Turkington avoids the slip-ups at Oulton Park: 2020 BTCC rounds 7-9

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Colin Turkington, 2020 Oulton Park

Colin Turkington stretched his championship lead over the weekend

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Colin Turkington must not like bananas. Well, at least he avoids their skins like a bad smell. If ever there were a combination for the British Touring Car Championship leader to slip up, it was at Oulton Park, 2020.

While the Cheshire circuit has been traditionally kind to Turkington and Team BMW – they’d won three of the last six races there – all of the circumstances were there to catch the combination out. A tight and twisty track where mistakes are heavily punished, three mixed-conditions races, and their rivals back on form.

But fast forward to the end of the weekend, and there wasn’t a win for Turkington, or even one for a BMW, but the Northern Irishman still left with two podiums and a bagful of points as the challenge of his rivals largely fell apart.

We were treated to three different winners, as Rory Butcher finally got the win he so deserved before Ash Sutton turned around a tricky opener to claim the second race and then Adam Morgan held fast to take a shortened finale. But with the sort of metronomic consistency Turkington is displaying at the moment, he’s threatening to be out of sight rather soon.

The opener at Oulton couldn’t have been more different than last time out at Brands Hatch, both in terms of the weather and the luck of Butcher, who finally secured the first win for Motorbase’s new Ford Focus, albeit not quite in the manner he’d have liked as it came at the great misfortune of BTC Racing’s Josh Cook.

The scorching, tyre-torturing temperatures of Kent were replaced with heavy rain in Cheshire as the field lined up and – when the race finally did get underway after a long delay when Carl Boardley lost control of his BMW on the green flag lap and damaged the barriers at Deer Leap – the race presented the first potential banana skin for Turkington to slip upon.

The delay had allowed conditions to really take hold, with standing water developing at some key corners. Traditionally, Oulton has favoured rear-wheel drive machinery, with the extra traction of the format allowing a favourable drive out of the hairpin and chicane.

Turkington put that to good use in the dry qualifying, lugging a full 60kg of ballast to third on the grid, and things looked set. But the wet largely nullified the BMW’s advantage, as did the change of conditions on the grid, meaning most cars ran with 50-50, not-quite-dry not-quite-wet setups. That appeared to unsettle the BMW more than others, with the 330i M Sport looking more than a little twitchy.

Rory Butcher, 2020 Oulton Park

Cammish leads through the spray

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Butcher had put in a superb qualifying to snatch his second successive pole in the Motorbase Ford Focus, but he was carrying 30kg of lead. With the conditions now favouring front-wheel drive, and with no weight onboard, Cook became the bookie’s favourite, starting second in the BTC Civic… even if his eventual getaway left a little to be desired.

At the start, Butcher did enough to fend off the fast-starting Turkington into Old Hall, as Cook bogged down and lost a hatful of places on the run to turn one.

However, Cook soon reasserted himself to run fourth at the end of the first tour. Out in front, Butcher set about trying to forge a gap over Turkington, who was slowly being dragged back into the pack as the ballast took effect. That opened the door for Cook, who pulled a great dive on the inside at Lodge to snatch third from Tom Oliphant in the second WSR BMW before honing in on Turkington and snatching second with a brave move at Druids.

A brief safety car period to remove Ollie Brown’s Volkswagen from the Old Hall barriers then put Cook right on Butcher’s tail, and the grey Civic wasted little time, latching on to Butcher’s bumper at the restart and then making a brilliant switchback on the brakes work to get alongside for the lead at Old Hall. Butcher tried to hang on, and the pair swapped some paint on the run down to Cascades before Butcher was eventually forced to cede.

Now out front and with the lighter car, Cook stroked it home for what appeared to be his first BTCC win of the season. But there were a few concerned faces as his car had some issues getting through the post-race ride-height checks due to some damage on his splitter. The rule stood that the roller wouldn’t pass under the bumper, so Cook was heartbreakingly thrown out of the result, handing the victory to Butcher.

“I’m gutted, for myself and especially for the team,” said Cook. “Rules are rules at the end of the day. We can argue it was unfair, but we just have to take it on the chin. The car felt mega, so hopefully we can fight back in the next race.”

Butcher added: “I was determined to win that race after what happened at Brands [a puncture robbed him in race one], but Josh was on a mission. When he got alongside into Old Hall I thought I might be able to hang on, but then a bit of risk management kicked in at Cascades and I knew I had to let him through. I thought he’d won that race as he was the faster man.”

Turkington continued to struggle, with Dan Cammish nipping past for third, and then a patch of water causing a lurid moment into Old Hall that allowed Jake Hill through as Hondas filled three of the top four spots before Cook’s removal. Turkington did enough to hold fifth on the road, which became fourth, as Tom Chilton’s BTC Civic came under huge late pressure from the recovering Tom Ingram in the Speedworks Toyota Corolla.

Ingram missed a lot of qualifying after a clash with Brown during the session and started a disappointed 14th on his local track, but climbed well through the order, usually dragging the hard-charging Ash Sutton along with him. While Ingram took sixth in the amended result, Sutton had to settle for eighth, behind Adam Morgan, as the Infiniti proved a difficult proposition in the wet, a fact not helped by an air intake clogged with mud that meant he had to drive with an eye to the temperature gauge for the entire race.

