The British Touring Car Championship celebrates its 60th anniversary this season and it promises to be just as spectacular, unpredictable and exciting as the previous sixty seasons.
Last year, Ashley Sutton narrowly took the championship during an intense final meeting head-to-head with Colin Turkington. Sutton, who drove for the Adrian Flux Suburu Racing team returns with the outfit this year, as Turkington’s Team BMW look to defend the Teams and Manufacturers’ championships.
Before we make out predictions and look at the contenders closely, lets look at the facts.
Points, Points, Points!
Points means prizes in all forms of motor racing and the BTCC points system is very unique.
1st-20 2nd-17 3rd-15 4th-13 5th-11 6th-10 7th-9 8th-8 9th-7 10th-6 11th-5 12th-4 13th-3 14th-2 15th-1
1 Point is awarded if you lead a lap. No driver may collect more than one “Lead a Lap” point per race no matter how many laps they lead
1 point is also awarded if you take the fastest lap of the race
1 point is awarded for taking pole position after qualifying for race 1
Am I a fan of this points system? I’m really not too bothered about it to be honest. It does mean that as long as you’re within 20 points or so of the championship leader with a few events left, then you are definitely a championship contender. To win a championship, you should be picking up at least 40 points per event. But as you get to the climax of the championship, a points deficit of more than 10 points is much harder to close in on than you might think.
1st-75kg 2nd-66kg 3rd-57kg 4th-48kg 5th-39kg 6th-33kg 7th-27kg 8th-21kg 9th-15kg 10th-9kg
- Ballast is allocated according to championship positions and is carried in qualifying and race 1
- For races 2 and 3, ballast is allocated according to the finishing positions in race 1 and 2 respectively
- There’s no ballast for the 1st qualifying or race of the year
The Race 3 Draw
To explain here is…well myself.
A reverse grid draw means that if you finish 7th-12th in race 2, you have a chance to be on pole for the 3rd and final race. How do you have a chance? Well, someone picks a ball out of a bowl and the number that’s pulled out is the driver that’s on pole. For example, number 11 is picked out, whoever finished 11th is on pole, 10th is 2nd, 9th is 3rd and so on. It means that you could get a slow driver up at the front when he shouldn’t really belong there. Again, it’s good because it gives people a chance but it’s not exactly pure motorsport. The big positive with this format is that if you qualify badly or have a bad first race, your weekend isn’t over.
The Class of 2018
WSR BMW: Colin Turkington, Rob Collard, Andrew Jordan
Team Dynamics Honda Civic: Matt Neal, Dan Cammish
Team BMR Subaru Levorg: Ash Sutton, Jason Plato, Josh Price
Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis: Tom Ingram
Eurotech Racing Honda Civic: Jack Goff, Brett Smith, Matt Simpson
Motorbase Performance Ford Focus: Tom Chilton, Sam Tordoff, James Cole
Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra: Josh Cook, Senna Proctor
Ciceley Racing Mercedes A-Class: Adam Morgan, Tom Oliphant
HMS Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta: Rob Austin
BTC Norlin Honda Civic: Chris Smiley, James Nash
Laser Tools Racing Mercedes A-Class: Aiden Moffat
Team Hard Volkswagen CC: Jake Hill, Mike Bushell, Michael Caine, Bobby Thompson
AmD Tuning Audi S3: Ollie Jackson, Sam Smelt
AmD Tuning MG: Rory Butcher, Tom Boardman
Team Parker Racing BMW: Stephen Jelley
Looking at the grid the big moves from the off season are:
-Three-time champion Gordon Shedden has moved onto WTCR
-Replacing him is Dan Cammish
-Tom Chilton has moved to Motorbase from Power Maxed Racing
-2016 runner-up Sam Tordoff is back, after a year in the British GT championship, and will drive at Motorbase
-Mat Jackson has left the series as well after having a contract with Motorbase for 2018 but then the team announcing that they had split with Jackson in February. Why? Nobody really knows, the best answer out there is that it is believed Jackson tried to engineer a move into the available Honda seat vacated by Gordon Shedden which upset Motorbase and thus they have split.
2018 MSA British Touring Car Championship calendar
The calendar has remained largely unchanged for what feels like the last million years. It’s the same events as always with the only big change being that Rockingham and Knockhill have switched places.
