BTCC 2019 got underway at Brands Hatch in the most typical way it possibly could have done with a brilliant, but crazy weekend full of difficult conditions, new race winners and a whole host of talking points to go along with it. We had race one, where Josh Cook took his first victory with BTC Racing in a wet-dry race reminiscent of race two of the 2018 season. Cook, who started 10th was the first of the slick tyre gamblers and it was a decision which paid off in style. Race two was won by Andrew Jordan in the new WSR BMW 3 series and race three was eventually won by Rory Butcher, courtesy of a post-race five-second penalty being applied to Tom Chilton for contact with Matt Neal (more on that later). With so much to talk about post race day, I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest talking points from the Brands Hatch weekend in the first BTCC Weekend Wrap of 2019.
All Eyes On The New Cars
Ahead of race day, there was a huge sense of anticipation around Brands Hatch with the eyes of everyone on Speedworks Motorsport and West Surrey Racing to see how the team’s fared with their new cars for the first time. It was a low-key debut for the Corolla, with Ingram keen to play down talk of race wins and podiums in the first half of 2019. Whilst the Avensis was fast and slippery in a straight line, the Corolla isn’t and Ingram found himself defending his position on the pit straight fairly frequently throughout the weekend.
Like all of the cars which qualified in the top ten, Ingram chose to start race one on wet tyres and fell backwards as the wet tyred cars were swamped by drivers who had started lower down the grid and on slicks. Race two was better, and on the tyre which turned out to to be the best choice at Brands Hatch this weekend, he rose from 13th to 5th before the softer tyre in race three saw him end in 10th. Speedworks will have gathered plenty to work with ahead of Donington Park, but it was a solid weekend for Ingram nonetheless as they get to grips with their new challenger.
Over at West Surrey Racing, the team’s first weekend with the new BMW 3 series ended with silverware as Andrew Jordan romped to victory by almost 10 seconds in race two. Fast off the line, Jordan rose from 15th on the grid to pass Ash Sutton for the lead on lap 16 and once in front, he never looked back.
Colin Turkington and Tom Oliphant were virtually locked together all weekend long. The pair, like the rest of the wet tyred cars suffered in race one falling to 19th and 22nd, before ending race two 14th and 15th and race three 5th and 6th. Both had reasonable weekends at Brands Hatch and I was particularly impressed with Oliphant, who has taken to the rear wheel drive 3 series like a duck to water. I think we saw enough from Oliphant this weekend to be confident that he will be a race winner in 2019 when he gets his chance, and he managed to keep pace with his far more experienced teammates on his first weekend with the team. Turkington, by his own words has work to do with car setup on the 3 series, but a solid drive to 5th in the final race of day proves that there is pace in the car.
Hill And Jelley Start The Season On A High
It was a sensational start to the season for Jake Hill and Stephen Jelley who sit 6th and 3rd respectively in the standings following the opening weekend. Jake Hill, who split with Team HARD suddenly last season was a benefactor of the chaos in race one as he scythed through the field on slick tyres to finish just two seconds behind eventual winner Josh Cook. He followed that performance up with a strong 4th place in race two before ending race three in 27th following contact with Ash Sutton coming out of Druids. Even taking into account the race three contact, it was a good weekend for Hill and for the first time in a few seasons he managed to extract some great race pace from the Audi S3 Saloon. The real questions will come at Donington and throughout the season, where he will face tougher pressures and competition for places in the top ten.
After the anguish of 2018, Stephen Jelley and Team Parker Racing enjoyed a weekend to remember at Brands Hatch, even after being disqualified from qualifying. On slick tyres, Jelley came from the back of the grid to 7th in race one, finished 6th in race two before scoring a fantastic podium finish with 3rd in race three after a race-long battle with Matt Neal. The Team Parker Racing 1 series looked solid all weekend, and with the same Neil Brown engine as the factory-backed cars, Jelley will be hoping Brands Hatch isn’t a flash in the pan. Like with Hill, the competition will become tougher as the likes of Plato, Sutton and Team Dynamics get fully up to speed but based on his pace at Brands Hatch, we could be seeing a lot more of Jelley as the season goes on.
Controversy Is Never Far Away
Jason Plato and Tom Chilton were two drivers at the centre of controversial penalties on Sunday. Plato received a drive-through penalty after he was judged to have placed his Astra over the white line at the front of the grid box ahead of the start of race one. The drive-through ruined his chances in the race, and although he was on wet tyres and would have continued to fall down the order it meant he would start race two from near the back of the field. Qualifying 2nd on the grid showed us that there is certainly pace in the Astra, and whilst Plato will have been disappointed with the set of results he left Brands Hatch with, he’ll be pleased to know that he is back and capable of challenging at the sharp end of the BTCC once again. Plato was adamant that the penalty didn’t fit the crime, and I’m inclined to agree on this one, but that’s a bigger topic.
However, one penalty I still can’t fathom out is Tom Chilton’s five-second post-race penalty which meant he dropped from 1st to 2nd in the race three classification. The penalty meant that Rory Butcher inherited his maiden BTCC victory, although I’m sure he would have liked to do it on track.
Chilton has publically accepted the penalty, stating that he hit Neal on the way through and should have redressed.
Personally, I believe that Chilton’s move on Neal at Clearways where he took the lead was far, even if the two made slight contact. Light contact is part and parcel of touring car racing and the move was no harsher than ones we’ve seen go unpunished in the past. Chilton clearly had the faster car and I thought the move was a fair one, and the incident was done and dusted by the time the checkered flag had fallen. Chilton will certainly win more races this year, and we saw this weekend that the Motorbase Focus is fast and a match for any car on the grid.
Great Debuts and Performances All Round
The difficult conditions in race one meant that a number of drivers scored their best ever result in the BTCC, and it led to some having a fantastic debut.
Bobby Thompson was one of the main benefactors of the slick tyre choice as he finished the race in 6th to mark his best ever finish in the BTCC. He fell back to 13th in race two and 15th in race three, but still managed to record his best weekend yet as a BTCC driver and sits 12th in the standings following Brands Hatch. It’s going to be a mammoth task to stay there, but it was a weekend which will have given Thompson a load of confidence for the remainder of the year.
Mark Blundell and Michael Crees were two drivers who enjoyed dream BTCC debuts. Another two on slick tyres, Crees finished race one in 12th and Blundell in 14th to score points in their first ever race in the series and whilst both fell back outside of the points for the rest of the weekend, they will be pleased to have registered points in their debut season. Like Thompson, they will face a harder challenge to remain in the points when there are normal conditions and the rest of the field get up to speed, but it will have done their confidence the world of good.
Standout Performer Of The Weekend: Josh Cook who finished 1st, 7th and 4th and leads the championship standings.
What are your thoughts on the opening weekend of the season? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!
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