Knockhill was by far and away one of the best weekends of the season to date, high praise for a 2016 BTCC title race which has already produced some breathtaking racing. With the vast majority of the field covered by less than a second in qualifying we were bound to see thrills, spills and some incredible close quarters actions on race day and races 19, 20 and 21 of this season’s title race certainly didn’t disappoint. There were a multitude of standout drives, and some underwhelming and surely disappointing result cards for some of this year’s biggest championship contenders, so read on to see my assessment of some winners and losers from the Knockhill weekend.
As each race weekend goes by Sam Tordoff is looking more and more like he has the pace, and more importantly the consistency to head into the closing stages of the season as the favourite for the title. Along with his slightly unluckier teammate Collard (more on that later), Tordoff has been one of the standout performers of the summer and his incredible consistency since Oulton Park will stand him in good stead the for the championship run in where Matt Neal and Honda have traditionally been strong. After the disappointment of Snetterton Sam Tordoff bounced back in style at Knockhill, a circuit where the rear wheel drive WSR BMW has been strong in the past with two 2nd’s and a 5th to catapult him back into the lead of the championship as the series heads to Rockingham in two weeks time.
Whereas teammate and title rival Collard has faltered in qualifying at more than one round this season Tordoff has been the full package but will need to draw upon all his skill and experience for his inevitable battle with the ever present Matt Neal at Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch GP. It was another strong weekend where once again Tordoff made it count. Full marks to Sam and WSR.
From finishing qualifying and race one outside the top ten, his sublime lights to flag defensive victory in race three concluded a pivotal weekend for Jackson at Knockhill. It was vital that after strong weekend at Snetterton Jackson kept pace with Tordoff, Collard and Neal at the head of the championship table and in doing so the Motorbase driver became the first to win four races this season. Jackson’s drive in race three was one of the standout drives of the season, and one which I’m sure we’ll all look back on when we review the year after the checkered flag falls at Brands Hatch in October.
Jackson now sits in 5th place in the championship, 43 points off the lead with nine races left this season. As we head into the closing stages of the year, which Jackson and Motorbase dominated in 2015 hopes will be high for a surprise challenger to the Tordoff, Collard and Neal trio we’ve seen at the head of the championship table for some time now.
It’s been a long time coming this season, but it was somewhat fitting that Jason Plato took victory, and his first victory for his beloved Subaru project in his 500th BTCC race. You couldn’t have written the storyline better, pole position, a safety car restart and what was an eventual lights to flag victory for a driver who will surely go down as one of the BTCC’s greatest ever. After shadowing his rear wheel drive specialist teammate Colin Turkington for much of the season Plato now sits in 7th, just five points behind Turkington as both Team BMR Subaru Levorgs continue their ascent up the the championship table.
Both drivers are still outside bets for the championship given their fantastic mid season form and it leaves us to wonder just how Honda, WSR, Motorbase and Triple Eight are going to keep pace with Plato and Turkington over the next few seasons.
Matt Neal and Dave Newsham
I think it’s safe to say that if Rob Collard doesn’t win this year’s BTCC drivers title qualifying could be where it was lost. Often fantastic on race day, Collard has frequently been let down by poor qualifying performances which have seen him start race one way outside the top ten. In race three yesterday it looked like Collard was about to salvage at least a podium finish and potentially a race win from what was looking like a tough Knockhill weekend but contact with Turkington took out the two drivers who looked most likely to challenge Jackson for the win. The contact with Turkington was unnecessary and to me it looked like both drivers saw the red mist after Turkington most likely out braked himself to hit the inside of Collard. The incident was a blot on what was looking like an impeccable weekend for Turkington, and for Collard the clash with the Subaru could have costly championship implications.
Collard falls to 3rd in the championship table, 32 points behind teammate Tordoff but qualifying at Rockingham with less success ballast than he did at Knockhill will hand Collard a critical advantage. Although, we did see Tordoff’s car handle the ballast reasonably well at Knockhill on Sunday.
It was a disastrous weekend for Triple Eight and MG. Both Sutton and Cook have now fallen outside of the championship’s top ten after struggling at a track which the MG 6 was horrendously unsuited for. It’s been an odd year for the works MG squad, who’ve showed us flashes of brilliance mixed with races where the cars seem nowhere. Whilst Ash Sutton looks set to walk the Jack Sears Trophy at a canter, even after Matt Simpson took the lions share of points at Knockhill MG are under serious threat of losing their 3rd place in the constructors championship to the marching Subaru’s – something I’m sure boss Ian Harrison will be keen to avoid.
As the series heads to Rockingham I expect both Cook and Sutton will return to form, and we’ll see a much improved performance from MG. With both cars free from success ballast and a track which lessens the advantage of rear wheel drive it will be important to qualify strongly to avoid another weekend spent fighting at the back of the grid. It was a weekend to forget for Triple Eight.