Luck is a funny thing in touring car racing. When it’s with you, you really know it. And likewise, when it’s against you, it can hurt. Badly.
If Daniel Cammish didn’t know this contrast of fortune all too well by now, he got another stark reminder during the second British Touring Car Championship event at Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix Circuit. After benefiting from a dose of fortune to win the opener, Cammish then suffered two damaging failures beyond his control as Honda’s weekend unravelled. The non-scores have put a sizable dent in his title ambitions.
Cammish’s troubles opened the door for Colin Turkington to put in another masterful display of speed and consistency to leave with a win, a podium and a greatly enhanced championship lead, as all of his challengers fell foul of fortune at least once.
On a weekend when searing temperatures pushed both the cars and the tyres to their limits – and often beyond – this could well be a defining weekend for the ultimate destination of the 2020 title.
After being so badly treated by Lady Luck at Brands last autumn, Cammish was on the receiving end of a huge dose of good fortune in the first outing. But it came at the tremendous expense of Rory Butcher.
Butcher should have won the opening race. Plain and simple. He’d put in a stunning performance during a sweltering qualifying session on Saturday to record the first pole for the new Motorbase Ford Focus ST. But that success had come amid the concerning backdrop of a front tyre blowout near the end of the second practice session. And that misfortune again reared its head to deny the Scotsman in heartbreaking fashion.
Butcher lined up on pole with Cammish, who had wrung the neck of his Halfords Yuasa Honda Civic in qualifying, alongside. Ollie Jackson enjoyed his best qualifying yet to put a second Motorbase Ford in the top three at the team’s home circuit, just ahead of Turkington and Tom Oliphant in the WSR BMWs.
When the lights went out, Butcher got away cleanly as Cammish moved across to stunt Jackson’s progress. The move was tight, tight enough to nearly leave a smear of red Focus paint on the pit wall, forcing Jackson to back off and cede a spot to Turkington.
The opening stages of the race were fraught, with Oliphant being tipped around at Hawthorn after contact with Josh Cook’s Honda, before slewing back across the pack at Westfield, fortunately narrowly missing everybody.
That moment allowed the frontrunners to escape, as things settled down in the heat. Butcher established a half-second lead over Cammish, with Turkington keeping a watching brief as Jackson held fourth ahead of Jake Hill’s Civic. With the Goodyear tyres and engines struggling in the heat the highlight was Tom Ingram’s superb battle for sixth with Cook – the pair going side-by-side for a half a lap of the GP loop until Cook wound up on the grass and had to pit to have his radiator cleared.
“I felt a vibration going into Clearways and then it just got worse and worse and eventually completely let go into Paddock”
The order seemed set, until Matt Neal came to grief after a clash with Aiden Moffat’s Infiniti at Hawthorn, leaving his Honda parked at the side of the road with rear-end damage, which summoned the safety car.
The clean-up left a two-lap sprint to the finish, and at first Butcher looked solid. But then, as he turned into Clearways to begin the final lap, his front-left Goodyear cried enough and punctured, forcing him to run wide at Paddock Hill Bend, before suffering a huge lockup under braking for Druids as the rubber gave up entirely.
“I’m gutted,” he said. “It’s just terrible for the team. I felt a vibration going into Clearways and then it just got worse and worse and eventually completely let go into Paddock. But there’s not too much more to say about it. It’s hugely disappointing, but we’ve just got to get our heads down and go again.”
It left Cammish to cruise to the flag, with Turkington second and Jackson at least salvaging a podium for Motorbase – his second in the BTCC, and first since Brands Indy 2016.
“What a turnaround this is,” smiled Cammish. “I’ll be honest, I had a lump in my throat coming back here yesterday, but this result just shows how things turn so quickly in the BTCC. I feel so sorry for Rory, but I could see he was pushing hard and perhaps the pressure I managed to put on him made him drive beyond the car’s limits? All I know is Team Dynamics gave me a brilliant race car.”
Turkington confessed he was powerless to match the pace of either Cammish or Butcher with the full 60kg of ballast in his BMW, while Jackson thoroughly deserved his podium after a fine, battling drive. Ingram had to settle for fourth, ahead of Tom Chilton. It was also a relatively quiet outing for Donington Park star Ash Sutton. He lost time during practice with some setup issues, and was then guilty of over-driving during qualifying, having his fastest time deleted for track limits abuse and being forced to start 14th in a car that was clearly lacking that perfect knife-edge balance he thrives on. Regardless, his drive through to sixth was solid, if lacking his usual flair.
If Cammish’s luck was in for race one, it conspired to put him out of the second helping, opening the door for the ever-consistent Turkington to score another big win and begin to give himself some breathing space in the championship.
With Turkington starting on the front row, his BMW wearing six kilogrammes less lead than Cammish’s pole-sitting Civic, there was only ever going to be one winner into turn one as Turkington used rear-drive traction to full effect to drag into an early lead.
Cammish didn’t have so much luck. He got too few revs away from the line and was immediately swamped back to fourth as Jackson’s Ford and Ingram’s Toyota swept by. With Turkington keen to pull clear, Ingram knew he had to make a move on the heavier Ford ahead, and eventually timed a dive up the inside into Sheene Curve perfectly on lap two. Cammish didn’t wait long either, demoting Jackson further into Sheene a lap later.
