The BTCC has rarely been short on thrills, any fan or casual follower will testify to that. The 2016 season however, has every BTCC fan pumped up like a kid locked in the Kinder egg factory and with twelve different winners so far this season and eight drivers in with a mathematical chance of being crowned champion, anyone with an ounce of petrol flowing through their veins can’t fail to sit up and take notice.
But what can we expect then the lights go out at Brands this weekend?
The first thing that grabbed my attention over the last few days are the drivers who have said they will “throw caution to the wind” in the finale. The Honda pairing of Neal and Shedden have both been quoted in recent days using the phrase, which if you read between the lines, means a total blitz of fast laps with tyre degradation concerns and maybe even contact concerns, thrown right out of the window net. This will be good news for Honda fans and neutrals but not so good news for WSR fans. Two hot Honda’s on full chat will be enough to get anyone on edge, but driving a rear wheel drive car whilst being chased by two BTCC champions on full attack mode will be unnerving even for seasoned racers.
Historically however, Sam Tordoff has had great success at Brands for the last couple of years. The 2013 season saw young Sam on the podium for race one and race two (3rd and 2nd respectively) and he was on pace again in 2014 with a brace of 2nd places in race one and two. There was no podium for Sam last year however but he did bag the fastest lap in race three, so if form is to go off then number 600 could well be hoisting the trophy on Sunday.
One man I certainly wouldn’t write off is Matt Jackson. One of the most experienced and knowledgeable racers on the grid have again this season proved what a great technical racer he is. Matt was on pole for race one and two last year and won both of those races. He tasted the champagne again in race three with a second place finish. If he can bag those poles again this year, he no doubt will once again prove how wide he can make that Focus. With Matt’s talent for defensive driving and a Honda team vowing to go all guns blazing, which could be a battle to watch for?
Battles are something that the Subaru drivers are all too familiar with. They are a way back in the points but can we truly discount Plato and Turkington? Both BTCC champs, both excellent drivers and the Levorg continues to gain strength in the latter part of the season. This performance however is worth discussing. In the early part of this season the Subaru was a dud. The performance was nowhere and after a fuel rail failure at Donington (and the resulting fire), Team BMR withdrew from the next round at Thruxton over concerns of the design and safety of their cars fuel rail. At Oulton Park the Subaru’s came alive. Turkington was on pole for race one and went on to win with Plato in third and race two and three held similar success with a 2nd and 3rd place finish, and another 3rd place for Plato in race three. Now as you may or may not know there was some controversy surrounding the Subaru’s this season. For the first time in BTCC history, TOCA (the sports ruling body) accepted an application from Team BMR to change the design of their cars manifold, thus massively increasing its performance. To allow a team to change such an influential part on their car mid-season is unheard of, yet the tit-for tat exchanges between TOCA and BMR were truly cringe worthy at times, with BMR reissuing statements and TOCA having to respond. Now should the Subaru’s somehow have an epic weekend and the other contenders have a stinker, and one of their drivers do indeed end up bagging the championship, will this cause a furore with the other drivers over “that” allowance from TOCA?
Andrew Jordan and Rob Collard are quietly waiting in the wings and, as Jackson, not much has been said about their chances as everyone focuses on the Honda’s and the Beemer of Sam Tordfoff. Jordan is of course another BTCC champ and handled great pressure towards the end of his championship year. Collard can be dynamite in the WSR BMW but again I personally fear for the rear wheel drive cars when everyone is taking a gloves off approach, but I do hope I’m wrong and we have a mixed bag of contenders on race day.
Tyre degradation could also play a huge part in deciding the champion and again it’s going to be a “what if” scenario. Which race will each driver elect to run the soft tyres? Will the Honda’s really go flat out 100% and if so will the stress on the tyres play right into the hands of the rear wheel drive BMW’s? I certainly can’t wait for those lights to go out on Sunday. Whatever unfolds, it will have been another superb season for the BTCC. Long may it continue.