As usual, the end of the BTCC season has come far too quickly and this weekend the series returns to Brands Hatch GP for races 28, 29 and 30 of the 2018 championship. Although there is one clear favourite, the title fight is still very much a two-horse race between Colin Turkington and Tom Ingram, and Sunday’s three races are set to be their most important of the season. Can Turkington and WSR keep it together for one more weekend? Can Ingram and Speedworks defy all the odds and take the title from under the nose of their rivals? With so much to play for and a series of intense fights all the way down the field, I’ve penned my thoughts on some of the biggest things to watch out for on this final weekend of the year.
Let Battle Commence
We have two very different drivers and outfits battling it out for this year’s title. On one side there’s Colin Turkington and WSR, the experienced, championship-winning outfit who have been battling it out at the top of the BTCC for more than a decade. And then on the other side there’s Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport, who have taken the BTCC by storm and developed the Toyota Avensis into arguably the fastest package on the grid. Both Turkington and Ingram are great operators and among the best drivers on the grid. Turkington, already a double champion will be looking to add a third BTCC title to his collection whilst Ingram will be looking to claim his first.
I expect the battle at Brands Hatch to be intense, and I think there are a number of factors which play into Turkington’s favour. It would take a 35-point swing for Ingram to win the title on points, and although anything can happen in the BTCC a 34-point lead in the driver’s standings means Turkington could afford a finish outside the points, or even have the title wrapped up after race one if Ingram fails to score. The points gap is not unassailable, but it’s going to take a lot of bad luck for Turkington if Ingram is going to make up the ground.
There’s no doubt that Turkington’s WSR teammates Andrew Jordan and Ricky Collard will be under strict instructions to aid his title campaign. In Jordan and Collard, Turkington has two rear-gunners in fast machinery capable of taking points off Ingram and with less ballast on board, their support could prove vital. With Speedworks operating as a single-car team, Ingram’s options when it comes to help and support on track from teammates could well work against him if the title battle goes down to the wire.
There’s also the matter of experience. Two-time champion Turkington knows what it takes to win a BTCC title, and he came so close to winning his third last year. So often a title contender going into the final rounds of the season, if there’s anyone who knows just how important consistency is to winning a championship its the Northern Irishman. Ingram possesses all the talent and car speed to become a BTCC champion, but on a weekend where everything for Ingram and Speedworks needs to be perfect, they’re in for a monumental challenge.
Honda and Vauxhall In A Close Fight For Second
The Power Maxed Racing/Vauxhall partnership has enjoyed a stunning second season, and the team are locked in a fierce battle with Honda for second place in the manufacturer’s championship, with just 11 points separating the two. PMR’s Cook and Proctor have been two of 2018’s most improved drivers and the team will be confident of adding another podium to their Brands Hatch trophy haul following Proctor’s win on the Indy circuit at the start of the year. With Josh Cook coming back into form just at the right time, although they trail Honda I think a strong qualifying in race one could tip the balance back in PMR’s favour.
Team Dynamics and Honda have had a reasonable first season with the new Honda Civic Type-R FK8. However, with Matt Neal sitting 9th in the table and Dan Cammish sitting 11th, it’s fair to say that it probably wasn’t quite the season the team were hoping for. On occasion, the Civic has looked blindingly quick, and the team have taken eight podiums including two race wins. I get the feeling there’s a lot more to come next season from Team Dynamics and the Civic, and with Dan Cammish wrapping up the Jack Sears Trophy last time out at Silverstone there is at least some silverware to cheer about. Cammish went strongly on his BTCC debut at Brands Hatch Indy earlier in the year and a podium could be on the cards for either himself or Neal should they qualify well on Saturday.
Furious Fight For Third In The Table
Aside from the title fight, there is an intense six-way battle to finish third in the 2018 drivers standings. Just 21 points cover Tom Chilton in 3rd and Jack Goff in 8th and I’m predicting a huge amount of movement between those drivers over the course of the weekend, with the outcome just too close to call. After stunning starts to the year, Cook and Goff’s championship challenges faded over the summer and late season charges from Sutton and Morgan have come too late. Goff, Jordan and Morgan all scored podiums at Brands Hatch Indy and although I expect every one of Chilton, Sutton, Morgan, Cook, Jordan and Goff to be strong, I think it’ll be either Chilton or Sutton who comes out on top.
Motorbase have been on a strong run of form since Knockhill, and when set up well, Sutton’s Subaru Levorg is capable of winning many a race. As ever, qualifying is going to be key, as is avoiding any first lap drama but I expect all of these drivers to be in and around the top 15. As Turkington and Ingram have a championship to think about, the chasing pack will be going all out for the wins. It’s going to be a furious fight for third, but one that I can see Chilton or Sutton winning.
The Last Time We See Jason Plato On Track?
There’s no doubt about it, Jason Plato is a BTCC legend. The most successful driver ever in terms of race wins and the two-time champion has had a torrid 2018 and sits in 27th in the table with just four points finishes. So often a driver you see at the front, truth be told its taken quite a while for me to become accustomed to seeing Plato at the back of the grid this year and with no word yet on 2019, I’m left wondering if this season will be his last. Following a run from 2010 – 2015 where he finished the season 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd, Plato’s end of year placings have started to decline ever since Team BMR switched to the Subaru Levorg. He finished 7th in 2016, and 12th in 2017 and with a 17-point gap to Ricky Collard in 25th it looks like he’ll finish no higher than 26th at best this season.
One of the BTCC’s standout drivers, Plato has never been far from some of the championship’s most iconic moments of the last 20 or so years and his driving style has no doubt resulted in more race wins but perhaps cost him a couple of championships along the way. With Ash Sutton winning last year’s title in the same car, and again this year fighting at the top of the championship table, could Brands Hatch GP mark the moment Plato hangs up his BTCC racing gloves for good? 2018 has been a tough season, tougher than I’m sure everyone including Plato imagined. With the young talent slowly making its way to the top of the BTCC, does Plato see himself fighting again in a difficult car for one more season?
My Weekend Prediction
I think it’s going to take a phenomenal amount of bad luck to Turkington to win the title, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won it with one or even two races left to go. Qualifying on Saturday is going to be so important and I could imagine the likes of Jack Goff or Andrew Jordan taking pole. Motorbase will be strong, especially after a great weekend out at Silverstone so I’m expecting either Chilton or Tordoff up on the podium at some point
What are your thoughts ahead of the weekend’s action at Brands Hatch GP? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!