The British Touring Car Championship reaches its half way mark this weekend at Oulton Park with leader Colin Turkington sights set on staying in top spot for the summer break.
So far so good for Colin Turkington in this year’s British Touring Car Championship. His trademark consistency of scoring good points in every race has once again taken him to the top of the class as the Championship hits its half way mark at Oulton Park this weekend, June 29 &30.
“Next we go to Oulton Park, where we’ve had some great results in the past, and even though I’ll have maximum success ballast, the aim will be to continue scoring big points,” says Turkington who scored his only race win of last season at the Cheshire circuit. “Going there as championship leader obviously presents its own challenges because unfortunately, Oulton is one of the most difficult tracks to carry weight at with several uphill exits from slow-speed corners. Qualifying won’t be easy on maximum ballast but I’m confident we’ll still be able to race well, convert opportunities and score some good points.”
The new for this season BMW 330i M Sport that Turkington drives for West Surrey Racing Team BMW has proved to be the class of the field but it could present Turkington with his biggest problem in winning Britain’s premier racing championship for a fourth time as well.
While Turkington has won twice, stablemate Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek backed BMW has taken the chequered flag five times in the 12 rounds held so far. A heavy shunt the opening lap of the first race at Donington Park eliminated Jordan from scoring any points that weekend. So, while Turkington has an 11 point lead in the Championship established through consistent scoring, Jordan is fast closing the gap and the second half of the season is shaping up for a mighty battle between the West Surrey team mates.
The last round of the championship two weeks ago at Croft provided a preview of the close racing that lies ahead.
Free practice on Saturday morning went according to plan with Turkington and his West Surrey Racing BMW team mates, Andrew Jordan and Tom Oliphant at the fast end of the timesheets. This was despite the imposition of a 0.02 bar reduction of their BMW’s turbo boost losing them about 5bhp, the result of an in-season turbo boost review that allows championship organisers to ‘adjust’ performance for closer racing.
Saturday afternoon qualifying ran under the threat of rain and Turkington, carrying maximum success ballast as championship leader, put in an early banker lap before the session was stopped with the first of five red flags, more than any previous BTCC qualifying session. Most serious of the stoppages was to clear away Rory Butcher’s Honda after the joint championship leader slid into the barriers, caught out by a shower of rain at the chicane before he had even set a time, and so consigning him to the back of the grid. There was more drama when Andrew Jordan took pole only to go off when a tyre punctured bringing out the red flag for the final time. Regulations state that any driver causing qualifying to be stopped loses their fastest time. Fortunately, Jordan also held the second and third fastest times so retaining his pole position, the seventh of his career and first for WSR and BMW. Turkington’s earlier time was good enough for fourth fastest.
But the star of qualifying was another Northern Irish driver, Chris Smiley, joining Jordan on the front row just 0.148s slower than the polesitter in his BTC Racing Honda Civic. Equalling his best ever BTCC grid position Smiley was “over the moon” and put his speed down to changes in the car made at a recent Donington test session. “At the start of the season we were fast on and off – we weren’t fast consistently but last week we found a thing with the car that gives us that consistency. If it’s dry our race pace is really strong. But if it rains it’s an unknown for everyone.”
And, as Smiley had predicted, race day did become an unknown. A damp, greasy track made for tip-toe twitchy opening laps with the opening race one order matching the starting grid. BMW led Honda with Jordan heading Smiley, then Tom Chilton’s Ford Focus ahead of the BMW’s of Turkington and Oliphant with another Honda, Dan Cammish 6th.
The front wheel drives had the advantage in the opening sector of the newly resurfaced Croft track but round the back the rear wheel drive BMW’s were faster and Jordan stretched his lead to 2s while Turkington who set a fastest time on lap 3 pressed Chilton and Smiley hard to find a way past.
The safety car brought a truce to racing on lap 7 when Rob Collard took himself off and damaged his suspension but not before Oliphant had a go at passing Turkington into the complex. The BMW team leader quickly put his junior partner back in his place at the hairpin before falling into line behind the safety car.
