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BTCC Thruxton Review- with Stephen Lynas

Colin Turkington is back in the lead of the British Touring Car Championship scoring three top ten finishes in last weekend’s races at Thruxton on 18 & 19 May.

Fourth, second and ninth place finishes were enough to put BMW driver Turkington at the top of the drivers’ championship table equal on points with Rory Butcher’s Honda and two points ahead of Josh Cook in another Honda. Cook’s teammate Chris Smiley also scored championship points in all three rounds helping Honda to top the manufacturer’s championship.

Northern Ireland’s two representatives in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) arrived for rounds 7, 8 and 9 at the first Thruxton weekend; the series returns here in August; with good reason to be in confident mood. Colin Turkington and his West Surrey Racing Team BMW 3 Series had been fasted in qualifying and won two races at the last championship weekend at Donington three weeks ago while Chris Smiley and his BTC Racing Honda Civic had been second fastest in the BTCC pre-season test at Thruxton in April.

Turkington’s confidence was justified with his early qualifying pace leading a BMW 1-2-3 at the top of the time sheets and Smiley setting 7th fastest time.  Then in the final minutes BMW teammate Andrew Jordan took provisional pole by 0.006s and as Turkington and the Hondas of Dan Cammish and Sam Tordoff took to the track for their final runs, the red flag stopped the session to clear an accident involving Tom Chilton and Mark Blundell at the chicane. The clock was reset to 5 mins which allowed for a final pole shoot out with both Hondas setting new qualifying records; Tordoff fastest on 1m 15.511 and Cammish second, with the BMW’s of Jordan and Turkington failing to improve but starting right behind the Hondas on the 2nd row of the grid. Chris Smiley finished 12th sharing the 6th row with teammate Josh Cook.

All cars took to the grid on a warm sunny Sunday with the hardest of Dunlop’s tyre compounds; Thruxton’s high speed and abrasive surface allow for no choice; while Turkington was the only one of the first four starters with success ballast. Off the line it was Tordoff who led into Allard while the superior traction allowed the BMW’s take second and third with Cammish fourth which soon became third as he muscled his way past the ‘heavy’ Turkington through the complex of Campbell, Cobb and Segrave.

Despite high speeds and cold tyres everyone made it round the first lap until the chicane when, in what would prove to be his fate in every race, Chris Smiley was tapped, on this occasion by the Mercedes of Aiden Moffat. That dropped him back to 17th, leaving him in a race long middle order seven car tussle from which he finally emerged 14th.

Meanwhile, back at the front the pace was relentless with the four leaders circulating at around lap record average speed of 110mph with the gaps, not the order, changing slightly as each paced themselves and their cars.

Then on lap 13, Sam Tordoff’s Honda looked unsettled round Church, the fastest corner at the fastest circuit in British motor racing, losing just enough speed to allow Andrew Jordan past before braking for the chicane. To the spectator that seemed to be the race settled but not for a worried Tordoff who’s handling glitch had been caused by a battery fault effecting the power steering and which he thought might become race ending. It didn’t and while a jubilant Jordan took the winner’s flag, Tordoff headed a lunging Cammish over the finish line with Turkington 4th.

A delighted Jordan described his win as the perfect recovery from a heavy accident in the last round at Donington which had hospitalised him and required extensive rebuilding of his Pirtek BMW 330i M Sport. “That’s how you recover from a setback! I feel on top of the world right now. I love Thruxton, I love BMW and I love WSR! Coming into the weekend I felt pretty good physically – but it was more the little voices in my head than anything else. A big accident can do that to you. This was the perfect recovery.”

Race two marked Colin Turkington’s 400th BTCC start. As in race 1 he started 4th on the grid and while he could do nothing about Andrew Jordan taking the lead from pole, he jumped the two slower starting Hondas into second.

That remained the order and despite Jordan putting two wheels on the grass through Church, the two BMW’s built their lead as the Hondas of Tordoff and Cammish squabbled over third.

Meanwhile Chris Smiley was in the wars again at the chicane, this time making contact with Ollie Jackson’s Ford Focus and dropping the Honda driver back to 23rd.  Cue another drive through the field.

Up front Cammish passed Tordoff on lap 5 and set about catching second placed Turkington with a series of fastest laps though his pace slowed a little when he was given a driving standards warning. Turkington in turn looked ready to pounce on any mistake by the leading BMW but, despite the pressure, Jordan looked to have the race under control.

At two thirds distance the flicking of wipers betrayed rain beginning to fall at the back, and the fastest part, of the circuit. Not heavy, but ample to make grip uncertain. That slowed path finder Jordan enough for the three leaders to bunch up to under 1s apart, but all held station to give Jordan his second win of the day, his third of the season and BMW’s fifth out of eight; West Surrey Racing’s best ever start to a BTCC season.

Gaining seven places on the road and finally finishing 15th marked another impressive drive through the pack from Chris Smiley but one he could have done without. “We just need to get further up the grid in qualifying as it gets dicey in the pack when you find yourself in midfield. It’s so tight that it can be hard to make progress but I showed you can overtake and now I just need the rub of the green a little bit. I’m sure my time will come.”

Smiley’s wishes about moving up the grid came true, not for him but his team mate Josh Cook, when the draw for the reverse grid race 3 put him on the front row alongside pole sitter Ash Sutton. Turkington would start 10th one place ahead of Jordan.

Despite the heavy clouds everyone started the final race on slicks. Josh Cook took the lead through the complex and the clear road in front of him was exactly the opposite of what his out of luck teammate Chris Smiley faced as he took to the grass to avoid a spinning Rob Collard, bringing out the safety car and dropping Smiley back down the field just as in races 1 and 2.

Cook led at the restart from Sutton’s Subaru and the hard charging Hondas of Butcher, Tordoff and Neal with next placed Turkington avoiding any drama at the complex as BMW teammate Tom Oliphant, Tom Ingram and Cammish bundled past the three times champion dropping him to ninth.

Smiley was on another charge through the field and was up to 15th and in the points when a second safety car period was required to clear an accident involving former hot rod champion Carl Boardley and the spinning Rob Smith. Again Cook managed the restart to keep the lead, now from Butcher, and again as the packed field entered the complex there was contact with Stephen Jelly tapping Andrew Jordan into a spin which sent the two times race winner to the back.

Over the final six laps Cook, racing on his home circuit, extended his lead over Butcher and set a new lap record of 1m 16.592, just 0.001s faster than Cammish’s earlier mark, taking his second win of the season with Ash Sutton 3rd and Matt Neal 4th. Turkington finished 9th and Smiley completed yet another come back drive to take the flag in 11th.

For reigning BTCC champion Colin Turkington it could not have been a better weekend leaving Thruxton with the championship lead. “This has clearly been an excellent weekend for the team and I’m really pleased for Andrew. It’s been positive all weekend and we’ve taken the maximum from the car when we could. Fourth from Race One, with ballast, was a good result and it put me in a great position for Race Two where I was able to fight with Andrew. I was a bit unlucky in the third race not to finish higher, but I was compromised at the restart. The objective of the weekend was to score big points in three races and we did that, and now we go to Croft where we generally go well.”

Croft on 15-16 June is the next venue for the Touring Cars- a venue where Turkington does go well currently holding both the qualifying and race lap records at the Yorkshire circuit.  Croft will also see the return to the programme of the Renault UK Clio Cup and the Porsche Carrera Cup GB neither of which had races at Thruxton and, remarkably, the weekend will begin with Northern Irish drivers leading all three championships.

Stephen Lynas

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