Oulton Park yet again provided us with thrills, spills and plenty of memorable talking points over round four of the 2016 BTCC season. As Colin Turkington made history with Subaru, major championship players faltered, meaning that the series heads to Croft with the championship battle balancing on a knife edge between the resurgent West Surrey Racing and BTCC titans Honda. Read on to see my assessment of some winners and losers from the Oulton Park weekend.
What a weekend it was for the BTCC’s newest manufacturer. After a fantastic pole position on Saturday, Colin Turkington continued his form with a 1st, 2nd and 7th on Sunday afternoon with teammate and Oulton Park specialist Jason Plato taking a hat-trick of 3rd’s. Following on from a disappointing Thruxton, where all four Team BMR Subaru Levorgs failed to start a single race, a dramatic turnaround in form at a track which favours rear wheel drive machinery has catapulted Turkington and Plato up to 13th and 14th in the championship table. Team BMR completed two days of testing prior to Oulton Park, at it certainly looked like their quest for pace has finally paid off. Despite not being in the title fight (yet), Turkington and Plato will be among the favourites for pole position at Croft as they once again qualify with no success ballast, and the success of Subaru at Oulton Park has certainly added an extra level of complexity to what was already a very closely fought championship battle.
On a day where his teammates struggled, Sam Tordoff rose to the top with two 2nd’s and a 1st place finish over the course of the three races, results which see the WSR driver leave Oulton Park leading the championship by one point. It’s vital that WSR take advantage of Oulton Park and Croft, both circuits which rear wheel drive cars have thrived in the past and with the sudden appearance of Subaru in the top ten, Tordoff and his teammate Rob Collard have important allies their battles against the Honda’s in the form of Turkington and Plato, both of whom can qualify ballast free at the front of the grid.
I must admit, I wasn’t convinced by Tordoff in the two years he partnered Jason Plato at Triple Eight/MG. Despite finishing in 6th and 7th in his two years at MG I wasn’t sure that Tordoff had that star quality championship winners have, but his last two seasons at WSR have seen me stand corrected. Five podium finishes from twelve races see’s Tordoff tie with three time champion Matt Neal for top three finishes so far in 2016, and with the series heading to the BMW happy hunting ground of Croft in two weeks time, my money would be on Tordoff to extend his lead at the top of the championship table.
Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport were in danger of becoming race one specialists. At Brands Hatch, Donington Park and Thruxton, Tom Ingram had seen his weekend take a drastic turn for the worse after a strong qualifying and race one but on Sunday at Oulton Park Ingram finally managed to string together a weekend of three very consistent top five finishes, and moves into the championship’s top ten. Two 5th’s and a 4th over the weekend’s three races was a welcome result for a driver tipped to achieve great things in the BTCC, and Ingram was one of the standout front wheel drive performers over the course of the weekend. For a small, independent outfit Speedworks have regularly punched above their weight this season and a sterling defensive drive from Ingram in race three ensured he leaves Oulton Park within touching distance of the top of the Independent championship.
This should have been a weekend where Rob Collard built himself a healthy lead at the top of the drivers championship, but through bad luck and poor qualifying he left Oulton Park with just one points finish to his name. A dismal qualifying performance with ballast on Saturday effectively ended Collard’s race day before it had even began, and after tangling with other cars in race one, and a puncture in race two, Collard finally kept his nose clean in race three with an incredible drive through the field to 6th. When he was ballast free in races two and three Collard was the fastest car in the field, something which will no doubt prey on the mind of a driver who saw his teammate take three podiums and the championship lead.
Collard has been around long enough to know that things often go full circle in the BTCC, and he can count himself lucky that he’s just 26 points behind Sam Tordoff. He will only be carrying marginally less ballast during qualifying at Croft, and it’s vital that he avoids another poor performance if he is to remain in the race for the title going into the closing part of the season where the Honda’s are always strong.
You’ll see a common theme develop through the “losers” section of this article, and that’s that poor qualifying effectively destroys any chance of success on race day. Adam Morgan was another driver who after Thruxton was riding a wave of success, but a 27th on the grid for race one saw Morgan struggle through to finish 24th, 12th and 10th on Sunday. Like Collard, Morgan is another driver who can count himself lucky as he remains in championship’s top five after Oulton Park, however his performances throughout the rest of 2016 mean that the WIX Racing Mercedes should still be regarded as a major force on the BTCC grid.
Motorbase were perhaps only bested by Adam Morgan at Thruxton, however both Jackson and Jordan, two drivers who I had tipped for championship success at the start of the season had a difficult weekend at Oulton Park. Jordan failed to repeat his double podium at Thruxton, and after a disappointing qualifying which saw him finish in 12th, the 2013 champion went on to finish 10th, 8th and 8th on Sunday – consistent but not spectacular. His teammate Jackson, who headed into Oulton Park well within striking distance of the top of the table finished a miserable 25th in qualifying, and finished 16th, 10th and 13th over the three races. Jordan and Jackson are now 6th and 7th in the championship table, well within the top ten but failing to live up to the promise the Motorbase Ford showed towards the latter end of 2015. Heading into Croft and Snetteron, both tracks which WSR and now Subaru should be strong, I fear that failure to start the season on the strongest footing may come back to haunt Motorbase as they struggle to keep pace with, and to match the consistency of Honda and WSR.