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BTCC 2015: Ascendancy and Tainted Supremacy at Thruxton

Start

Almost a year ago now while writing my review of the 2014 BTCC round at Thruxton, I chose to go with the headline, “Honda Dominates at Thruxton Thriller”. Going into the weekend, my biggest concern was that I would have to run the same line. The Honda domination may have been apparent at Thruxton for the last four years, alas in 2015 their supremacy was not set to continue. But in this weekend filled with drama of the highest order, a new power is rising. Are we witnessing the rise of a new champion?

The British Touring Car Championship is in itself daunting enough for any brave soul to undertake, let alone when it includes the fastest circuit in the UK. A tweet posted by WSR driver Sam Tordoff perfectly encapsulates the experience of Thruxton for a driver:

“Back at @thruxtonracing for @DunlopBTCC today where skill is swapped for balls”

I could very easily dedicate an entire post to the circuit itself, with its potent mix of high speed corners and tricky chicanes. All the tracks on the BTCC calendar are not for the faint hearted, but it is at Thruxton that the brave come forward from the herd. To conquer Thruxton is to conquer your own consciousness; your logical mind would tell you to lift, but those who lift are those who lose. You must separate yourself from your conscious self, tap into the primal animalism and unleash the beast within you.

As the race weekend arrived, Honda were a sure fire bet for top honours across the board. But as qualifying rolled around everyone was in for a shock when Irishman Aron Smith grabbed a sensational pole in a time of 1:16.785, beating the Shedden Honda by 0.02 seconds. After qualifying, Smith admitted his delight at scoring his first pole,

“I am certainly over the moon with that. Saturday is always the hardest day of the weekend so to come out on top is brilliant”

SmithANeal2

Smith did not have the best luck – while Neal has attracted some negativity with his driving style

Sadly, Smith would not see his brilliant lap translate into a win in the first race. After being bogged down on the start, he slipped behind the two Hondas and into the grips of a certain Adam Morgan who was capitalising on his immense effort on the Saturday. The deciding moment came on lap 8 when Smith suffered a puncture at one of the fastest parts of the track, causing a buttock clenching spin. To his credit, Smith saved the car and limped back to an eventual 21st. At the top end of the field, the spoils went to the Honda duo, headed by Flash himself, followed closely by the Mercedes of Morgan. Further down the field, there were some great battles between Josh Cook, Sam Tordoff, Tom Ingram and Rob Collard scrapping for position all race long.

Gordon Shedden was delighted with not only his victory, but the performance of the Civic Type R,

“To get another win and one-two with the new Civic Type R is a fantastic feeling. I got a great start so straight away I was in some clear air, which made the all-important job of looking after the tyres quite a bit easier. By the time I was at the Complex for the first time I’d broken the tow, and from then on I could manage the pace – the car was perfect.”

The Honda domination was set to evaporate in the second race, which saw a race long battle royale between the front row men of Jason Plato and Rob Collard; Collard got the jump on Plato off the line, not that Plato let him get away with it easily. Unlike years gone by, the racing was thrilling yet clean. For the rest of the field however, the race was not so clean cut. A coming together off the line between Morgan and Priaulx saw the rest of the field scatter in avoidance. For Jeff Smith and Josh Cook especially, they found themselves acting as dynamic Dunlop advertising having collected the boards at the edge of the track. To avoid overheating, this did force them both into the pits. The Honda of Neal was not to fare too well, colliding pretty forcefully with the Team BMR machine of Smith, forcing Neal into an early retirement. The race win would eventually fall to Plato, achieving a monumental 90th career win,

“I’m getting closer to 100 wins! I don’t think I’ll be able to get them all this year, the championship is too competitive, but it’s getting closer.”

Relentless action up and down the field all weekend

Relentless action up and down the field all weekend

As the grid formed up for the final race, Adam Morgan found himself on pole alongside the determined Andy Jordan, keen to get his first win in 2015. But Morgan was untouchable; even after a safety car period following an incident with Warren Scott, Adam was set to win comfortably in his Mercedes. Further down the field, Matt Neal found himself up to his old tricks, ramming into the back of Josh Cook’s Chevrolet on the entrance to the Club chicane. But the star of the show was always going to be Morgan, who cruised home to an impressive victory ahead of Andrew Jordan and Sam Tordoff,

“It’s an incredible feeling – it was great to win at Brands but doing it on the road is another level. I’ve wanted to get a lights-to-flag victory for so long, and to do it around Thruxton is amazing”

As the lights go down on another thrilling weekend at Thruxton, Shedden leads the drivers’ standings ahead of Turkington, Neal, Plato and Jordan. However, the top six are separated by a mere 16 points, proof of the strength and success of the BTCC, thanks in no small part to the NGTC regulations. Of the big names in the title chase, it is Turkington who has in many ways impressed me the most. Throughout the year so far, Turkington has managed to remain outside the limelight, yet scores consistent finishes that has left him 2nd in the standings. This is most probably the best approach to have; consistency is the name of the game after all. There is no better way to achieve regular results than to avoid trouble.

The rise of a new challenger

The rise of a new challenger

I believe that the race weekend at Thruxton was not just another round of the championship, but a snapshot of the moment when people will say that the championship underwent an evolution. For years, it has well been known that Thruxton has been a track dominated by Honda. And yet, in 2015 Honda was only able to secure one victory across the weekend. Add to that a superior victory by Adam Morgan in the Mercedes and a picture starts to materialise of a shift in the balance of power in the series.

If we look back at the races so far, much of the focus has shifted onto the newer faces in the championship such as Moffat, Cook and Morgan. Since the start of 2015, Morgan has laid the foundations of what may well be a challenge for the championship. He lies 6th in the standings, a mere 16 points behind series leader Shedden. After four years in the championship, Morgan has become a highly competitive and quick driver and has provided a more consistent drive already this year than many of the titans of the touring cars. On top of that, Aron Smith has made his intentions clear; his drive in the final race at Donington has most definitely become one of the drives of the last few years in a single race. The standings may be challenged by the usual suspects, but I am beginning to ponder whether the tides are changing and their power is slipping.  

As the series heads off to the rolling hills of Oulton Park, the championship is moving into a new era where I highly doubt we will again see one team or driver run away with the title like in previous years. We may only be three race weekends in, but I can see the battle remaining as close fought as it currently is. If Thruxton proved anything it is that the superpowers of the past may not have retained the supremacy they once reveled in; new powers have risen to challenge the once unattainable dominance. The critics of the past have fallen silent; this is touring car racing at its very best.

This is the British Touring Car Championship.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

All Images Credited To: BTCC.net

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