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.
A puncture for Butcher at the restart let Cammish through for the round four win
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.
Sutton struggled with Infiniti’s balance
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.”
Turkington led Ingram to the flag in round 5
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.