over the course of the year,” said Cammish. “The work that the team has put in is incredible, and this is still a new car for us. This is a huge motivation for me going into the off-season.”
His smile after race two took a while to manifest itself. Officials had deemed that his start was slightly out of position and initially penalised the Yorkshireman 30 seconds. Cammish was summoned to explain himself to the stewards, wherein he successfully argued his case. For a man who has had many kicks in the teeth this season, it was a refreshing change.
Neal had come into the meeting in the top 10 of the championship and therefore had 15kg of ballast, and there was no way he was going to try anything risky to usurp Cammish once the sister car was in front. But this was the strongest weekend yet for the new FK8 Civic and bodes well should either of them be in the championship showdown next season…
It was fitting that the third race of the day at Brands Hatch allowed outgoing champion Ash Sutton to show that he is still among the best drivers on the entry list.
It had already been a dramatic weekend for the Team BMR Subaru man. He had been on the pace since the beginning of practice, but had a huge scare in the second session with a heavy crash at Paddock Hill Bend with only a couple of moments left.
Sutton had been asked to change the map on the engine as he crossed the line to begin another lap. When he got to the top of Paddock, the throttle stuck open and the Subaru took a one-way trip to the barriers.
The car was repaired just in time for him to qualify 10th, and Sutton took 39kg and soft tyres in race one, where he was tipped off the track before he began his charge. He was eighth in race two and was then drawn on row two for the finale, which was the only incentive he needed.
Despite bogging down away from the start, he climbed up to second place by lap seven of the reversed-grid encounter. There was only one car to peg back: the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra of his former team-mate and very good friend Josh Cook.
The two began what quickly developed into a BTCC epic, as time and again Sutton pulled alongside, only to be rebuffed. Cook was stern in his defence and looked like he had done enough in a truly absorbing battle. But there was a sting in the tail.
“We know each other’s style very well,” said Sutton. “Every time I played a card to try and get ahead of him, he played a better one and stayed in front. I was laughing and smiling in the car.
“On the final lap, Josh did exactly what you would expect him to do: he slowed the car right down on the apex at Clearways and I had no choice but to look to the outside. You do get a bit of side-draft in the cars like you see in NASCAR, and I was using that to give me extra push towards the line.”
It worked, by just 0.032s, even though Sutton wasn’t aware until it was confirmed to him on the radio on the slowing-down lap. Cook, for his part, was pragmatic about the defeat, preferring to dwell on what had been a spellbinding race.
“I have never pushed the throttle pedal as hard as I did on the run to the line – at one point, I think I had both feet on it!” he joked. “My car was a little tail-happy and I was struggling. There was a bit of contact, but Ash was just letting me know he was still there. There was nothing nasty in it.”
Rob Austin’s HMS Alfa Romeo Giulietta had held the lead at the start of the reversed-grid race in what was a solid weekend for the Italian hatchback. Austin had lined up in 14th and driven to 15th in race one, but the favourable softer rubber helped him to ninth in race two, and a front-row start for the finale.
He headed Cook initially before understeer left him unable to hang on to his advantage, although he did bring the Alfa home in third.
Smith’s Eurotech Honda had taken a rostrum finish in the opening race with a mature performance that showed how much he has developed over the season, and he did not overreact when the flying Team Dynamics duo battled ahead of him. That result was achieved on the preferable softer tyres and with no weight. When the other handicaps were applied, he was 11th and 16th, but he had made a good impression.
The final podium finisher was Jordan, who had come into the weekend with high hopes of landing a top-three position in the championship. He had arrived at Brands with weight, lined up 12th for race one and finished eighth – one of the few to make progress with the extra lead in the car and with the normal tyres.
Once the softs were bolted on, Jordan flew in race two and rocketed from row four to fourth at the start. He then climbed further when the engine went on second-placed
Jack Goff’s Eurotech Honda. Jordan was ninth in the finale, and was left ruing what might have been from 2019 – although he had already done the perfect job for his team by resisting everything that Ingram had thrown at him in race two to assist Turkington’s path to title glory.
Jordan was – along with Rob and Ricky Collard – part of the crew that helped
BMW to the manufacturers’ title and WSR to the teams’ championship. After a contest that had been as competitive as any in recent years, that is to their huge credit.
Cammish leads. He took two wins to deliver on potential
Ingram fought hard but came up short in the second race
Duel between Sutton and Cook was a race-three highlight
Turkington’s gravel trip in race two consigned him to last place