Event of the month: BTCC Brands Hatch
At the start of the season, the British Touring Car Championship featured plenty of talking points. There was the equalisation of rear- and front-wheel-drive acceleration, an increase in success ballast and a new race two qualifying procedure. On the team front, Motorbase skipped half the season having lost its title sponsor and a factory Infiniti team appeared, staffed with disabled former paratroopers. There were numerous driver changes, with Jason Plato and Colin Turkington jumping ship to the ambitious young BMR outfit and the return of triple world champion Andy Priaulx.
But despite those changes, at the end of it all the title decider at Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit had a familiar look: a five-way fight between Plato, Turkington, Gordon Shedden, Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan.
Jordan – whose challenging season with Triple Eight was his first winless campaign since 2009 – was the first to fall from contention, finishing 19th in race one. Turkington was the next to go, eliminated by a puncture on the last lap of race two. Neal, too far back to have a realistic shot, pledged to support his team-mate.
It was Shedden vs Plato; and unsurprisingly, controversy swirled around raceday from the off.
Plato showed some suspect behaviour on track, insulted team-mate Árón Smith, undermining his colleagues between races and, although he actually won the third contest using legitimate skill, Shedden still came out on top.
He started race three in 19th – Plato had blocked his attempts to set a fast lap in race one, which would have teed him up nicely for the second. In that one Dunlop’s soft compound, but more pertinently binding rear brakes from a collision, doomed him to fall back and ensure his lowly grid slot for the finale.
Shedden’s final drive to fourth was brilliant, but it was made much easier by those standing between him and his goal.
After a day – some might say a career – spent wearing out any goodwill he had with other drivers, there were precious few of them looking to help Plato in his quest for a third championship. Sam Tordoff, his team-mate for two years at Triple Eight, practically leaped out of Shedden’s way; Jordan calmly indicated and pulled over on the straight. Smith, harried for what Plato claimed to
be unhelpful driving in races one and two, put up a token effort, but didn’t contest the place with much vigour.
No one could argue that Shedden’s second title isn’t deserved. Apart from Snetterton, a disaster not of his own making, he was a factor everywhere and won four times. Equally the other contenders had driven brilliantly all season, if not quite as consistently. But there’d been an ugly truth lurking in the background since Knockhill – the best driver/car combination was nowhere near the top of the standings.
During the off-season Motorbase lost its lucrative Airwaves sponsorship, which would have been a disaster for any team, but David Bartrum’s outfit was sitting on a revamped Ford Focus and wanted to see what it could do. With new engines and the last two seasons’ chassis gremlins cured, the car was dynamite and only seemed to get stronger as the year went on, Mat Jackson taking two wins and a second at Brands. While it’s true that he was running without success ballast in every first race due to his lowly place in the standings, Jackson’s race two performances with an extra 75kg on board were just as impressive. Extrapolated over a full season, Jackson would have taken 400 points; Shedden won with 348. Sadly, it’s likely that the Fords will be restricted in some way next year, just as West Surrey’s BMWs were after 2014.
The accolades for overall team performance, despite the apparent season-ending miscommunication, go to BMR. Owner Warren Scott not only found room for two champions, he lured some impressive engineering talent to back it all up – in less than three years the team has gone from last-place shoo-in to champion team.
As is usual in the BTCC these days, news came thick and fast in the aftermath of Brands Hatch.
By the time this magazine hits the shelves it’s likely another high-profile move will have been made and there’s already talk of a non-championship touring car festival at Donington Park next year. Not only famous for what happens on track, the BTCC is becoming known for its gradually shifting landscape; there’s always intrigue around the corner. Alex Harmer