Rollercoaster ride to roar into Donington Park
Britain’s premier motor sport series ready for a party in the Park
The 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will speed into Donington Park for high-octane thrills ‘n’ spills next weekend (16/17 April).
A record-breaking 32 cars took to the starting grid at Brands Hatch for the recent season-opener, delivering three breathless races around the short Indy loop that augured well for an exciting campaign ahead. Indeed, with the introduction of new technical components and teams still getting to grips with their 2016 cars, the form guide has been thrown out of the window this year – meaning fans are in for a real treat.
The eagerly-anticipated arrival of Subaru means the field features no fewer than 11 marques, and the fact that three different cars – run by three different teams – took the chequered flag first at Brands Hatch serves to underscore the unpredictable nature of this season’s contest.
All the action is broadcast live and extensively throughout the UK on the free-to-air ITV4 channel, meaning whether you are in the grandstand, on the spectator banks or relaxing in the comfort of your own armchair in front of the box, you won’t miss a moment of the drama – and make no mistake, drama is guaranteed!
Talking point: Who will take the fight to Honda?
Halfords Yuasa Racing duo Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal starred at Brands Hatch, with the former winning race two and the latter leaving the Kent circuit at the top of the points table as they proved the potential of the newly-liveried Honda Civic Type R.
That means the experienced team-mates – who count five Drivers’ titles between them – head to Donington in the pound seats, but they will need to work harder than ever in qualifying and the first race by having to carry significant success ballast. That offers their rivals the perfect opportunity to pounce – and there is no shortage of pretenders snapping at their heels.
West Surrey Racing’s trio of rear-wheel drive BMWs all enjoyed their time in the spotlight at Brands, with Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff both reaching the rostrum in race three and Rob Collard vying for the lead following a meteoric getaway in race two before contact scuppered his charge. Both Tordoff and Collard are former winners in Leicestershire, and are sure to be in the thick of it again next weekend.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Kent curtain-raiser was the pace and performance of MG Racing RCIB Insurance young guns Ashley Sutton and Josh Cook. Both ran at the front throughout and Sutton in particular caught the eye, as he rapidly finds his feet in the BTCC after lifting the Renault UK Clio Cup laurels last year. The rookie similarly turned heads at the Season Launch at Donington by nearly topping the timesheets at the end of the afternoon test, so he clearly knows his way around the Midlands circuit.
Having been the BTCC benchmark over the second half of 2015, Motorbase Performance’s Brands Hatch weekend was a slightly subdued affair, but the Ford Focuses of 2013 champion Andrew Jordan and team-mate Mat Jackson worked their way progressively up the order and indulged in a fair bit of entertaining internecine tussles. Both men are more than capable of opening their 2016 victory account at Donington.
There was joy for Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport at Brands Hatch as they celebrated their maiden BTCC triumph in the opener, with the Toyota driver controlling the pace from the front. Following incidents in races two and three, the 22-year-old will be light on ballast going into Donington’s qualifying session, making him a contender for a second consecutive pole position.
On the subject of dark horses, another Independent outfit to shine at Brands Hatch was WIX Racing, with Adam Morgan staving off a two-pronged BMW assault for race three glory. Aron Smith also enjoyed a strong weekend behind the wheel of the Volkswagen CC, stealing a podium finish for new entrant BKR less than two weeks after the team’s announcement that it would be joining the fray. The Irishman made headlines at Donington last year with a lively scrap for the lead with Cook, so he will undoubtedly be one to watch again 12 months on.
And what, finally, of former multiple champions Jason Plato and Colin Turkington? Having barely turned a wheel before heading out in practice at Brands Hatch, the Silverline Subaru BMR Racing Levorg GTs inevitably took some time to get up-to-speed, but progress was palpable over the course of the weekend, with Turkington very nearly cracking the top ten in qualifying and both he and Plato scoring points on race day. The team has been working feverishly ever since to further fettle and fine-tune the rear-wheel drive machines, so don’t discount them from contention at Donington.
Local Heroes: Neal returns to happy hunting ground
Hailing from Stourbridge, Matt Neal counts Donington Park as his home circuit and it is a venue that holds happy memories for him – never more so than in 1999, when he became the first Independent driver in the modern era to win a BTCC race outright, receiving a £250,000 cheque for his troubles. Now in his 26th campaign in the series, the 49-year-old remains at the top of his game, and he heads to Leicestershire as the man that everybody else is chasing.
Fellow title-winner Andrew Jordan (Lichfield) is similarly a Donington ‘local’, and as he continues to gel with Motorbase Performance’s Ford Focus – sporting a striking Pirtek Racing livery – the 2013 champion is sure to be right up at the sharp end this weekend.
MG can also consider Donington as its home event with the British manufacturer based in nearby Longbridge. New MG signing Josh Cook led last year in a Chevrolet until contact with Aron Smith sent them both skating wildly across the grass at the Craner Curves.
Eurotech Racing is another local entrant, fielding Honda Civic Type Rs for Jeff Smith and Martin Depper, whilst Sutton Coldfield’s Stewart Lines will be aiming to bounce back from a challenging season-opener as he eyes his first career points in his Maximum Motorsport Ford Focus.
Timetable and tickets
The second race day of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship takes place on Sunday 17 April, with all three BTCC encounters – and many of the day’s other races – 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 on the btcc.net Live Zone throughout the weekend.
In addition to the BTCC, the support series on the TOCA package are set to bring even more action to Donington Park. Sportscar racing fans will get their fix with races from the Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup and Simpson Race Products Ginetta Junior Championship. The Renault UK Clio Cup – often seen as a stepping-stone to reaching the BTCC – will also feature on the huge bill of British racing, as will the MSA Formula Championship, the single-seater launchpad for the next generation of aspiring Formula One world champions.
Tickets for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s annual visit to Donington Park on 16/17 April are available in advance from just £11.25, with free entry for children aged 13 and under. For more information, visit www.donington-park.co.uk. All admission includes access to Sunday morning’s 09:15am autograph session with the BTCC drivers in the pit lane (limited spaces) and the racing paddocks, as well as free parking and giant TV screens on Sunday. Racing starts at 10:05am on Sunday with the final BTCC showdown scheduled for 17:15pm.