7/8 April – Brands Hatch (Indy), Kent
28/29 April – Donington Park, Leics
19/20 May – Thruxton, Hampshire
9/10 June – Oulton Park, Cheshire
23/24 June – Croft, Yorkshire
28/29 July – Snetterton, Norfolk
11/12 August – Rockingham, Northants
25/26 August – Knockhill, Fife
15/16 September – Silverstone, Northants
29/30 September – Brands Hatch (GP), Kent
But something that you will not notice from the calendar above is that, to celebrate 60 years of the BTCC, a special extended race will be held at Snetterton. It will be 60 miles in length (around double the length of a normal race) and all of the cars will run without any additional success ballast on board. A separate qualifying session, run at base weights, will also be used to determine the grid for the race, which will award double championship points.
It’s a fantastic idea and it will make for an awesome weekend. The Australia Supercars Championship (V8 supercars) is my favourite motorsport series in the world at the moment. Why? It’s best to save that for another day. But one thing that makes it so good is the use of different formats throughout the season. Just small changes like a proper top 10 shootout at various events, short, long or an endurance race(s) on a race weekend makes every event unique and special in their own way. That’s why introducing a longer race as a one-off for the Snetterton event is a great idea and if it works well, then it might be a good idea to introduce a longer race more often. Not every single weekend but just two or three times a year would be ideal.
My Championship Contenders
The championship always goes down to the last event of the year and 99% of the time, the very last race of the year. It’s a matter of how many drivers will be in contention come the season finale in October.
It’s such a shame that Gordon Shedden has left the series but he can do the BTCC a lot of good, by doing a stellar job against some international touring car stars in the new WTCR championship. With him gone, Dan Cammish has come in. He will have big shoes to fill and we will have to give him time to adapt to the brand new front-wheeled drive Honda Civic. I don’t see him challenging. On the other hand, Matt Neal hasn’t had a proper shot at the championship for quite a few seasons now. At 51-years-old, he’s still very quick and bad fortune cost him last year. Hopefully, he’s got all of his bad luck out-of-the-way and he can try to go for a 4th BTCC championship which will make him the most successful BTCC driver ever, along with Andy Rouse, in terms of championships. He’s my dark horse for this season.
Ash Sutton is a very well calculated driver. He likes to leave his talking on the track and that’s exactly why he won last year’s championship. Relaxed, calm and a wise head is how I would describe Sutton and he will only get better. His outright speed that he could get out of the Subaru Levorg is just exceptional and maximising your results is just one of his many strengths that he uses to full effect. I think his motivation might not be quite there because he’s done what he’s wanted to do in his career and to back it up with another title will be hard.
His teammate, Jason Plato, has shown nothing to prove that he can challenge for a 3rd BTCC championship. To me, he’s done nothing but complain and moan when he should just drive around the problems and get on with it. That’s what a true champion would do. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Jason Plato and I want him to stay in the BTCC for as long as possible but he does need to find that winning mentality rather than one that looks back at all of the negatives. If Sutton can produce the goods, Plato can as well. I don’t see him being a contender but I would love to see him get a 100th BTCC victory. He’s currently on 96 and if you do the maths, 4 more will move him onto another level of respect. If he can do that this season, anything’s possible but I think 100 wins for Plato will be something for 2019.
Tom Ingram‘s “bold” move to stay with Toyota Speedworks will hopefully pay off with championship glory. I do think that he’s getting the most out of the car and it’s the car that will give him that extra tenth if the team can tune it and find the right set up at every race meeting. It’s a consistency problem for Ingram. He usually starts the season very well but then drops off as the season goes on. I really want to see him do well because he’s been loyal to the team and he could have moved to Honda or BMW very easily a couple of seasons ago. I’m going to put my cards on the table and predict that him and the team will get it right and they will win the 2018 drivers’ championship.
There aren’t really any favourite in the BTCC but if I had to pick a favourite then it would have to be Colin Turkington. In my opinion, he’s the best driver on the grid and the only thing that let him down last year was outright speed. None of the BMW drivers took a pole position which puts them on the backfoot for the first race of every weekend. This means that they are always losing points at the first race and it does add up in the end. Luckily, they (Jordan, Collard & Turkington) can all race their way through the field and to victory but they don’t make it easy for themselves. Another huge asset of the BMW 125i is that it’s excellent on circuits like Croft were the rear wheel drive cars dominate, it’s good in the wet and it has less tyre degradation compared to the front-wheeled drive cars. But, this is the BTCC and it’s just not possible to run away with a championship.
So then, the 60th anniversary of the BTCC is here and the season guarantees to be superb. The pecking order will change after every race, never mind every event, which will create an unbelievably close championship battle. The veterans of the series are getting older as time goes on but their determination to win is stronger than ever and they all want another championship.
Not long to wait now!
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