You don’t have to go that far back in the history books to find the last time West Surrey Racing (WSR) won a BTCC championship. Soon to be teammates Colin Turkington and Jason Plato were the two protagonists that time around, as Turkington took his second BTCC title in the BMW 1 series, in what has now become a typical epic Brands Hatch finale. Yet when you look at WSR in 2016 they seem stronger, faster and tougher than I have seen for many seasons, and with Rob Collard joining Matt Neal at the top of the points table after Thruxton, the evidence is there to suggest that WSR have more than recovered from what was ultimately an average 2015 campaign after the highs of the previous season. Read on to hear my thoughts as to why I think 2016 could be the year in which the title heads back to Surrey once again.
After taking five podium finishes from the first nine races of the year, Collard, Jack Goff and Sam Tordoff find themselves heading into the mid season all within touching distance of the race for the 2016 title, and just one round away from Croft, a happy hunting ground for the BMW where they have dominated for the last three seasons. In previous years, tight, twisty and technical tracks have never historically been a problem for WSR however they were often let down by a lack of straight line speed (think back to Donington Park and Rockingham last year) but for all intents and purposes and using Donington and Thruxton 2016 as a comparison, Dick Bennetts’ squad look to have solved their on track weaknesses once and for all. Something which should make the likes of Team Halfords and Triple Eight very worried indeed.
And there should be even more worry to come. The middle part of the season is traditionally where WSR BMWs seem to come into their own as the series visits Croft, Snetterton and Knockhill in succession, circuits where the team have scored 19 podium finishes in the last 18 races.
The departure of Andy Priaulx just one season into his BTCC comeback was an obvious blow to WSR and one which I expected the team to take a while to recover from, however the signing of Jack Goff, who remains one of the BTCC’s biggest young talents ensures that top talent continues to flow through the team which has taken four independents team championships and five independent drivers championships since the turn of the century. With Sam Tordoff quickly maturing into a regular top five finisher and Rob Collard’s vastly improved fortunes in qualifying, WSR’s driver lineup is among the strongest on the 2016 grid with the perfect blend of youth and experience.
Preparing and running three cars in a championship as competitive as the BTCC is no mean feat, and despite only the top two finishing cars collecting points in the constructors championship, there can be no doubt that having one extra teammate than their rivals will only aid Collard, Goff and Tordoff in their quest for a first BTCC crown. More cars means more data, and despite conducting an intensive preseason testing programme having three cars providing data in a season where the technical rulebook has essentially been wiped clear has no doubt been of a great assistance to the team as they look to make best use of the new stock TOCA parts. The ability to split tyre strategies between three cars means that more often than not, we’ve seen a WSR BMW challenging for the podium in every race so far this season and it’s hard to see past a Rob Collard victory had he not had contact with Tom Ingram in race two at Brands Hatch back in early April.
In a championship as tight, action packed and competitive as the 2016 BTCC more often than not, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will become the next new race winner on what has become an ever growing list this season. Seven race winners from the first nine races of the year have ensured that once again, the championship race is wide open as we sit just one race away from 1/3 of the campaign being over. Despite not winning the lions share of races, it’s often said that consistency wins championships, and if that’s the case, then I’m going to place my bets now and suggest that it will be one of Collard, Tordoff or Goff who claims this year’s BTCC crown.
I look forward to revisiting this post at the end of the season, and I’d also be interested to hear your thoughts on who has impressed you most over the first three rounds of the 2016. Let me know in the comments below!