It feels like it has a been a long summer already, but BTCC fans will be rejoicing this weekend as the competition finally returns from its summer break, preparing to roar into Croft for the sixth meeting of what has already been an action-packed season.
True to form, it is far from a one-horse race as only 35 points separate the top four drivers in the overall championship standings.
NAPA Racing UK’s championship leader and former three-time title-holder Ash Sutton has claimed the lion’s share of the success, trouncing his rivals to take six wins so far, including his record-breaking trio of consecutive double-wins at Brands Hatch (Indy), Snetterton and Thruxton. However, a winless visit to Oulton Park last time out – including a dramatic retirement moments off the line in race 3 - saw his championship lead cut to only six points.
Despite only claiming one win so far, defending champion Tom Ingram has proven that consistency is most definitely the key to success. His total of nine podium finishes out of fifteen in the first-half of the year sees him firmly breathing down Sutton’s neck in second place. Wanting to take advantage of the restart, Ingram will no doubt want to have another strong showing in qualifying on Saturday to try and put his Bristol Street Motors with Exceler8 Hyundai i30N near the front of the pack. Having topped the times at the Goodyear tyre test event at Donington Park last month, Ingram could also be running into this weekend with some additional confidence on his side.
Laser Tool Racing’s Jake Hill was the talk of the town after his emphatic showing at Oulton Park, snuffing out Ash Sutton’s early pole position advantage to take a double-win of his own in the first two races of the day, followed by a second-place in race three. His part in the BMW whitewash that weekend saw Hill leap to only 28 points behind the championship leader.
Showing he is not one to slow down during the summer break, Jake Hill also took the spoils at the recent Super Touring Power event at Brands Hatch, bagging victories in all four championship races that weekend in Laurent Aiello’s classic Nissan Primera, so will be running into Croft with some valuable momentum.
Hill’s BMW team-mate and record-tying four-time BTCC champion, Colin Turkington also turned in a classic display at the Cheshire circuit by starting the first race in last place after a scrutineering penalty took away the top—ten start he earned in qualifying, to power up through the pack in the first two races (earning him 9th- and 4th-place finishes) en route to securing the win in race three. The well-travelled Irishman is showing everyone why he can be considered one of the greatest BTCC drivers of all time by still making the headlines. He will be hoping to add to – or better - the 2nd and 3rd places he achieved at Croft last year.
Eyes won’t just be on the front of the pack this weekend, as it has been a busy summer vacation for a couple of the other independent teams in terms of driver changes.
Team HARD. Racing made headlines, first and foremost, as they lost Jade Edwards and Bobby Thompson from the team. Edwards returned to One Motorsport with Starline Racing, where she raced under the BTC Racing banner last year, after the team released Will Powell. Bobby Thompson sadly had to step aside due to financial difficulties, making way for former Team HARD driver and crowd favourite Michael Crees and rookie Daryl DeLeon to fill the vacant seats.
DeLeon has already had a successful run-out in the team’s Cupra Leon at the recent Goodyear tyre test event, bringing home the tenth-best time of the weekend.
Team HARD’s Dan Lloyd will also be looking to turn his season around by replicating his success at the Yorkshire circuit from last year. So far, Lloyd has managed only three top-ten finishes this year in the Cupra but 2022’s visit to Croft saw him take advantage of his third-place start from qualifying to grab a brace of victories in the first two races, when he was racing for Bristol street Motors with Exceler8.
Power Maxed Racing are also looking to build on their successes so far, which have seen them already better their total points haul for last season. Boasting a brand-new driver line-up of Aron-Taylor Smith, Andrew Watson and Mikey Doble, the team have gone from strength-to-strength this year with nine top-ten finishes between them, four of which came at their most successful outing at Thruxton, as well as three Jack Sears Trophy victories.
The team also had an impressive run-out at the Goodyear tyre test, with Aron Taylor-Smith achieved the second-best time behind reigning champion, Tom Ingram.
Aron Taylor-Smith said: “As a team, we can definitely go into the second half of the season with a lot of confidence. We’ve made a lot of progress on the chassis, especially at the Goodyear tyre test, and we can be really in contention going forwards.”
“Croft is the start of a sequence of tracks which are among my favourites, too, so that’s always nice. I truly believe we have one of the fastest packages underneath us.”
You can catch the BTCC Qualifying session live on the ITVSport YouTube channel on Saturday afternoon, with full live coverage of rounds 16, 17 & 18 of the competition on ITV4 on Sunday from 11:30am.
BTCC Journalist @ F1 Journal