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The BTCC: Too artificial or Simply Brilliant

Credit: BTCC.net

The British Touring Car Championship is one of the most exciting motorsport series in the world. Every year, it gets better and better. There’s a huge variety of cars and some very good touring car drivers.

Three races in one day along with lots of support race action makes for a fantastic day out where you will get your money’s worth. You can get very close to the action at most of the race venues and every event is great for families with young children.

The action is phenomenal, at least one of the three races is a classic. Bumping, bunched up cars and scrapping it out for every position makes for some very intense racing. It all sounds brilliant, but is it artificial? Is it even slightly fixed?

Lets talk ballast. All touring car series have weight handicaps to narrow the gap from the best and the worst cars to give us close battles in races and the overall championship. It gives all of the drivers a chance to fight at the front. The ballast system keeps the championship alive all the way to the very end. The championship leader has to take the most amount of ballast into qualifying and race 1 which will almost certainly mean that they won’t get a good result, therefore allowing others to gain points. Then the winner of race 1 takes on the most weight which makes a very exciting race 2 because the leader will never run away.

Credit: BTCC.net

If this doesn’t sound too bad, then this will. 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. But for me, it’s just a little bit too much. To be at the front, you should have to work your way up the field and put in spectacular performances, not luck into a draw.

It’s this format that creates so many different race winners, so many different podium takers and awesome on track battles. Even though it’s so artificial, I still prefer this than say, F1 which is the pinnacle of motorsport. If the racing is good, you almost forget that the cars have different amounts of ballast or different amounts of boost which is something that Jason Plato always complains about. But the BTCC organisers get it absolutely right. Last year, we saw 8 different pole sitters from 10 events, let alone the 13 different race winners. You just have to love the level of competition where the drivers really make a difference to find that extra tenth or hundredth that others can’t when it comes down to qualifying or a battle on track to complete a hard-fought overtake.

And these drivers aren’t exactly amateurs or gentleman drivers. They are hard-core racers who put everything on the line to win a race. I will admit that two-thirds of the field aren’t exactly anything special and in my eyes, a few of them are there just to make up the numbers. But like I said before, the format invites new teams and manufacturers to join the grid because they know that if they can have a perfect weekend, they will have at least one chance of getting a mega result for the team. It’s why you see Honda’s, BMW’s, Subaru’s, Alfa Romeo’s, Ford’s, Vauxhall’s, Mercedes, Audi’s, Volkswagen’s and Toyota’s all with their strengths and weaknesses which only adds to the intensity of the racing.

Credit: BTCC.net

But back to the drivers, some of which are world-class. Gordon Shedden has moved onto the new World Touring Car Cup championship and he is a 3-time BTCC champion and I’m fully confident that he will show that he can compete with some of the very best touring car drivers in the world. If he can, than others certainly can as well. His former long-time teammate, Matt Neal, is an excellent racer and he still has the speed to win another championship. The current BTCC champion, Ash Sutton, is such a good talent and he will only get better as his career progresses. He drove the wheels of his Subaru last season and made his teammates look like rookies at times. Speaking of one of his teammates, Jason Plato has to be one of the biggest characters in all of motorsport. He’s always making the BTCC headlines and is the most aggressive and attacking driver on the grid. If he was a little more conservative, then perhaps he may have more than 2 BTCC titles; he’s finished in the top 3 of the championship, 12 times! Love him or hate him, he’s was and still is a great asset to the championship and his record of the most BTCC wins is fully deserved for all of the entertainment that he’s provided. New young talent like Tom Ingram will assure that the BTCC is in good hands and it isn’t all about the old heads and the experienced drivers like Andrew Jordan, Rob Collard or Mat Jackson (who’s now moved on from a full-time drive this season).

In my opinion, the best BTCC driver on the grid right now has to be Colin Turkington. The Northern Irishman is so calm and cool under vast amounts of pressure. He makes the right decisions nearly every time when in battle, while his race 2 drive at least season’s finale proved why he is a true champion and a superb driver. I rate him very highly.

Speaking of that race 2 drive, there are conspiracies that decisions such as penalties are made to try to tighten up the championship and for the good of the championship. If we look at last year as an example again, Ash Sutton was penalised at the penultimate round at Silverstone when the team of his championship rival Colin Turkington (West Surrey Racing) protested against the move of Sutton which gave him a 3rd strike of the year: an automatic relegation to the rear of the field for the next race and a three-point penalty in the championship standings. I thought that Sutton was at no fault and it was a shock to everyone because if anyone should have got the penalty, it should have been Turkington for not leaving one car width’s space. The move was no different to other overtakes that happened on the same day. Anyway, that was that and I don’t want to talk about specific incidents too much. Then, that Turkington masterclass at Brands Hatch in race 2 all felt a bit “too impressive”.

Credit: BTCC.net

He showed no pace in qualifying or race 1 and then he puts in a drive like he did, when most of the cars ahead of him had the same ballast as they did in qualifying and the first race but were strangely very slow, were he just drove through the field and overtook car after car with a miracle drive. Personally, I think sheer determination and a few changes to Turkington’s car before the second race got him that vital race win. That race alone showed the class of the 36-year-old. He’s a top driver and a brilliant servant to the BTCC.

I talked about how the racing is on another level and I honestly think that the entertainment produced outdoes the artificial methods and balance of performance that the organisers have come up with. I can see why someone who doesn’t watch the BTCC will think that it’s just a plucky, little championship that is just chaotic and not really proper racing. But what is racing? It’s about tight, close battles were drivers defend and attack like it’s the last race of their lives; it’s about drivers pushing the limits of their cars and using every bit of tarmac possible, it’s about finding that extra hundredth to grab that extra position and it’s about wheel to wheel racing were you try to out think your rival whilst going at twice the speed of a normal human being does on a motorway. The BTCC does all of these things and that makes it great.

Does it matter how it does all of these things? Not to me. It’s all about the show and what a show the British Touring Car Championship puts on every single year. 2018 guarantees to be just as spectacular as the previous seasons.

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