The action-packed and drama-filled BTCC kicked off with a memorable trio of races at Brands Hatch last weekend. The series is known for its close racing and exciting action and the first rounds were no exception to this.
It was Jeff Smith who took a sensational maiden pole position on Saturday, mastering changeable and damp weather conditions. With a jumbled grid and several drivers out of position, Race One promised lots of action and overtaking.
The season kicked off with a bang even before the first corner when Colin Turkington, who made an exceptional start, tried to enter a gap between two cars but Matt Neal defended, causing contact that took both drivers out. The safety car was immediately called out, but there was a change in the lead. Tom Ingram made a great start and had overhauled Smith, which he held to match his win at the same race last season. At the restart Smith dropped behind reigning BTCC champion Gordon Shedden and Adam Morgan but was holding a strong 4th overall before mechanical problems cruelly ended his race. Jack Goff and Rob Austin had strong races to complete the top five behind Ingram, Shedden and Morgan. The BMWs of Andrew Jordan and Rob Collard completed the top seven, ahead of Mat Jackson, Michael Epps and returnee Tom Chilton.
Race Two was equally as eventful. Ingram was forced to abort the start from pole due to a mechanical problem, which resulted in a drive through penalty. However the restart saw Jason Plato, who had struggled for pace all weekend in the Subaru, involved in a mirror image of Turkington and Neal’s incident, which ended in his car crunching into the pit wall. This time the race was red flagged and so Ingram’s penalty was scratched off. The ballast heavy Toyota couldn’t hold off Shedden or Collard and the race finished in that order. Behind the top three, Jordan was on course for 4th before he was bumped by Austin’s Audi and thus dropped behind him and Morgan; Austin was later excluded from the classification for his part in the incident taking place under yellow flags. This elevated everyone else up a position, including a resurgent Turkington who claimed 9th from the back of the grid. The reverse grid draw saw 8th placed Tom Chilton start on pole for Race Three.
The BMW car had looked very solid off the start line and Jordan took advantage of this to overhaul Chilton at the start of the final race. The latter was then passed by a flying Turkington, who nearly passed Jordan on the final lap but the blue BMW held firm to take his first win in the car. Chilton hung on to finish a credible third overall, ahead of Neal, who was also trying to move up the order after his Race One accident. Morgan completed a solid weekend with a 5th place ahead of Collard, Shedden, Goff, Epps and Jake Hill. Race One winner Ingram struggled with ballast and after colliding with Epps and Hill, finished 11th, whilst Jackson had a first corner off into the gravel trap and recovered to 13th.
The return of BTCC saw spectators and TV viewers treated with a weekend of action and drama. Gordon Shedden leaves Brands Hatch with a six point lead over Tom Ingram, with Andrew Jordan a point further behind. However, with three different winners, 2017 promises to be just as open a season as last year.
|1||Gordon Shedden||Halfords Yuasa Racing||48|
|2||Tom Ingram||Speedworks Motorsport||42|
|3||Andrew Jordan||BMW Pirtek Racing||41|
|4||Adam Morgan||Ciceley Motorsport||39|
|5||Rob Collard||Team BMW||36|
|6||Tom Chilton||Power Maxed Racing||29|
|7||Colin Turkington||Team BMW||26|
|8||Jack Goff||Eurotech Racing||25|
|9||Mat Jackson||Team Shredded Wheat with DUO||22|
|10||Michael Epps||Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing||20|