Rockingham is renowned for producing pivotal moments in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, and there is every chance it could do so again when the UK’s premier motor racing series comes to town next weekend (27/28 August). The Northamptonshire circuit often plays host to BTCC’s very own ‘moving day’ as drivers jostle for position in the table ahead of the championship’s final stretch at Silverstone and Brands Hatch respectively. In 2013 triple champion Matt Neal went from first to fourth in the standings after a dismal day at Rockingham, whilst Andrew Jordan took over at the top on his way to a maiden title.
A year later and it was Honda’s challenge that faltered again with Neal’s slim championship chances evaporating completely while team-mate Gordon Shedden also saw his hopes dashed. Colin Turkington consolidated his points lead on the day, with the Ulsterman eventually going on to claim his second championship. Shedden has better memories of Rockingham from last season, however, as he leapfrogged Team BMR’s Jason Plato at the standings summit – the Scotsman would maintain that position until securing a second title for Honda. Moving on to this season and the series already boasts eleven different race winners in a hugely exciting and open campaign – representing a record seven different marques – with around a dozen drivers arguably still in championship contention. Just 61 points currently separate the top nine racers, and with over 200 still on offer in the final three events, it’s all still to play for. The most coveted prize in British motor sport will not be won at Rockingham next weekend, but it remains a place where hopes can be further fuelled or extinguished. The stars and cars of the BTCC will be out in full force in front of a huge crowd around the 1.94-mile circuit, with the big guns hoping their particular title aspirations remain intact.
Story so far: Sam Tordoff’s title tilt
West Surrey Racing’s Sam Tordoff is contesting his fourth full season in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and the multiple race-winner is mounting his biggest title challenge yet. The Yorkshireman scored victories in each of his first two years with the manufacturer-backed MG squad, before his switch to BMW machinery in 2015. Further successes followed in his maiden campaign with WSR, but his speed and consistency during the 2016 season so far sees the talented young man hold a nine-point lead in the current standings. A stellar afternoon at Oulton Park in June cemented Tordoff’s championship challenging credentials, with a win and two-second place finishes moving the Team JCT600 with GardX driver to the summit. Tordoff has remained in the top two ever since, with a strong outing at Knockhill last time out handing him an extended advantage over Matt Neal and his WSR team-mate Rob Collard.
“We’ve had a good run but I’m sure Rockingham will be an extremely tough challenge,” said Tordoff. “It was important that we took points at the circuits which really suited the BMW, which we did, and next weekend will be no different in terms of our approach. We need to just keep scoring points consistently as that’s what winning championships is all about. We’re fast, the car’s good and we’re good on weight. I’m feeling strong but there’s a long way to go.”
If Tordoff is to win a first BTCC title then he will have to hold off Collard’s challenge from within his own team, whilst Halfords Yuasa Racing remains ever-strong through Neal and Gordon Shedden.
The Motorbase Performance Fords of Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan are also among the contenders, as are Subaru’s super duo of Colin Turkington and Jason Plato, plus a host of others.
Talking point: Hard knocks
The Dunlop SportMaxx Hard tyre will be used at Rockingham for the first time next weekend after the BTCC’s title sponsor and official tyre supplier announced new choices earlier this year.
“We have decided to widen its use to other circuits,” confirmed Michael Butler, Dunlop Motorsport UK Events Manager. After extensively testing the latest Sport Maxx Hard version last year, the feedback and data showed that this tyre, which was designed for the extreme demands of Thruxton, could be the optimum choice at other circuits with high-speed corners.”
A similar switch was made at Croft earlier in the year, which means that all teams will still have to use the Dunlop Sport Maxx ‘Medium’ tyre in two of the three races, but will have to nominate the ‘Hard’ tyre for one of the contests. For the last two years, the teams have had to nominate the ‘Soft’ for one of the three races at Rockingham, and while the rules naturally remain the same for all competitors it does throw another unknown factor into the mix at this critical time of the season.
“The BTCC season involves a varied mix of circuits, cars and temperatures and our goal is always to pick two tyres from the menu that can perform strongly over a race distance,” concluded Butler. “This change will also provide us with more feedback that will help us decide on tyre selection for 2017 and beyond.”
Timetable and Tickets
Three BTCC races will take place on Sunday, with the entire day broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4.
In addition to the three highly-charged BTCC showdowns, there will be qualifying and racing from the Renault UK Clio Cup, MSA Formula Championship, Simpson Race Products Ginetta Junior Championship and Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup.
Advance tickets can be booked online at www.rockingham.co.uk or via the hotline on 01536 500500 (option 1), until midday on Friday 26 August. Weekend passes cost £38, Sunday race day tickets are £30 and Saturday entry price is just £12.50.
Rockingham prides itself on providing access to all motorsport fans, and those who are registered disabled can apply for a complimentary admission ticket for their carer, while children aged 15 and under get in FREE.
As always at Rockingham all tickets include access to a grandstand seat offering panoramic views of the entire circuit, the pit garage roof and race paddock, which means there are no hidden costs. Gates open at 08:00 on both days.
Click here for a full event timetable.