The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returns from its mid-season break with a trip to Norfolk’s Snetterton circuit next weekend (30/31 July), having seen a greater number of different winners in the first half of the campaign than ever before.
Unpredictability has been the watchword in 2016, with a record ten drivers having reached the top step of the podium from the first 15 rounds of this ultra-competitive championship.
Some of the world’s most talented touring car drivers are still searching for a foothold in Britain’s premier motor sport series. Rounds 16, 17 and 18 from Snetterton look set to produce another trio of races where picking a standout favourite remains almost impossible – there have been an astounding six different manufacturers represented in the winners’ circle thus far.
The outlook in the Drivers’ championship reflects the on-track action, as just over 30 points separate the top five. With up to 17 points available in each round, and one for race one’s pole-sitter, it could once again be all change come Sunday evening. West Surrey Racing’s Sam Tordoff currently leads the way from BMW team-mate Rob Collard and the Honda of Matt Neal.
The Snetterton 300 layout is the longest circuit on the calendar, and an eagerly anticipated challenge for drivers as well as a thrill for fans with fast straights and twisty infield sections encircled by grandstands and banking. Further panoramic viewing areas add to the experience and ensure that spectators won’t miss a moment.
A big crowd is expected to descend on Norfolk to soak up the summer sun as well as the sizzling racing. Many more will be watching live on ITV4 for trademark BTCC fireworks.
The story so far: Tordoff leads the way
The pecking order was thrown even further up in the air heading into the summer break, as if it wasn’t already competitive enough in the fight for the BTCC crown. A victory in the final bout at Croft last time out saw the tenth winner of 2016 and a maiden success for young MG hotshot Ashley Sutton in his debut campaign.
An incredible turnaround for the Subarus that began at Oulton Park continued into the Croft weekend. Race one saw double champion Colin Turkington lead home a one-two for the Japanese marque. He and team-mate, BTCC legend Jason Plato, clashed dramatically in the second contest, opening the door for Rob Collard to pounce and bolster his title tilt with a maximum points haul.
The three BMWs – run by West Surrey Racing – headed up the Manufacturers’/Constructors’ table following an extraordinary effort from Drivers’ standings leader Sam Tordoff with two podiums and a win at Oulton Park. A further rostrum at Croft enhanced a burgeoning collection of top three finishes, as Tordoff added to podiums at both Brands Hatch and Donington Park earlier in the campaign – a consistent approach is bearing fruit for the Yorkshireman. Stablemates Collard and Jack Goff are in close company, with the former breathing down Tordoff’s neck in second place in the standings.
Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal is the highest-placed Honda, while defending champion Gordon Shedden continues to endure an up-and-down 2016. Neal’s five podiums and a brace of wins at Donington and Oulton leave him sitting third in the title race. Shedden has more ground to make up, having encountered mixed fortunes since flying out of the gates with a second place and a win at the Brands Hatch season-opener.
There willl be no shortage of challengers next weekend, with the likes of Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Racing/Motorbase Performance), Mat Jackson (Motorbase Performance), Adam Morgan (WIX Racing) and Tom Ingram (Speedworks Motorsport) among the 2016 race-winners looking to reach the top step once again.
Snetterton’s tendency to favour the front-wheel driven machinery will provide further encouragement for those looking to overhaul the narrow points margin to Tordoff and the rear-wheel drive BMWs at the BTCC summit, with Neal, Jordan, Ingram and Sutton best-placed to make strides up the table – any number could feasibly take the honours in Norfolk.
The no-holds-barred and unpredictable racing provided by the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is not only what the fans love, but also serves to cement its position as the country’s top motor sport series – it is certain there will be more on offer at Snetterton if the first half of the season is anything to go by.
Talking point: Snetterton supremos
Silverline Subaru BMR Racing man and double BTCC champion Jason Plato is by far the most successful driver around the East Anglian circuit – he has amassed a total of 14 wins there, which is more than treble the tally of his closest current rival Gordon Shedden, who has four victories to his name.
Following Subaru’s rise to prominence at Oulton Park, it would be brave to bet against Plato becoming winner number 11 of the campaign at Snetterton. His feisty battles with team-mate and fellow two-time champion Colin Turkington have already set the series alight, and Plato will be hankering for his first victory of 2016.
Tom Ingram, a first-time winner this year and multiple pole-sitter, went quickest overall at Dunlop’s two-day tyre test back in June in both the wet and the dry. He is confident in his car’s prowess following a job well done by Speedworks Motorsport.
“The car felt really strong. We’ve come up with a bit of a plan and it’s just about sticking to it now,” said Ingram.
“On the Friday or Saturday of a race meeting, you don’t get a lot of time to tinker with the car and set-ups, the geometry and differentials. It was nice to have a morning where we could come up with some ideas in testing.
“We had a couple of runs on new tyres to see what the car does, and obviously it was quick enough for a very good time.”
Sam Tordoff, currently top dog in the BTCC, is relishing the weekend, despite carrying the maximum success ballast that comes with the championship lead – he’s got a target on his back that a queue of drivers will be aiming at.
“I really do like Snetterton, I’ve done well there in the past and I’ve won there before,” said Tordoff. “I’m not quite sure what to expect this time. We’re carrying 75kgs, so this circuit might hurt us more than others – I guess we’ve just got to wait and see. If we have a bad opener, we’ll at least get the weight off for race two.
“I don’t like carrying the weight everywhere, but top of the table is a nice position to be in. If you want to win the championship, you have to learn how to deal with it. As the leader at halfway, I’ll definitely take it! I’m optimistic that if anything, we’ll be better in the second half of the season than the first.”