If you told me before the season began, that after six races the only manufacturer to win a race would the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhalls I wouldn’t have believed you. After five different winners from the first six races of the season, the BTCC championship is once again finely poised as it heads to the UK’s fastest circuit, and one of my personal favourites, Thruxton.
Thruxton was the first BTCC race I ever attended, back in 1998 when I was just four years old. It was then that I saw eventual ’98 champion Rickard Rydell and 2000 champion Alain Menu take victories in two of my favourite BTCC cars of all time, the Volvo S40 and Renault Laguna. Fast forward 19 years and last seasons three race victories were taken by three championship stalwarts, Matt Neal (Honda), Rob Collard and Colin Turkington (both Team BMW). I think we’re currently undergoing one of the biggest shifts of power in the BTCC in recent years. The late 2000’s and early 2010’s were dominated by the traditional old guard of Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, Gordon Shedden and Rob Collard to name but a few, and its interesting to note that out of those drivers listed above, Turkington is the driver who sits highest in the championship in 10th. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting any of the drivers I’ve listed above are past, it. Far from it. But I do think over the next few seasons the scenario we currently see will become more and more common.
Can The Manufacturers Bounce Back?
I’m pleasantly surprised at the start of the season that Vauxhall/PMR are having, and would love to see it continue. But I fear that sooner or later the BTCC’s other three manufacturer backed teams, Honda/Team Dynamics, BMW/WSR, and Subaru/BMR are going to return to the head of the pack. Team Dynamics’ new Civic Type-R has been fast, but the team, and especially Matt Neal have been incredibly unlucky over the first two rounds of the season. However, the team have historically been very strong at Thruxton. With Matt Neal taking pole in 2017, and Dan Cammish’s impressive start to his BTCC career, Team Dynamics among my top picks to reach the podium this weekend.
The other team to take a share of the spoils from Thruxton last year were WSR/BMW, with both Rob Collard and Colin Turkington taking a victory apiece. After a promising opening race of the season where Turkington took a second place finish, the two-time champion has been out of luck, with his next five results reading 27th, 9th, 10th, DNF, 21st. His TeamBMW teammates haven’t fared much better, with Collard sitting in 18th in the table and 2013 champion Jordan in 14th. At a circuit where the team were strong last year I’d be surprised if they didn’t at least bag a solid points haul this time round.
How Subaru/BMR can the season so badly yet always come through to be challengers at the end is beyond me. Just think how early Ash Sutton could have won the title last year if it hadn’t have taken until round four at Oulton Park for the Subaru Levorg to really get going and reach the top step of the podium. That being said, for Sutton at least, the start of 2018 has been better than the start of 2017 and he has now firmly established himself as the likeliest title contender at Team BMR. Post Thruxton there is a long chain of tracks that seem to suit the Levorg well. If Sutton can stay in the mix at Thruxton he’s my firm bet for a mid-season championship charge. To be honest, I have no idea why Plato and Price seem unable to match Sutton’s performance at BMR, but I’d still love to see Jason Plato reach 100 BTCC race wins before he hangs up his driving gloves.
Consistency The Key For Ingram and Speedworks
I’m delighted to see Ingram leading the championship in the Speedworks Toyota. What an amazing achievement it would be if they can go all the way and be challenging for the title come the end of the season. After a promising start to 2017, Thruxton was the final round before Ingram’s dramatic run of poor form which saw him score just one points finish over the next six races. Coming into qualifying with maximum success ballast will present a tough set of obstacles for Ingram to overcome on Saturday, but after scoring two victories in six races so far this year another solid weekend will help him cement his position at the top of table.
In the BTCC, anything is far from certain. But if Ingram and Speedworks can iron out the inconsistencies that blighted parts of their 2017 campaign, they can firmly establish themselves as the early season championship favourites this weekend at Thruxton.
Can Vauxhall/PMR Continue Their Rich Vein of Form?
It’s been an amazing start to the season for Vauxhall/PMR. Two race wins, one apiece for Josh Cook and Senna Proctor have propelled Vauxhall to the top of manufacturers table, and PMR to the top of teams table after the first two rounds. The Vauxhall Astra is a fast car, and last year at Thruxton in the hands of Tom Chilton it finished 14th, 12th and 10th across the weekend’s three races. I’m not sure just how suited the Astra is at a fast and flowing Thruxton compared to the tight and hilly Brands Hatch and the sweeping Donington Park. But after a stunning weekend at Donington where Josh Cook claimed a 1st, 7th and 2nd along with pole position, confidence will be sky high in the Vauxhall camp.
I think this weekend might be difficult for the Vauxhall/PMR, and I can’t imagine that they will be able to repeat their Donington success. However, I’d love to be proved wrong and as we all know, consistency is key in the BTCC. If Cook or Proctor can consistently put in top ten finishes it would be fantastic to see Vauxhall back in with a shout at the manufacturers crown at the end of the year.
I’m going to predict a strong weekend for both Team Dynamics Hondas and the three WSR BMWs. I think Ingram and Morgan might also be in the mix, with Sutton (and maybe Josh Cook and Jack Goff) fighting out for the remaining places in the top ten.
Let me know what you think either in the comments below or over on Twitter @hairpin_corner.
Roll on the weekend!