BTCC Round 1 report: Hill hits the top as Championship blasts back into life


Wins, spins and more incidents than you can shake a stick at – the British Touring Car Championship came back to life with more than a few bangs at Thruxton

Josh Cook BTCC

A pair of race wins represented a strong start to the season for Josh Cook, with team stand-in Dan Cammish grabbing a podium


It took precisely two corners for the 2021 British Touring Car Championship to provide a talking point, and less than a full lap to set tongues wagging and the wheel of speculation whirling.

The first opening round at Thruxton since 2010 proved a bruising one for many, with reigning champion Ash Sutton being the first driver to suffer, quickly followed by returning three-time champion Gordon Shedden, and then Colin Turkington, too.

The hat-trick of races became more about survival than anything, and raised plenty of talking points. BTC Racing’s Josh Cook produced two flawless performances to score a dominant double victory, only to have his weekend soured a little by a tricky third album at the end of the day.

Yet through all the chaos came Jake Hill, who scored a superb trio of podium finishes to ensure he leaves Hampshire leading the BTCC points table for the first time in his career.

Here are the highs and lows from the opening round.


Cook-ing up a storm

Josh Cook

Two wins for BTC Racing’s Cook extended his run of good form at Thruxton


Thruxton has always been a bit of a Honda haven – since 2017, Civics had won seven of the 15 races to date around Britain’s fastest circuit – but this time it was Thruxton specialist Josh Cook and the BTC Racing team led the way, rather than the works Team Dynamics crew.

A stunning double victory for Cook, the second taken despite running with the new maximum of 75kg of success ballast onboard, got his title bid underway in emphatic fashion.

Cook has a strong history at Thruxton: he coaches there regularly and has taken at least one race victory there each year since 2018, but this was the first time he’d managed such a sizable double score.

Cook’s first was taken after pole-sitter Ash Sutton suffered a tap into Campbell from Turkington, which proved just enough to spin the Infiniti to the back of the pack. The contact delayed Turkington and allowed Cook through for a lead he’d never lose, leading home Tom Ingram’s Hyundai – the i30 N’s best BTCC finish to date – in a race that was punctuated by a safety car period for a big accident involving Gordon Shedden and Chris Smiley.

With the maximum success ballast this year increasing from 60 to 75kg – back to the championship’s level from 2015-2018 – Cook wasn’t fancied to make it a double in race two, especially around a track like Thruxton, where both agility and straight-line speed are crucial to success. But he got an early dose of luck that made the difference.

Entering Campbell for the first time, Cook lost the rear of his Civic, but fortunately Ingram’s Hyundai was to his outside and formed a handy leaning post, the sideways contact knocking Ingram wide but stabilising Cook. It also served to delay Ingram and allow Cook’s guest team-mate Dan Cammish through into second out of Seagrave.

Tom Ingram

Second place for Ingram in the first race was the best BTCC result for the Hyundai. He was sixth in race two, and then fell foul of a penalty for changing tyres too late for race three


Unwilling to put too much pressure on Cook during what may be his sole BTCC outing of the year, Cammish formed the perfect blockade behind, allowing Cook a second victory.

“I honestly didn’t expect this,” said Cook. “It’s huge kudos to the team because I just do the easy bit and get in and drive. The fact we have a car that works this well with no weight in it, and then with maximum weight in it… that says good things ahead of the rest of the season.”

Two cars on the podium was a big statement from BTC, and ultra-impressive stuff from Cammish when you consider he was drafted into the Civic at the last minute and Sunday’s races represented his first laps on slicks since the end of last season.

BTC’s joy was tempered slightly though as its third entry suffered a dose of misfortune. After a sensible drive to 20th in the first outing, Jade Edwards became the innocent victim of a huge accident that red-flagged the second race as three cars speared into the barriers at Allard off the start.

From the archive

Things then got worse in the mixed-conditions finale when Cook was slapped with 30-second stop-go penalty for not having his slick tyres bolted on in the prescribed time as the field made last-minute calls on the grid whether to start on dry or wet rubber. That consigned him to a lowly 20th at the flag. Damage carried over from her race two collision also put Edwards out early doors, leaving only Cammish to see the flag of the finale, albeit in 23rd, and last, place after mistiming a switch for slick tyres and choosing to play it safe rather than risk damage.


Hill gets a grip

That tricky final race gave Jake Hill another chance to shine. And boy did he make it count. Never one to shy away from a tyre gamble, Hill has grown mightily in both confidence and prowess during recent BTCC seasons and, with a much more proven chassis beneath him this year in the form of a Motorbase-built Ford Focus ST, he’s showing more than a few flashes of brilliance.

Finely judged drives to third place in both of the opening races were good, but his run to the final podium spot in the wet-dry-wet finale was sensational, and perhaps deserved more, had the weather gods been kinder.

With rain falling as the field lined up for the reversed grid, the majority of cars began the race on wet tyres – aside from a handful, led by Hill (starting ninth) and Tom Oliphant (on the front row). Both cars immediately went backwards as they struggled for grip at the start, with Hill dropping as low as 20th at one point. But then the rain eased and the quirks of Thruxton’s abrasive surface meant the slicks began working again, fast.

