The battle for the biggest prize in British motorsport will go down to the wire at Brands Hatch next weekend (29-30 September) as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s Diamond Jubilee reaches its climax.
A mathematical three-way tussle for top honours between Team BMW’s double champion Colin Turkington and the top two Independents’ runners in Tom Ingram and Tom Chilton is in store, with the Northern Irishman the hunted, rather than the hunter this year.
Last time out at Silverstone, current Indy champ Ingram produced another trademark fight through the field to seal victory in race two, leaving him well placed to score strongly in the finale – which he duly did with a second place finish. As a result, Turkington’s lead leaving Northamptonshire was clipped by nine points to 34. With 67 points on offer over the course of a BTCC race weekend, there’s plenty of scope for all-change at the top and though a further 30 points back in the tally, Chilton’s form is such that he’ll feel there’s still a slim chance.
There have now been a record 16 different race winners in the current campaign following Sam Tordoff and Aiden Moffat’s triumphs at Silverstone, so, aside from the enthralling title battle, there are opportunities for any number of drivers to end their respective seasons on a real high around the famed Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
Three encounters are sure to produce unmissable action, with the track host to many a memorable moment over the years as the BTCC’s final port of call. A large crowd is, as always, expected at the hallowed Kent venue and hundreds of thousands will be watching the drama unfold live, exclusive and free-to-air on ITV4.
BMW’s Turkington has been here before. The double champion has the nous and experience to see his points advantage through and convert a year’s hard work into a third BTCC crown.
His season has been a story of consistency. The West Surrey Racing man counting just a single victory to his name while Ingram has notched a trio of race wins. Despite this, Turkington holds 34 points in hand over the Speedworks man. No other driver on the grid has managed more podium finishes than the Northern Irishman with ten, though the nearest competition is second-placed Ingram with his eight.
Where Turkington has failed to win, he’s secured bonus points to negate the difference. Where Turkington’s been unable to win, he’s ensured he’s secured good results – with just five finishes outside of the top ten all season, and 17 top six finishes in 27 rounds. It’s this constant stream of scores that sees him clear with just three rounds left to race but Turkington is not about to let up yet, despite being the man with the target on his back.
“I’ve been here before and I’m really enjoying it this year,” said Turkington. “Last year, I was the one doing the hunting, trying to claw the points back on Ash (Sutton) but I wasn’t really getting there, and that’s where you start taking risks. I enjoy these moments, it’s what we live for.
“I’m so determined this year that it’s coming home to me, especially after last year. The BTCC is such that the stars have to align if you want to win the championship. I hope that this is the year. I’ve got real determination. I’ve got a lot of people to do it for and a lot of reasons.
“All of us at WSR are very aware of how quickly the picture can change and the gap can close or grow very easily over the course of a weekend.
“We’ve definitely put together a strong campaign. It’s not been without its challenges. At the beginning of the season, Donington Park was a very difficult event where we only scored maybe six points. We analysed what went wrong and from there, my season started to flourish from Thruxton on, where we got a couple of second place finishes.
“Then we moved to Oulton and Croft where we’re historically strong and notched a first win. Snetterton was tough but we came out with good points in the bag. The strike rate of podiums has been good, not necessarily wins – the latter are very hard to come by in the BTCC.
“It’s the big points scores that, I suppose, have put me in this position. It’s more difficult to get top tens than it ever has been before given how competitive the season now is. There are a lot of occasions where 31 cars are within a second of each other – everyone’s on the pace.”
Ingram, meanwhile, had to produce two stunning comeback drives at Snetterton and Rockingham after race one disappointment – carving his way through from 27th on the grid for race two on both occasions to reach the podium with third place finishes. It is difficult to dispute that Ingram has been anything other than a match for Turkington up to this point on pace alone and he’s had a fair share of misfortune beyond his control to contend with in 2018.
He will take encouragement from his performance in Kent last year, where he brought home 40 points – almost double Turkington’s haul.
“We will go to Brands Hatch with a fighting chance,” said Ingram. “Yes, we’re obviously still the underdog, but the ball is in our court and we’re not giving up now!
“We’re the hunter, while Colin is the hunted. The pressure is on him, not us and he’s sitting on two strikes, so he can’t afford to take any major risks whereas we can throw caution to the wind a bit more.
“We’re in the best shape possible. You’d say we’ve got the strongest car. We’re lighter on weight and we’re in the driving seat. We’ve gone well at Brands in the past. We took 42 points out of Colin in the last two races. We can do it, it’s just a case of putting it all together.”
Chilton is still in with a shout in third spot. He and Motorbase will be looking to push for Independents’ glory on home turf, as well as for the Drivers’ title – the latter by their own admission an outside chance. Chilton’s just 20 points shy in the Indy running, while Motorbase-backed Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher is just ten behind in their quest to usurp Ingrams’ Speedworks outfit for the Independent Teams’ title.
BMW is in pole position to retain the Manufacturers’ title, with Team BMW in the same position in the Teams’ running. Dan Cammish, meanwhile, holds an unassailable lead in the Jack Sears Trophy.