The order had just begun to settle when a lengthy safety car was called after Michael Crees and Bobby Thompson got themselves into a messy tangle heading toward Westfield Bend. Both cars ended up in the gravel, with both drivers slamming their doors with varying degrees of anger.
The rescue operation was lengthy, but the race restarted with nine laps to run as Turkington got the power down to edge back in front of Ingram, who in-turn had Cammish in tow as Jackson acted like the cork in the bottle for all those behind.
The top three soon ran clear, and the result seemed settled, until Cammish suddenly slowed entering Surtees a lap from home, the engine in his Honda refusing to re-fire. The team traced the issue to an electrical fault, but Cammish’s hopes of a finish, let alone a podium, were gone. “Long story short, the power steering fuse popped out,” said Cammish afterwards. “After the race we took both my fuse and the one from Matt’s car out, and you could poke mine with your finger and it would pop out, whereas you could throw Matt’s around the room and it wouldn’t budge. It was just one of those freak things.”
Up front, Turkington streaked home ahead of Ingram to claim a second win of the year. “That was as close to a perfect race as I could have hoped for,” he said. “I had to win the race to turn one, and even after that it wasn’t easy as there was early pressure to deal with and you just can’t make a mistake, even when you’re out front. Luckily I didn’t and I think the hot temperatures are definitely helping the BMW at the moment.”
Ingram was delighted with his first podium of the season, adding that his Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla was “well and truly hooked up”.
Sutton managed to grab third, having been the first to displace Jackson in the queue and then benefit from Cammish’s misfortune. “Not running in FP2 really cost us, and we’ve been playing catch-up all weekend from there, but we’re getting there and the car’s getting better,” he said.
Aside from Cammish’s drama, the highlight of the race was unquestionably Butcher’s heroics from the back of the grid. Having started 25th after his earlier tyre trauma, he’d climbed to 16th after two tours, then got himself into seventh after the safety car restart, before eventually breezing past team-mate Jackson into Clearways to run an amazing fifth before Cammish went off. Fourth at the flag was a remarkable achievement.
This was also where the tide turned for Honda – with all of the regular points-scoring contenders coming to grief in the afternoon sun. Aside from Cammish, Neal retired with a split power steering hose, Josh Cook needed an engine change, and Tom Chilton also suffered problems relating to his power steering, while Hill’s engine gave up at little notice in his older Civic. It meant that a Honda didn’t finish in the points for the first time since Snetterton in 2015, a full 137 races ago.
“Oh for God’s sake..!”… Turkington’s reaction said it all as, for the second week in a row, he drew the number 12 ball out of the bag to determine the reversed grid. “I took a load of stick after Donington, I’ll never live this one down,” he added with a playful shake of the head, knowing it would take something special to achieve much whilst lugging 60kg of ballast through the traffic. But the draw would turn out to be Turkington’s sole sour roll of the dice, as once again fate proved to be on his side.
The draw placed Moffat on pole, with Jack Goff, James Gornall and Stephen Jelley around him. Moffat got a good enough launch to lead into turn one, but there was soon drama as contact in the pack spat Goff’s Volkswagen CC onto the grass, causing him to lose control and harpoon the innocent Ingram on the run into Graham Hill Bend, wrecking the Toyota man’s chance of another big points haul.
With one potential frontrunner out, Moffat led valiantly early on, but became more and more erratic as he desperately tried to cling on – a few grassy moments allowing both Jelley and Tom Oliphant in the second WSR BMW to close in. Oliphant then used a superb run down the start-finish straight to draft around the outside of both Moffat and Jelley to assume top spot with a brave move on the brakes into Paddock on lap two.
From then on, Oliphant was in control, but his work wasn’t done. Sutton enjoyed a great first lap to run fourth from 10th on the grid, and took advantage of Jelley and Moffat’s battling to pass both and slot himself into second. That began a sequence of Sutton piling the pressure on Oliphant up top, the Infiniti never dropping beyond a few lengths behind the BMW. But, try and he might, Sutton couldn’t break Oliphant’s defence, with the BMW driver grabbing his maiden BTCC win by just 0.324sec, and in doing so sealed WSR’s 300th BTCC podium appearance.
“What a race… I can’t believe it,” said Oliphant. “This is a dream for me. The overtake for the lead was spectacular, but then I couldn’t think of a worse person to have behind me for most of the race than Ash. But I kept the tyres in mind and just concentrated on getting my corner exits right, and it came to me. I’m delighted.”
Sutton’s second place – ahead of Jelley – netted him second spot in the championship also, as the drama at the top of the points table took an almighty swing.
After his race two disappointment, Cammish was on a charge. The un-ballasted Honda making swift progress up the order from 19th on the grid to run 12th, right behind the much heavier Turkington. Things looked good for Cammish to find a gap, pass his rival and go on to claw some of the points deficit back. But it all came crashing down again when he was forced to pull over on the run toward Hawthorn with apparent overheating issues. It was a sad end to the weekend for one of the title favourites.
And the outside influence didn’t end there. Butcher enjoyed another stormer, climbing from ninth on the grid to run third after some superb passes. But, just when it appeared his weekend would finally end on a much-deserved high, his front-left tyre gave up on him again.
With Ingram, Cammish and Butcher out all out from events not of their own making, Turkington simply picked his battles and wound up fifth at the flag, a place behind Moffat. It may not have been a vintage Turkington overtaking display, but it was the sort of performance that showed which way Lady Luck is smiling at the moment.