btcc-oulton-park-in-the-dryA mixed bag of weather meant wet qualifying but mostly dry racing at the gorgeous parkland circuit of Oulton Park, Cheshire, but Iain P W Robertson was disappointed with legislative changes, which discoloured the meeting.

While it may have been possible that the on-track drivers of times past might have indulged in a little alcoholic tipple both pre- and post-race, I am not entirely sure that ‘Dutch courage’ is a prerequisite in today’s motorsporting environment. Our sporting stars are far too serious about their endeavours these days. Alcohol consumption does not fit with their sometimes intense health regimes, or with their ever-so-clean personalities.

Yet, compliance (or perceptions of it) with anti-drink, or anti-drug, legislation has led to the introduction of breathalyser tests for all British Touring Car Championship staff and competitors. Whether you believe this to be beneficial, or not, it was a strange publicity generator in Cheshire, in a sport that is becoming weighed down by new rules and regulations.

This was never more abundantly obvious than at rounds 10 to 12 of this season’s BTC Championship, which drew record crowds once more to witness its packed grids and outstanding programme of races. Much play has been made in both F1 and, now, BTCC about cars taking short-cuts across corners, sometimes transporting gravel, or grass, and mostly dust across an otherwise clean racing line.

btcc-oulton-park-in-the-wetRegarded as ungentlemanly, or unsporting, perhaps even cheating, pressure pads have now been placed on some bends, complete with micro-cameras that trigger and ‘snap’ transgressors, with penalties being issued to ensure that such manoeuvres cease. Unfortunately, the sometimes boisterous and ebullient behaviour is what a great many spectators at BTCC races come to see. They like the ‘door-handling’, the ‘mirror-scrubbing, ‘paint-sharing’ and close-quarters shuffling that promotes overtaking.

There were virtually no displays of dodgy-dicing, rear-end-shoving, or flank-leaning, apart from a monster move made by Swiss driver, Alain Menu (Chrome Restart Volkswagen CC), which earned him two penalty points on his race licence and an official reprimand for spinning out Italian, Fabrizio Giovanardi (Airwaves Ford Focus), at the Knickerbrook chicane. Menu had already gained a 0.4s time penalty and three points for a questionable move made on 2013 Champion, Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Honda Civic). It seems that you cannot stop the ‘bad boys’ but the crowds love it.

Sadly, the electronic tell-tales kept almost every competitor on the occasionally dry tarmac and not elsewhere, which led to the first two races being little more than boring processions. As tends to be the case, the rear-wheel-drive BMW 1-Series of eBay drivers, Colin Turkington and Rob Collard, as well as the rear-driven Audi A4 of Rob Austin, dominated the qualifying sessions, held on a wet Saturday in June. The front driven rivals struggle in such conditions. However, when power and handling differences are minimal, processions are almost inevitable.

btcc-oulton-park-provided-a-bmw-benefitThe 2009 Champion, Turkington lifted the victories in both Races One and Two, while his third place in the reversed grid Race Three amassed the affable Irishman a handsome points tally that hoisted him to the top of the 2014 table. As a measure of consistency, Collard earned enough points from his second and third placings in the first two races to bump him into fifth place in the overall reckoning. However, ‘Mr Consistency’, Gordon Shedden (Honda-Yuasa Civic Tourer), who managed fourth, fifth and second places respectively, sits happily in runners-up spot, behind Turkington, in the drivers’ table.

Yet, it was the final round of the day that added the essential spice to proceedings, with Irish driver, Aron Smith (Chrome Restart VW CC), landing the pole position. He kept his head, despite the drying conditions that added complexity to the event, and took a lights-to-flag victory, his second ever, that he managed to perfection, never being challenged once throughout the race. Behind, it was mayhem and for the out-of-form drivers lower than tenth place, Oulton Park delivered an unwelcome shock to their seasons.

The circus moves north to Croft, near Darlington, for the 28th and 29th of June. To be fair, this is a power circuit that favours the BMWs, a factor that could increase Turkington’s lead in the 2014 BTCC. However, you will have to attend, to see for yourself. Check out www.btcc.net for other details, including special ticket deals. We shall be there.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).