Jake Hill

A new title contender? Jake Hill scored three third places to grab an early points lead


Hill began to scythe his way up the order, lapping seconds faster than those ahead of him before he was soon on the tail of race-leader Sutton, who had pulled a fine move on Stephen Jelley’s BMW at Seagrave to snatch top spot.

This set up a scintillating battle as the wet-shod Sutton and slick-shod Hill skated around, exchanging the lead. Hill found grip through the faster, drier section at the rear of the circuit, whereas Sutton enjoyed better braking and traction out of the two chicanes.

The rain eventually returned in the final few laps, and Hill simply couldn’t live with Sutton’s extra grip and instead had to switch his attention to the charging Jason Plato behind – the Vauxhall just managing to get a better run out of the Club Chicane on the last lap to nip into the runner-up spot.

Regardless, the result put Hill top of the points pile. “I can’t honestly believe it,” he said. “We’ve had a fantastic weekend and the car has been mega. I wondered if we’d made the wrong call at the start in race three, but it just came to us after a few laps. It’s funny as when you’re building tyre heat everything is fine and comfortable, but it’s when the tyres are in the right window that you don’t really know when you can push to the limit. It was a case of letting the can dance and taking what I could from it, rather than trying to drag a result out of it.”

Spoken like the impressively mature and instinctive driver he’s fast becoming. Watch this lad.


Champions in trouble

While Cook and Hill stole the plaudits, some familiar faces suffered more mixed weekends. Let’s start with Shedden, whose triumphant return to the BTCC suffered a rather harsh reality check after just a few corners.

“I had my head in my hands, just thinking ‘oh Flash’…” was Matt Neal’s response to seeing the Civic buried in the barriers at Noble on the first lap of the season.

Gordon Shedden

Gordon Shedden suffered a tough start back in the BTCC, with a race one crash setting him back. fourth in the finale was inspired, though


Having qualified a respectable eighth in a damp session, Sheds was looking to make early progress and was right in the slipstream of Ollie Jackson’s Ford entering Noble when the pack slowed marginally for Goodwood, Sheds dipped a wheel on the grass outside and was sent spinning hard to the left, collecting Smiley’s Hyundai on his way into the tyres.

That caused heavy damage to the Honda, which Dynamics managed to mostly repair in time to get the Scot back out for race two. But all was not well. Shedden struggled to make progress from the back, and could only manage 18th, and there was even a clumsy nudge on Adam Morgan into Club that sent the BMW into a spin.

Redemption would come in the finale though. Shedden was late to the grid after Dynamics identified a few issues and worked wonders to get the car better straightened out, and Shedden rewarded the team with a superb drive to fourth place. While Shedden had his issues, his team-mate Dan Rowbottom enjoyed a great start to his Dynamics career, with strong drives to seventh and fourth respectively in the opening two races. Only the tyre lottery of race three denied him a hat-trick of top 10s.

And then there’s Turkington. Thruxton traditionally has been an indifferent circuit for the BMW – its fast sweeps and lack of slow corners removing much of the traction advantage the car enjoys. A third place in qualifying was great. His tip of Sutton at Campbell not so. That earned him a 17-second penalty, demoting him from fourth on the road to 10th – behind Sutton – post-race. That was followed by a quiet drive to seventh, and then a solid sixth on wets in the finale. Not ground-breaking stuff, but it banked the sort of consistent points that always keep Turkington in the hunt later in the year.

After that disappointment in race one, Sutton almost had a nightmare in race two when he was forced to make a quick pit stop to fix a small engine issue. Fortunately, the race’s fractured nature – a long red flag and then safety car – allowed him to stay on the lead lap and he cruised his way through to ninth on full power. Victory in that tight finale put him back on track.

“We needed that,” he said after race three. “It’s not been the perfect day for us, but being only 10 points behind in the championship is all that matters.”


Not so Neate

Neate Thruxton

Andy Neate copped a £2000 fine and penalty points for his part in the accident that halted race two


Having been excluded from this event last season for questionable driving, Andy Neate landed himself in hot water again for his part in the three-car accident that halted race two, and his subsequent explanation for it.

Neate had enjoyed a good start for the second race, but then slammed into the rear of Glynn Geddie’s Cupra at the apex of Allard, forcing both cars off and taking the unfortunate Jade Edwards’ Civic with them. Geddie’s car then hit the barrier and rolled across Edwards’ bonnet, causing significant damage to all three that would eventually put them all out of the running early.

While all three drivers thankfully emerged unscathed, Neate put his part in the clash down to ‘a mechanical issue’. However, due to the absence of any brake lights at the point of impact, plus the car’s data not showing any form of ‘mechanical issue’, Neate was later slapped with a £2000 fine and three penalty points for “driving in a manner incompatible with general safety, or departing from the standard of a reasonably competent driver.”

Geddie’s car in particular suffered massive damage, with Team HARD boss Tony Gilham saying: “It was completely avoidable. It’s quite clear to see what happened. We built five brand-new cars over the winter, looks like we’ll be building a sixth one now…”