Moonlighting! ITV's David Addison looks back on Donington Park and forward to Thruxton

18th May 2018

Much was said, partly by those erudite chaps on ITV4, about the changing of the guard in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park last month.

There are some that may argue that it is a shame that the BTCC doesn’t feature the same Matt Neal/Jason Plato battles for race honours that once it did but nothing lasts forever. Gone are the Ford Capri/Rover 3500 fights of 1980, the multi-manufacturer spending contest of Super Touring and the ability to win the title from the smallest-engined class – and never win a race. Times change…

Take Tom Ingram and Josh Cook as winners of races at Donington Park. Both are examples, and there are plenty more, of the NGTC driver – the Next Generation Touring Car driver. Both have improved since their arrival on the BTCC grid, and whilst Ingram is ahead on race wins, he has come on hugely as a driver over the last couple of seasons and so has Cook. That victory has been in the post for ages and was a welcome, if overdue, success. Adam Morgan is another who has made great strides since that first season for Speedworks Motorsport, and Chris Smiley also started to highlight the potential that has always been there.

It’s also true of the teams isn’t it? As Ingram, Cook and Morgan took to the top step, Smiley, Dan Cammish, Jack Goff and Aiden Moffat scored podiums, so Speedworks, BTC Norlin Racing, Ciceley Motorsport and WIX Racing with Eurotech have all been bagging successes as well – which underlines the changing landscape of the BTCC. New teams and new drivers are taking over.

In contrast, West Surrey Racing, as one of the old guard and one of the most dependable teams on the grid, has a real fight on its hands post-Donington Park. With a season of 30 races in which all points count, you cannot afford a single sub-par meeting.

So, is this the pattern for the season? Are we anticipating the likes of Colin Turkington, Andrew Jordan, Matt Neal and Jason Plato to go winless all season? No, surely not. WSR have the expertise to kick things up a notch and Neal can’t be ruled out given his experience and the potential that the current-generation Honda Civic Type R has shown in the hands of Cammish so far this year.

JP is a different question altogether. Again, Ash Sutton is further up the road – not winning, granted, but ahead – and Plato, thus far, has nul points to his name. I still find the way the current chapter of the Plato story in the BTCC is unfolding quite extraordinary. Whether you like him or not, though, you have to admit the bloke can drive.

What puzzles me is what is really going on? Plato is still a top-drawer driver, of that there is no debate. So, do we say that he can’t get his hat on with the Subaru? No. He won in it in 2016. So, is it that he doesn’t like rear-wheel drive? No, same answer. So, maybe it is the chassis? That would have to be discounted too – it's a different chassis from last year's. Well, it must be something in the Levorg, then? Well, no – look at his team-mate's performances. Jason keeps as brave a face as possible, but he, too, must look at the top of the result sheet and be acutely aware that the world is changing. Yet, I still feel that he hasn’t finished adding to his tally of wins.

Going back a stage, though, one problem in trying to discern form comes from the nature of the events that we have had. Brands Hatch was minus success ballast and then rain-affected and Donington Park was mightily unpredictable due to the cold, or rather excruciatingly Arctic, weather. That Speedworks and Tingram have had two wins says much about how the Cheshire squad has improved over the years.

So, what does Thruxton have in store? The fastest circuit in the UK, weather that doesn’t require nine layers of clothing and the age-old fascination with the specialist Thruxton tyre provided by Dunlop. We don’t have an option tyre race, but the teams instead need to be on the money in terms of tyre pressures and car set-ups.

We have seen other teams show potential so far this year, like Motorbase – which despite the usual optimism hasn’t yet translated qualifying pace into solid results. Even Team Dynamics is yet to unleash the real pace of the new FK8 Civic Type R and WSR needs to bounce back from its Donington drama. Throw in the fact that Thruxton isn’t a circuit at which testing is common, and it once again takes a very brave lady or gentleman to place a bet on a winner.

Are we looking at the most topsy-turvy season in memory? Possibly, yes. Fascinating isn’t it? © 2024
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