The 2016 BTCC championship leaves Rockingham just as evenly poised as it arrived at the circuit built on the old site of the Corby steelworks at the turn of the century. With just six races left in what has been another vintage season of BTCC action there were some great, and not so great moments for the vast majority of drivers who could have considered themselves championship contenders prior to race one on Sunday. It was a weekend full of exceptional damage limitation, great overtaking and some fantastic saves going round the turn one banking and below I’ve compiled my assessment of some of the biggest winners and losers from the Rockingham weekend.
The Championship’s Top Two
It’s proving extremely difficult to separate Sam Tordoff and Matt Neal at the top of the table, and both drivers came out of Rockingham just five points apart as the series heads to Silverstone for the second half of our Northamptonshire double header in a few weeks time. Tordoff has been a revelation this season in the BTCC, and his stunning victory from 10th on the grid in race two was testament to both just how much WSR have improved the BMW 1 Series since last season, and just how much Tordoff has improved as a driver throughout the course of his BTCC career. Despite falling down the order with heavy ballast in race three, it was an excellent weekend of damage limitation for Tordoff after what was a poor qualifying and I fully expect his ding dong battle with Matt Neal to continue all the way to Brands Hatch in October.
Tordoff’s biggest threat for the championship is Matt Neal. The triple BTCC champion is something of a veteran when it comes to being in contention for the title come the closing stages of the season and I can’t think of too many others on the grid more difficult to be locked in a championship battle with than the Team Halfords driver. Despite perhaps not racking up as many race wins and podiums as in previous seasons I think Neal has enjoyed a fantastic year behind the wheel of his Civic Type -R, and it’s been his incredible consistency which has carried him through the mid part of the season where perhaps the front wheel drive Honda hasn’t been as strong.
Neal finished 8th, 6th and 4th over the course of the weekend’s three races. When considered individually those results hardly set the world alight, but given the sheer amount of competition this season in the BTCC I think Rockingham was one of Neal’s stronger weekends of the year. It’s too close to call between Neal and Tordoff, with just five points separating the two the championship is poised on a knife edge but could Neal’s experience sway the title in his favour? It’s just too close to call.
Shedden and Jackson
I mentioned in my Rockingham talking points that I expected this to be a weekend where Shedden and Jackson enjoyed a string of strong results and I’m glad to say I wasn’t wrong! The front row of the grid translated into a one-two finish with Shedden leading Jackson home in race one, before race two saw Shedden fall backwards to 10th whilst Jackson held on to finish 4th. The pair finished 2nd (Shedden) and 5th (Jackson) in race thee to keep their championship hopes alive going into Silverstone but with every round which goes by it’s going to become more and more difficult to close down Tordoff and Neal at the top.
Defending champion Shedden has enjoyed a remarkable run of recent form after a poor weekend at Croft left him languishing near the bottom end of the championship’s top ten, and Jackson has been one of my standout performers of the season after I tipped him to take the title at the start of the year. Both drivers were strong at Silverstone last year, but is their recent purple patch one round too late to challenge the duo at the top? It’s going to take a bad couple of races for either Shedden or Jackson to really come into contention but both are there and waiting should Tordoff or Neal slip up at Silverstone or Brands.
No mention of winners from Rockingham would be complete without sending out a massive congratulations to Aron Smith and Team BKR on winning their first BTCC race together. After a brilliant, yet unexpectedly successful start to the season Smith and BKR disappeared from the radar over the course of the middle of the year, but returned to the points with a vengeance at Rockingham scoring in all three races. Smith’s sublime safety car restarts went a long way to securing the Irishman victory and Team BKR can now push on a target more top ten finishes before the end of the season.
Based on the performances of teammates Tordoff and Collard, Goff had the car to win at Rockingham on Sunday, yet it was a frustrating day for the IHG Rewards Club BMW as Goff registered a 16th, and two DNF’s after attempting to follow his teammates through the pack, after all three BMW’s suffered in what was a poor qualifying. Goff showed flashes of pace in race one as he battled through the pack, but as is often the case with recovery drives following poor showings in qualifying Goff was caught up on more than one midfield incident over the course of the weekend in what has been a difficult debut season in the BMW.
Goff now sits in 10th place in the championship, 16 points ahead of Ingram in 11th and I think it’s important that he at least secures a top ten finish in the table this season. WSR have clearly produced a car capable of winning the title this season, and it’s down to Goff to move closer to his teammates in order to justify running that third car. There shouldn’t be cause for concern yet, but I’m sure Goff will be the first to tell you that future results need to improve. He’s still got time on his hands, it’s just those unfortunate retirements harming his attempts to keep pace with the drivers above.
Team BMR Subaru in Race Two!
Had Subaru not suffered what can only be described as a complete implosion in race two I think Plato and Turkington could well have featured far more heavily over the course of the weekend. Race two was just one of those races where everything went wrong for Subaru, and it began when Plato ran/was pushed wide at turn two on the opening lap. It’s testament to both the pace of the car and the talent of Plato and Turkington that they recovered to finish 3rd and 10th in race three, with Turkington looking like a possible winner until the final safety car. But with their championship rivals above also enjoying strong weekends I think Rockingham saw both Subaru’s drop of out of the championship race.
Turkington and Plato were always outside bets for the title, especially since the Subaru Levorg didn’t get going until round four of the season at Oulton Park but their progress has been impressive, and they will both certainly be among the favourites for the title next year.