So, after 21 races, full of thrills and of course, the inevitable spills the BTCC thunders into its Northamptonshire double header starting with rounds 22,23 and 24 at Europe’s fastest motor racing circuit.
It perhaps comes at no surprise, given the level at which the BTCC finds itself in this bumper year that the cream has certainly risen to the top in this years championship, with the top six drivers all past BTCC and indeed WTCC champions. In fact, you have to go all the way down to Tom Ingram in 12th place (still an impressive feat) before you find the first driver without a career win to his name, and judging on performances in the past two seasons, soon Ingram himself could be joining that elite club of drivers.
So what can we expect to happen when the lights go out at Rockingham this weekend? Well, going by 2014’s form at the circuit which saw victories for Turkington and Rob Austin a betting man could throw a punt at either the WSR BMW’s or the Volkswagen of Turkington being well up among the frontrunners. Throw in a reverse grid, the possibility of Rob Austin completing his hat-trick of victories doesn’t seem too far out of the question either given wins for the Audi A4 in both 2013 and 2014.
One certainty that won’t change however is the absence of Andy Priaulx from the grid this weekend. Commitments in the ELMS (for which he is also in championship contention) mean that the IHG Rewards Club BMW will be taken over by WSR veteran Nick Foster. With the team from 2011 – 2014, Foster will be a welcome addition back into the BTCC paddock in the absence of Priaulx.
No doubt this weekend will throw up more questions than answers, especially with Plato, Shedden and Neal being so close together at the top of the table (the famous Plato/Neal fireworks have had a relatively subdued season so far) but here are three big questions we’d love to have answers for this weekend.
How much will Andy Priaulx’s championship charge be affected by missing this weekend?
Just when we thought Priaulx’s season was never going to get going, along came Croft, a weekend which helped propel all three BMW’s right back into the title fight. Since then, the IHG Rewards BMW has scored consistent points and podiums, helping shoot Priaulx up to sixth place in the table, and become the lead BMW. I’m sure that here at thehairpincorner we’re not alone in feeling a tinge of sadness about Priaulx’s absence. It would have been great to Andy battling for the championship in his first season back but with only two rounds remaining after Rockingham, a good weekend for just a couple of the names above Priaulx could see this years title sadly move beyond reach.
Can Rob Austin strike again?
Rockingham has been a happy hunting ground for Rob Austin Racing and the Audi A4 in recent years. Austin followed up his maiden BTCC podium at Rockingham in 2011 with victories in both 2013 and 2014. Now a series stalwart, Austin and his squad enjoyed a much needed strong weekend at Knockhill with consistent points finishes and could be considered unlucky not to have scored higher. On the back of that solid weekend, the Rob Austin Racing squad could propel themselves further up the championship table with continued solid results at the Rock.
Can Jordan break his Duck?
There’s no doubting Jordan’s credentials. The 2013 champ has consistently been one of the BTCC’s highest performers for the last few seasons but going a few more meetings without a win could start bringing the doubters to his doors. With Pole Position secured last here by the MG of Tordoff, Triple Eight should have the definite raw pace to challenge for wins at Rockingham, and Goff, buoyed by his long awaited (and much deserved) maiden BTCC win at Snetterton should also be featuring at the sharp end of the grid. Perhaps after this year, with signs of their age starting to show, the MG 6’s might be shown the door as they reach the end of their development and raw pace becomes more difficult to find but with a bit of luck, and maybe a good reverse grid draw, Jordan can find his way back to the top step of the podium. That being said, Jordan’s consistency has been incredible this season, and his fifth place in the table is a testament to his skill and experience.
Until the weekend……..