Moonlighting! ITV’s David Addison looks ahead to Oulton Park
Forgive me if I get more nostalgic than normal here but Oulton Park is next for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, and for me, Oulton is where the motor racing bug bit.
I was five, it was noisy, and I was grumpy. I remember walking over the old Eagle Star footbridge at Deer Leap as a grid of loud, modified sports cars accelerated away.
I mention this because, a few months later at the start of 1978, I was back, less grumpy, and captivated by my first look at what was then the Tricentrol British Saloon Car Championship. There were four classes based on engine size and they were split so that the bigger two got a race and the baby classes did battle separately. There were these wailing Ford Capris with the likes of Gordon Spice and Stuart Graham up front.
I was there in 1985 when Andy Rouse debuted his Ford Merkur, the American-marketed car rebadged as an XR4Ti. He took the lead after Brian Chatfield’s Ford Capri faded, the last time I can recall a Capri leading a BTCC round. It was later thrown out for being as bent as a coat hanger.
I stood at Clay Hill watching Rouse and the pack in their Ford Sierra Cosworths, the ill-fated Super Touring-spec Sapphire and, and, and…
The Ford story in the BTCC is a long one and could perhaps have another successful chapter in the offing, as the Motorbase Performance-run Ford Focus RS trio is due a win. They have shown pace this year, although stymied thanks to bad luck or niggling problems depending upon your point of view. Motorbase can win, should win more arguably, and the new Focus fleet should be up front at Oulton this weekend. James Cole’s at his local circuit and, having returned to David Bartrum’s team, is displaying good race craft, so should be in the mix.
Having Ford on the grid, as a mainstay of the BTCC’s heritage, is a good thing. It is one of the most recognisable car brands, it has a long and successful history in the series and many of the Blue Oval’s products carry fans to the circuit. It is a people’s car irrespective of whether it has the performance RS badge on or not.
The trouble for Bartrum and his team is that the opposition is at a very strong level. It has certainly been an intriguing start to the season and while much has been said on ITV’s coverage (I hear it’s very good, by the way) about the changing of the guard in terms of drivers, the same is true of teams isn’t it? Ciceley Motorsport, Speedworks Motorsport, Power Maxed TAG Racing are all currently showing Team Dynamics, West Surrey Racing, BMR and Motorbase the way. Just as the list of drivers at the pointy end is a different one this season, so are the teams that they represent. That, surely, shows that plugging away and learning pays dividends, whether you are a driver or team.
I am not suggesting that will be the way it will go all season, but nine faces in, the rest are already playing catch-up, to an extent. Winning a championship requires a good points haul each time out. Small wonder that Sam Tordoff was pleased to have finally garnered points at Thruxton.
A Ford win at Oulton? Possibly. It is hard to overtake around the narrow, technical circuit, so a good qualifying session is important, but so too is survival. The hairpin at Island Bend and that frustrating chicane at Hislop’s are pinch-points, and with 32 cars on track it will be busy. It will be a crucial and fascinating 30-minute qualifying session and that point for pole may well be crucial come the end of the season.
Get it wrong this weekend and it may not just be five-year-olds in a grump!