Spring warmth at the May Day weekend on Britain’s fastest and most demanding racing circuit, Thruxton, Hampshire, drove Iain P W Robertson to paroxysms of unbridled, edge-of-the-seat excitement, as he explains…

btcc03-jordan-in-race-one-thruxtonIn more than thirty years of spectating at the British Touring Car Championship, I have never been as impressed with a racing formula as I have been with this season’s BTCC effort. Apart from filling the field with no less than 31 entries at every round held so far, the closeness of lap times, the extraordinarily high quality of close-quarters racing and the splendidly colourful spectacle has simply never been better.

Managed by the steely glare of Australian promoter Alan Gow, there is nothing to criticise about the sheer class of the performance, from one round to the next, and performance it is, delivering to 35-40,000 strong crowds at each venue, plus the might of ITV4’s day-long, live television coverage, which picks up other viewers thanks to repeats and filler shows during subsequent days. It is little wonder that the BTCC is Great Britain’s premier motorsporting event.

Thruxton was not going be a fly in the ointment. Known for the demands it places on both cars and drivers, not merely for its high speed corners but also a need for the competing vehicles to show off their aerodynamic benefits and phenomenal turns of speed, it provided stirring victories for two Hondas and a BMW.

Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Honda Civic) had set the pace during qualifying to put his car on pole position for the first of the three races, thus repeating a feat he has achieved for the past three years. Yet, strangely, he has never tasted the winner’s Champagne, nor stood upon the top step of the podium. However, it was all-change on Sunday 4th of May. In the groove from the outset, he was virtually unchallenged in his lights-to-flag success, further underscoring his ‘coming of age’ as the reigning Champion. A second and fourth places in the rest of the day’s frolics would maintain his stay at the top of the points table.

btcc03-second-race-win-for-shedden-(centre)-flanked-by-collard-(left)-and-jordan-(right)It was an all-Honda top three, as Matt Neal (Honda Yuasa Civic Tourer) and Gordon Shedden (Honda Yuasa Civic Tourer) took second and third respectively in a fairly incident-free race. However, the latter would improve his form in the next race, despite a hard charge for the lead at its outset. An inevitable clash, resulting from six cars trying to share the same section of road, dropped him from the front, although he regained third place speedily and held onto it, eventually passing both Jordan and Rob Collard (eBAY Motors BMW) by lap eleven, to take the lead and the win.

The final race of the day is always looked forward to, because the taps get turned on, the volume is wound up and the drivers, who do not have to ‘save’ their machines for another race on the day, all make a dash for the front to claim victory. Of course, the ‘reverse grid’ and pole position ‘lottery’ invariably puts a spanner in works.

This time, it was Irishman, Colin Turkington (eBAY Motors BMW), who would gain the advantage from the draw for pole. With former Champion, Fabrizio Giovanardi (Airwaves Ford Focus), alongside and the Honda teams somewhat closer to the second third of the amassed squad than they like to be, the Bank Holiday weekend finale was sure to provide some good racing. Trust me, there was zero disappointment, from the instant the lights were extinguished at the get-go.

Turkington surged into an unassailable lead, the legendary start-line traction of his BMW 1-Series providing its customary advantage. However ‘Gio’ was not about to relinquish his grip on second place and looked poised on several occasions to be within passing distance of Turkington. The Focus might not be the quickest, or best handling car on circuit, but that was not about to stop the Italian, who was soon joined by his teammate, Mat Jackson, starting to show some of the form for which he has been renowned in the past.

btcc03-turkington-takes-the-finale-at-thruxtonTeam orders would put paid to any in-fighting but neither of them could make an impression on Turkington, despite not one but two ‘Safety Car’ sessions, following a couple of incidents at the ultra high-speed Church Corner at the back of the circuit. The worst one involved Simon Belcher (Toyota Avensis), as he flew off the circuit and directly through the crash wall, eventually rolling the car against some saplings. Fortunately, he emerged shaken and only slightly stirred, although his car was looking exceptionally second-hand.

However, nothing was going to stop the Turkington steamroller and, at both restarts, he continued the pace to grasp the win, with Jackson second and Giovanardi settling for third, to give the Airwaves team its best points haul of the year so far. The MG6 pairing of Jason Plato and Sam Tordoff finished in the points but not where they expected to be somewhat nearer the front.

The points table is still headed by Jordan (141), with Shedden’s performance keeping him buoyant in second spot (133), although Turkington’s spoils have raised him to third in the standings (123) and it needs to be remembered that he won his last title by returning those same levels of consistency. However, let us not be previous, there are still seven rounds to go and we have not yet witnessed the argy-bargy that adds a frisson of extra excitement between Messrs Neal (110) and Plato (MG6, 106 points).

The next races take place at Oulton Park, Cheshire’s gorgeous parkland circuit, on the weekend of 7-8 June, for the fourth round of the BTCC, where excitement is guaranteed by the spade-full. Check out www.btcc.net for other details, including special ticket deals. We shall be there.