Racing resumed at the end of lap 12 with the order staying the same till the chequered flag 6 laps later. Everyone reported ‘scary moments’ and were generally satisfied to finish unscathed. “Hard work” and being “careful where it was wet” was Andrew Jordan’s description of his 4th win of the season while Chris Smiley was delighted to get some points on the board “to finally prove the pace that they had previously shown,” and for championship leader Turkington finishing 4th, “the priority was to get the car home.”
By the time the Touring Cars took the track again, the sun was shining and the track was dry. Race two started with the grid as per the finishing order of race 1 and again it was Jordan’s BMW that led the way from Smiley’s Honda. But behind, Turkington’s good start took him past Tom Chilton as they entered the first corner, Clervaux. Oliphant tried to follow his teammate but tangled with Chilton through Hawthorn eventually spinning off at the chicane. As Jordan extended his lead Turkington couldn’t find a way past his fellow countryman Smiley and for the next laps the championship leader was as likely to drop behind a hard charging Cammish into 4th as he was to take Smiley for 2nd.
On lap 5 Turkington eventually passed the Honda and set about chasing Jordan’s sister BMW establishing a new lap record of 1.22.063 in the process. Cammish soon found a way past Smiley too thus settling the podium positions. By lap 12 Smiley had also been passed by Cammish’s teammate Matt Neal and was caught in a dice with Ash Sutton’s Subaru for 5th.
The Subaru had the upper hand through the complex and hairpin at the end of the lap with the Honda’s superior straight line speed giving Smiley the advantage on the start-finish straight and for the rest of the lap. The pattern was repeated until the last lap when Sutton tried just too hard at the complex punting off the enraged Smiley (below) who scrambled back to finish all but last with Sutton being allowed to keep his 5th place, though getting a 5- place grid penalty for the final race of the day.
A delighted Jordan took his second double win of the season; he had won the first two races at the last meeting at Thruxton; while ‘King of Croft’ Turkington set a new lap record and further extended his championship lead seemingly content at “scoring points and keeping the car to the front end of the grid.”
As if the lottery of the reversed grid final race decided by pulling a numbered ball from a bag wasn’t enough, the weather added further to the uncertainty with a heavy fall of rain leaving standing water on a drying track giving drivers a difficult choice between wet and dry tyres.
Of the front runners only Toyota’s Tom Ingram fitted slicks hoping to survive the early laps before they should, in theory, give him the advantage on a drying track. Off the line he was gobbled up by the wet shod runners as Chilton lead from Josh Cook’s Honda and the Vauxhall of Jason Plato. Next was the first rear wheel drive car, Jordan’s BMW who had made up 4 places from his starting position, followed by Neal, Turkington, Cammish and Sutton. Ingram had dropped from 3rd on the grid to 23rd.
With so little grip a coming together was inevitable and it was the unfortunate Chris Smiley starting right at the back after his collision with Sutton in race 2 and with nothing to lose on slicks who took out the similarly slick tyred Jack Goff at the complex.
As the leading three squabbled among themselves the one person making progress was Ash Sutton and his Subaru who in eight laps made up four places successively passing Cammish, Turkington, Jordan and Neal all at the hairpin for 4th. Turkington was also pressing Jordan hard for sixth and eventually on the last lap made a move stick which dropped Jordan to 8th with the hard charging Rory Butcher slipping through as well.
At the finish it was Chilton who led home from Cook and Plato with Sutton and Neal 4th and 5th. The honour of fastest lap went to Ingram whose dry tyre gamble finally came good on the last lap but not soon enough leaving him 16th at the finish.
“It’s been a hard weekend of tough battles and intense racing but also a great weekend!” concluded championship leader Colin Turkington. “The aim is always to score well in all three races and we did just that. I felt fast in every race and although I had the legs on the guys in front at times, you have to be patient at times and wait for the right opportunity. There’s still a long season to come so I don’t look too much at the leader board, but for sure I’m happy to have those 143 points tucked away.”
In other races in the TOCA package at Croft Dan Harper consolidated his lead in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB with another win while Naas driver Karl Leonard became the first Pro Am driver to win a Porsche Cup Championship round. (see the full stories elsewhere on this website). Also 2nd and 4th places were enough for Jack Young to retain his lead of the Renault UK Clio Cup.
Now to this weekend’s racing at Oulton Park where once again all three Northern Ireland drivers will start the weekend leading their respective championships.