BTCC heads to Hampshire’s flat-out Thruxton

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship heads to Thruxton next weekend (19-20 May) for the latest instalment of what is already shaping up to be a season to remember, as Britain’s biggest motor racing series celebrates its 60th, Diamond Jubilee year.

So far this season, there have been a host of new faces taking to the podium, with somewhat of a changing of the guard in the Drivers’ Championship as the BTCC’s latest crop of touring car stars come to the fore. The average age of the standings’ top eight drivers is just a little over 25, with the current pace-setter atop the tally, Tom Ingram – the reigning Independents’ champion, just 24 years of age. Incumbent champion Ash Sutton is also just 24 – the current chapter of the championship’s storied history looks like it may well be written by a gaggle of precocious young talents.

The Brands Hatch season-opening weekend was always going to be a hard act to follow after we saw three different drivers take to the top step and nine to the podium but Donington Park’s action maintained that high, and some. Ingram became the first, and so far only driver to notch a second victory in 2018 and as a result tops the early championship running while Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes-Benz also reached the top step with a storming Round 6 win.

Power Maxed TAG Racing continued its pace-setting start to the season, with the Vauxhall squad notching pole position and a race win via Josh Cook – both firsts for the Hampshire racer as he followed up the outfit’s own maiden victory back in Leicestershire with aplomb. Cook will be looking for another strong haul, this time on home turf with local backing at Thruxton.

Brands Hatch and Donington Park enjoyed bumper crowds and Thruxton, as a favourite of spectators and fans alike for its throwback high-speed racing, is sure to see strong numbers descend for a packed weekend’s action with some 12 races on the bill. As always, it’s all broadcast live and free-to-air by the BTCC’s longstanding partner ITV, on ITV4 the ITV Hub and online at itv.com/btcc. You’ll be covered down to the finest detail wherever you are – be it on the banking or in your living room.

Precocious young talents
Back in 2017 at the Hampshire Speedbowl, as Thruxton is affectionately known given its status as the UK’s fastest race circuit, BMW secured a landmark 100th victory in the BTCC at the hands of Rob Collard and Colin Turkington, who took a round apiece, while Honda hero Matt Neal sealed a win on home soil for the Japanese marque, which harbours its UK base at Swindon.

This season, though, the form-book certainly looks to have swung the way of the young-guns – currently headed by Speedworks Motorsport’s Tom Ingram. The Buckinghamshire-based racer scored a pair of podium finishes at Thruxton last year and with two victories under his belt this year already, he will be aiming for the top step once again in a week’s time.

Our current champion, Ash Sutton, set the pace in the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Levorg at the annual Thruxton TOCA test five weeks ago, and, currently occupying fifth spot in the standings, he’ll be looking to grab to a maiden top-step appearance of 2018 to get his title defence underway proper. Judging by his pace back at the test, where he was one of eight drivers to go quicker than Matt Neal’s official qualifying lap record at the circuit, he’ll be another to look out for.

FK2-generation Honda Civic Type Rs have historically gone well around Thruxton’s high-speed sweepers and with 11 wins in 21 of the most recent encounters at the Hampshire racetrack, Honda is the current era’s most successful marque there. It bodes well, then, for WIX Racing with Eurotech, which has tasted the champagne and victory once already this season thanks to Jack Goff – whose first podium with the team came last year at Thruxton. Eurotech is sitting pretty in fourth in the overall running and it would be foolish to discount its race-winning credentials.

BTC Norlin Racing also runs Honda machinery and is enjoying its best spell yet having entered Britain’s top-tier motor racing championship just over a year ago. Chris Smiley brought home silverware and the outfit’s best finish yet back at Donington Park and, alongside BTCC race winner James Nash, Norlin will be hoping to go one better this time around.

In the latest-generation factory FK8 Civic Type R, it’s been Dan Cammish showing the way ahead of legendary team-mate and triple champion Matt Neal so far this season. He’s the first of the pairing to make the rostrum in the newest hot-hatch from the famed Japanese marque. Neal flew last year at Thruxton, though, taking pole and a win, so Cammish is unlikely to have things all his own way next weekend.

