BTCC heads north
Indie Ingram leads the charge as Britain’s biggest motor racing series blasts on to Oulton Park
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship travels northward to Cheshire’s Oulton Park next weekend (20/21 May) for Rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the season. The UK’s biggest motor sport series is set to blast around the picturesque circuit in front of what is always one of the biggest crowds of the year, with in excess of 40,000 fans flocking to soak in the festival-like atmosphere.
The 2017 BTCC campaign is already well underway, with each of the three weekends so far throwing up the first-class, highly competitive, unpredictable racing that the championship is renowned for, where any number of the 32-strong field have a very real chance of making the rostrum. The first nine rounds have produced seven different victors and six different marques have already been represented on the podium – Honda, BMW, Subaru, Toyota, Vauxhall and Mercedes have all adorned the laurels.
A record crowd last time out at Thruxton in Hampshire saw Tom Ingram extend his championship lead, though two decorated factory drivers in Honda’s reigning champion Gordon Shedden and double champion, BMW’s Colin Turkington, are breathing right down the neck of the Independents’ flag-bearer. Speedworks Motorsport’s Ingram will head to Oulton, the team’s back yard, top of the tree and can surely count on strong local backing.
Oulton Park is a favourite for families and campers, with thousands packing the surrounding fields ready to cheer on their favourite drivers, teams and local heroes, and there’s always a unique feel when the BTCC comes to town. Once again, as per every BTCC event, ITV4 will be covering all of the unmissable action live.
Sunday at Thruxton proved to be an historic day for the championship as triple champion Matt Neal marked a major milestone in his career, matching touring car legend Andy Rouse’s tally of 60 BTCC victories – drawing him level-second on the all-time winners’ list.
“I hadn’t given much thought to equalling Andy’s win tally, to be honest,” said Neal. “We all thought that record was unachievable and even though Jason [Plato] exceeded it, I never thought I would get there – it’s just unbelievable.
“Yes, there are a lot more races in the season now, but it’s tough out there. To have left Hampshire with a Halfords Yuasa Racing one-two and a Honda podium lockout on home soil was a dream – a fabulous result.”
Rob Collard finally broke his Thruxton silverware duck after flying off the line at lights out in his typical style, past a clutch of others and into second early on. An issue for Neal up front meant that victory would be Collard’s if he could hold off the sister Honda of defending champion Gordon Shedden, and the Hampshireman came up with the goods for a first win on home soil and a first win of 2017 in what looks like potent machinery.
The BMW 125i M Sport traditionally goes well in Cheshire with four wins in the last five years, only one fewer than Oulton kings Honda over the last 15 rounds there. With manufacturer backing from the giant Bavarian automaker this year, Team BMW will be a force to be reckoned with once again next weekend.
Further history was made in the final encounter of the day at Thruxton, as Collard’s team-mate Colin Turkington made it cause for a double celebration for BMW, claiming its 100th victory in Britain’s premier motor sport championship.
“I wasn’t that confident before the race because we had been chasing the set-up all day, but the guys never let up which moved the car in a new direction – and the pace was there for all to see,” said Turkington.
“To achieve BMW’s 100th win in the BTCC is a very special feeling for me. I grew up watching the likes of Smokin’ Jo Winkelhock and Tim Harvey, so to continue the history of this iconic brand means a lot to me.”
Dick Bennetts, West Surrey Racing and Team BMW Team Principal, said: “We are immensely proud to have scored BMW’s 100th win in the British Touring Car Championship. We’ve run BMWs since 2007 and they’ve been a fantastic partner throughout that time.”
Oulton Park last year also provided a significant milestone – that of Subaru’s very first pole position and its maiden win in the championship.
This year though, on current form, a Subaru victory may be harder to come by although by no means out of the question. Of its quartet of drivers, Jason Plato, James Cole, rookie Josh Price and Ash Sutton, it’s the latter that has led the charge throughout a challenging opening few rounds for the Japanese marque.
Sutton has scored a brace of podium finishes but his three team-mates have consistently struggled to break into the points – including double BTCC champion and the series’ most successful driver Plato. That said, Oulton Park’s stops and starts could suit the rear-wheel drive nature of the outfit’s Levorg GT.
Oulton and its local surroundings are a hotbed for BTCC talent and a number of teams and drivers call the circuit home. Speedworks Motorsport heads to Cheshire and the fourth weekend on the calendar with driver Tom Ingram topping the overall Drivers’ championship.
A solid points haul, including two impressive podiums with a ballast-laden Toyota Avensis, ensured he would extend his lead in the running – something he hadn’t banked on doing ahead of Thruxton. The target at Oulton is another haul of points in a bid to retain his advantage at the standings summit.
“To come away from Thruxton having extended our points lead is incredible,” said Ingram. “We never expected to do quite so well given the ballast on board but it just goes to show once again what an awesome job Speedworks are doing. It’s hard to believe what we’ve managed to do over the first three events this season – it’s amazing.
“The odds will be stacked against us again with the weight we’ve got to carry and the nature of Oulton Park as more of a rear-wheel drive circuit. The price you pay for success in the BTCC is that added ballast, and we have proven so far that the Toyota can carry it fairly well so, a good points score across the board is what we’ve got to look for.
“I love the track, it’s a blast. It’s where I took my first pole in cars, so I’ve got some good memories of racing there. Then there’s the fact we’re on home turf. Speedworks is based just around the corner, so it would be nice to have a strong weekend in our own back yard and come away with our championship lead intact.”
Ciceley Motorsport hails from Preston, Lancashire and backs the Mercedes-Benz A-Class of Adam Morgan – himself a local driver and a multiple visitor to the podium this year. Both team and driver will be aiming to consolidate their title tilts in both the overall Drivers’ standings and the Independents’ running next weekend.
Ciceley also backs Laser Tools Racing and young-gun Aiden Moffat. The Scot secured a maiden victory in the championship back at Donington Park and typically tenacious racing has seen him take up a top ten spot in the overall table – an encouraging start to the season.
Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s James Cole is from Liverpool. Both he and his team will be looking for an upturn in form after a difficult opening third of the campaign.
Timetable and tickets
All three BTCC races on Sunday, 21 May – and many of the day’s other races – will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4. Those in attendance at the circuit can stay in touch with the commentary and live timing from every session, available at btcc.net/live throughout the weekend.
The support series on the TOCA package are also guaranteed to thrill with a double digit total of races set to entertain the crowds. Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Renault UK Clio Cup, MSA Formula Championship and the Ginetta championships will all be in attendance in Cheshire, making for a weekend of truly unmissable racing.
Discounted advance tickets are on sale online from just £27 for Sunday, 21 May and they are available on the gate at £15 for Saturday, 20 May, with weekend tickets including a Paddock Pass available for just £35.
They can be purchased online at www.oultonpark.co.uk, by calling 0843 453 9000 or from the ticket office. Accompanied children aged 13 and under are admitted free.