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But if those issues forced Sutton to be rather reserved in the opener, he was back to his flamboyant best for race two, climbing through the pack from eighth on the grid to take a superb second BTCC win for the Infiniti.

While the track was still wet, it was nowhere near as bad as the first outing, which brought the rear-drive brigade back into play. Sutton used a superb launch to run fifth through Old Hall before pulling a fine move around the outside of Cascades to demote Hill from fourth. Sutton was flying from the off and soon closed up on Cammish and Turkington’s fight for second, passing Turkington when Cammish aggressively chopped across the BMW’s front on the run out of the Island Hairpin, forcing its driver to get out of the throttle. Sutton then passed Cammish into Lodge and set his sights on Butcher in the race lead.

It had been plain sailing for Butcher until that point, the battling behind allowing him a handy two-second advantage. But Sutton ate into it rapidly, lapping a full second faster at times, closing up to the Ford and then eventually hitting top spot when Butcher took a tight line into Old Hall and suffered a grassy exit as Sutton found far more grip around the outside.

“We were held back in race one due to various factors, but we could really show what we could do in that race and this car just feels fantastic,” said Sutton after securing the win. “I wanted to keep things tidy at the start and get the first few laps done as it’s so easy to make contact round here, but it all went my way and I could push from the start. The conditions definitely helped.”

The track had begun to dry toward the finish, meaning the front-wheel-drive cars began to suffer more front-tyre wear as the wet Goodyears began to overheat. While Butcher was a clear second and didn’t have to worry, Cammish had Turkington climbing all over him for third. The Honda man defended valiantly, but a wide moment at Island Hairpin opened the door for Turkington to dive inside and use the better traction of the BMW to draft into the final podium place.

Ingram improved to fifth, ahead of Oliphant, Hill, Chilton and Morgan. But once again things didn’t go to plan for poor Cook. Starting at the back and still carrying the full 60kg of ballast after his earlier disqualification, Cook drove a great race to climb as high as 13th – a place outside of the reversed grid draw for the finale – but contact between him and BTC team-mate Michael Crees as they went either side of Chris Smiley’s Hyundai into Hislops sent Cook spinning out.

Matt Neal earned the milestone of 700 BTCC races, and capped it with a fine recovery to 13th after being forced out of the first race due to a non-functioning rear rain light.

Sutton drew number 10 from the bag, placing Bobby Thompson’s Audi on pole for race three, with Morgan’s Mercedes alongside. With the track now fully dry, the balance had shifted back toward the rear-drive machines. Could anybody stop either a BMW or an Infiniti? Step forward Morgan, who put in a stellar defensive display to secure his first win of the year.

Morgan used a great launch to draft into the lead as Oliphant followed him through as the pole-man had a nightmare and was swamped by the pack. Turkington made it through to run third, with Sutton slotting in as a three-car rear-driven train formed behind Morgan.

The signs were ominous, but the Mercedes man held on valiantly. He defended so well that West Surrey Racing eventually made the call to Oliphant to move aside and let Turkington have a go at deposing him.

Adam Morgan, 2020 Oulton Park

Race three went to Adam Morgan in his Mercedes after an early stoppage

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Oliphant moved across on lap seven, allowing Turkington through. As the race went on, and Morgan’s front tyres began to take more and more punishment, Turkington’s chances of grabbing the final win looked to increase by the lap. But then a reprieve arrived for Morgan in the form of a red flag stoppage after Stephen Jelley, Nicholas Hamilton and Brown all came to grief at Druids, forcing an early stoppage and the result to be declared.

“To get a win here is amazing, this is our local track and we have friends, family, sponsors, everyone here…” said an emotional Morgan. “It was a really tough race. It was hard keeping Tom behind and then Colin, too. I can’t say I was too sad to see the race end early!”

Turkington added: “It was a strange race, and we’d talked about making the switch between Tom and I before the race. He got the call and the plan was that if I couldn’t get past Adam I’d give second back to him, but I obviously never got the chance. I definitely owe him one now.”

Sutton capped his weekend with fourth to retain second in the championship, with Chilton in fifth ahead of Senna Proctor, Hill, Butcher, Smiley and Aiden Moffatt.

The most notable absences from the top 10 were the two works Team Dynamics Hondas. Neal was punted off early doors, while Cammish was elbowed wide twice on the opening tour, dropped well down the order and was forced to limp home in 15th with his Civic not looking all that well. It was another damaging weekend for last year’s championship runner-up, who has now dropped to fifth in the standings. And then there was poor old Ingram, who was set for another charge up the order only for a driveshaft to pop on the warm-up lap.

Turkington however, avoided all this chaos. Dancing around every potential banana skin possible – the sole mark on his weekend being a splashy slide in race one and a handy catch into Lodge in race two – to leave with a 19-point advantage over Sutton.

“I’m feeling really good,” he beamed afterwards. “Oulton has traditionally been kind to us, but we usually race here in blazing hot temperatures and it was definitely the other side of the coin for us this weekend. But the fact we came through it with so many points bodes really well.”

Just not for everybody else.