Rounding out the young-guns which currently occupy the standings top eight, barring aforementioned local boy Josh Cook who harbours third, are a pair of Mercedes’ in Ciceley Motorsport’s Adam Morgan and Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat. The former is breathing down Ingram’s neck – second in the points – and the A-Class is perfectly suited to the balance and poise required around Thruxton. Morgan himself has two victories there in recent seasons and after winning at Donington last time out – he’s optimistic there’s more to come. Moffat, in one of the sister Mercedes’, is a man on a charge, too, after a podium double back in the East Midlands.

Local heroes
So, Bath racer Cook heads to what he will regard as his local circuit in the best shape he has ever done – only 15 points shy of the top of the table with a maiden race win now in the bag. Power Maxed TAG Racing, too, is enjoying its richest vein of form yet in the BTCC after Senna Proctor brought home a very first victory for the squad in the opening weekend of the year, with Cook then doubling their win tally at the next opportunity in true London bus style. As a result, PMR heads the way in both the Teams’ running and the Manufacturers’ honours.

I’m over the moon for the guys and everyone who’s put all the hard work in,” said a delighted Cook after his first win. “Senna (Proctor) got his last weekend and I needed mine. We were quick yesterday and I had to battle for the lead. I’m really glad to have brought it home and hopefully it’s the first of many! We’ve always had strong pace over the years but there’s been a bit of bad luck perhaps. We’ve worked so hard over the winter to make sure we’ve nailed our qualifying setup and the Vauxhall’s an amazing drive now – the best car I’ve driven out of the box and every thanks to my engineers for it!”

Eversley’s Rob Collard sealed BMW’s 100th victory in the BTCC last year and his first win on home turf. Replicating that high will be his task for 2018 at Thruxton and the swashbuckling Team BMW man has as good a chance of spraying the bubbly as any.

Thruxton at 50
Thruxton itself celebrates its 50th Anniversary, and the beloved circuit is set to open parts of its brand-new, industry-leading £2 million hospitality facility – The Thruxton Centre – ahead of a full official opening on Sunday 3 June amid a weekend of 50th Anniversary celebrations.

“We’re always thrilled to host what is undoubtedly the premier four-wheeled series in the country,” said Thruxton Group Managing Director, Bill Coombs. The BTCC has storied history – spanning 60 years – and the championship never fails to come up with the goods over a race weekend.

“As we’ve seen this season, it’s entirely unpredictable. You don’t head into a BTCC race weekend knowing who will be coming out on top – it’s just too close to call, and that makes for some of the best doorhandle-to-doorhandle racing around with 32 cars all racing within a second or so.

“The test day a month ago gave us an insight into just how competitive it’ll be come race day. Some of the times were quicker than we’ve ever seen before here from BTCC machinery – it really whetted the appetite and the beauty of the TOCA package means that not only do you get the three headline BTCC races, but nine further races of the highest quality across a number of leading championships.”

Timetable and tickets 
Rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on Sunday, 20 May as well as the rest of the day’s action from the TOCA support package – the F4 British Championship, Ginetta GT5 Challenge, Ginetta Juniors and the Renault UK Clio Cup – will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4. Those lining the spectator banking can keep abreast of everything with circuit commentary and live timing from every session over at btcc.net/live throughout the weekend.

Advance tickets for the BTCC’s visit, 19-20 May, are available from £12, with weekend passes with paddock access running to just £40. Saturday grandstand seats are an additional £5. Accompanied children aged 15 and under will be admitted free of charge. With 12 races over the two days, value for money cannot be questioned.

They can be purchased online at http://www.thruxtonracing.co.uk/racing/btcc or by calling 01264 882200 (Option 1). Advance tickets will remain on sale online and over the phone until 3pm on Wednesday, 16 May, after which they will be available from the BARC Ticket Office at Thruxton until 3pm on Friday, 18 May. Full price day tickets can be purchased on the gate; weekend tickets are only available in advance.

For more information on Thruxton’s race meetings and driving experiences, visit: http://www.thruxtonracing.co.uk/.