When the 2016 season is done and dusted we may be looking back at Croft as a potentially pivotal weekend in this year’s BTCC championship. In the middle of a three race period where West Surrey Racing were expected to shine, Sam Tordoff and Rob Collard took control at the top of the championship table after a dismal weekend for Honda to make it a WSR top two, with Matt Neal just three points behind Collard in third. Make no mistake, the championship is still extremely tight, but we’re now seeing the beginnings of a breakaway trio who lie 22 points ahead of their nearest rival, the Pirtek Ford of Andrew Jordan in 4th. Read on to see my assessment of some big winners, and some definite losers from the action at Croft.
West Surrey Racing
There can be no doubting the importance of Oulton Park, Croft and Snetterton to WSR’s title campaign, and it’s been two great rounds for the BMW outfit so far, a run of six races which has also seen this version of the BMW 1 Series become the most successful car of the current BTCC era. After a stunning Oulton Park, Sam Tordoff showed great maturity by 13th, 8th and 2nd over the three races at Croft, perfectly managing the heavily ballasted BMW where championship rival Neal struggled after clashing with Rob Collard in qualifying. Tordoff’s maturity was perhaps at it’s greatest in race three when, under pressure from Ashley Sutton he relinquished 1st place after a small mistake to bring home his Platinum liveried BMW in 2nd, points which could prove extremely valuable come the end of the season. Tordoff was the star of the show at Oulton Park, but arguably Croft was where he really showed his title credentials.
It was an excellent weekend all round for the JCT600 pair. After a dismal Oulton Park and qualifying at Croft, Rob Collard ended his weekend with 7th, 1st and 4th place finishes, and by doing so has established himself as a serious championship contender. Collard has proven on more than one occasion that he is among the best, if not the best overtaker in the field, well honed skills which came to fruition in one of the moves of the season as Plato and Turkington clashed in race two. I don’t think Collard was at all at fault for the clash with Matt Neal in qualifying, yet to end the weekend still 2nd in the championship table reminded everyone just why WSR should be considered as favourites the 2016 drivers title.
Rear wheel drive aside, Ashley Sutton was the other standout performer for me at Croft. His first BTCC podium came as a result of a fantastic defensive drive against the IHG Rewards BMW of Jack Goff in race one, but it was his performance in race three, in one of the drives of the season that stole the headlines for me. Watching the MG 6 slide around on the wet track on the TV cameras was an incredible experience, and Sutton pulled off some confident overtakes as he charged through the field. I think safety car or not, it was inevitable that Sutton would have caught, and passed Tordoff in the closing laps of the race, and it was a credit to both drivers as they both achieved the necessary results for their championship campaigns. Sutton is walking away with this year’s Jack Sears Trophy.
Middle of the road for
I think Subaru will come away from Croft with mixed emotions. At the very least, it’s clear that Plato and Turkington have very different opinions on their coming together in race two, a clash which arguably cost them another historic one two finish. I think the dynamic between Plato and Turkington is going to be one of the most interesting aspects (and problems) Team BMR are going to face in their development of the Subaru Levorg, because as the car gets more competitive, so will the driver’s desire to be the top performer in the team. With his experience in rear wheel drive machinery, Turkington has had a clear edge on Plato so far this season, and I think his biggest challenge at Subaru will be keeping that advantage for as long as possible as Plato fully gets to grips with his new rwd machinery.
As the season, and the development of the Levorg continues I fully expect the strength of the relationship between Turkington and Plato to be put under the spotlight and certain degree of stress. They key for Warren Scott will be managing that relationship and ensure it doesn’t become bigger than the potential of the car and team. Relations may be rosy at the moment, but I certainly don’t think we’ve seen the last of the on (and off) track clashes between these two great champions.
From the highs of Brands Hatch and Donington, Honda’s season hit it’s lowest point so far at Croft. After his collision with Collard in qualifying, Neal finished 12th, 10th and 11th over the weekend’s three races but it was 2015 champion Gordon Shedden who saw his dreams of a title defense shrink before his very eyes. Shedden finished 15th, 13th and 22nd at Croft and drops to 9th in the championship as a result, 52 points behind Sam Tordoff as the series now heads to Snetterton, another track where WSR have gone well in the past. That being said, Shedden has been extremely unlucky this season, with incidents at Thruxton and Oulton Park playing their part in causing the Team Halfords driver to tumble down the order.
I thoroughly expect Honda to bounce back from what was a poor weekend by their standards, and I also fully expect both Neal and Shedden to win more races this season. The real problem lies in getting back to the top of the table before Tordoff and Collard can build a sizeable lead. Whilst Shedden’s chances of a title defence are slimming, Matt Neal is still the hunt but needs a strong weekend at Snetterton.
If I remember correctly this is the third consecutive time Adam Morgan has featured in my BTCC weekend winners and losers, but for the second time in a row it’s for all the wrong reasons. After a stunning Thruxton Adam Morgan was flying high in 2016 and looked a real threat for the championship but after disappointing weekends at Oulton Park and Croft, has tumbled to 10th in the table, and his title charge is now looking all but over. Morgan finished just the one race at Croft on Sunday, a fine drive from the back of the grid to 14th place in race three, underlying the fact that the WIX Mercedes does have pace, just not the qualifying consistency.
Morgan was one of the standout performers in the opening three rounds of the season, picking up two wins and two third place finished in the opening nine races of the season, it must be concerning however that the next six have yielded just three points paying finishes, with a 10th at Oulton Park being the highest result. It just goes to show that qualifying really is key in the BTCC.