Back at Brands! BTCC returns to action in thrilling season opener

The British Touring Car Championship was back at Brands Hatch for the opening weekend of the 2015 season, on the 4-5 April.

Off the back of being voted as “one of the very best tin-top championships in the world“ by Autosport last month and with Colin Turkington and Jason Plato’s battle for supremacy in 2014 looking to bubble over into the new season, fans will have been excited at the prospect of a similar battle going into the new year. To add some extra spice to the new season, the former BMW and MG foes, who collided last time out at Brands, were teamed together at the new Volkswagen team for the 2015 season.

The launch day at Donington Park on 24 March, was tantalisingly close, with Turkington and Plato separated by less than a hundredth of a second and the rest of the top 10 less than a second behind.

The circuit playing host to the opening round was Brands Hatch in Kent. Given the responsibility of hosting both the first and final three races of the season as it did in 2014, it promised both excitement in drama as the drivers lined up for the first time this year, so it was an event not to be missed.

Little had changed for the circuit since the last event in November, other than the weather and the use of the shorter, 50-second a lap Indy circuit. The sun was in full force, ITV were present in covering the event and the grandstands were packed and overlooked the entirety of the circuit without need of large screens to cover the areas out of view.

Long-time fan Simon, 26, spoke to us about the facilities in the run up to the action, saying, “The facilities are good at Brands, probably the second best we have been to, after Rockingham.”

The grid on the other hand looked significantly different to last year. Without the sponsorship heavy liveries of Tesco’s, Airwaves, Crabbies and eBay on the grid, Turkington and Plato lined up in rather unimaginative and somber looking black Volkswagen’s on a grid that felt it lacked the colour of 2014.

Simon spoke of his expectations for the season, and his pick of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden as strong favourites going into the opening event.

“Since pretty much all of the other top drivers have moved teams, they have got to get used to new cars. Even though [Shedden and Neal’s] Honda is new, it’s pretty much the same car as last year which was very competitive.”

The support races took to the track early, and were the same line ups as last year. Porsche’s, Carerra’s, Ginetta’s, Renault Clio’s, Formula Ford and, the stars of the show, the Ginetta Juniors; drivers as young as 14 going hell for leather over the best part of 15 laps. As expected, these were good fillers and entertainment throughout the day, but the touring cars were by far and away the biggest crowd drawer.

BTCC Race 1: Much was promised as the top seven cars on the grid were separated by just 0.2 seconds in qualifying. The race itself was well behaved for all concerned, with an almost unprecedented 25 of the 26 entrants making the finish. Rob Collard secured victory at the first race of the season, just one second ahead of the Volkswagens’ of Aron Smith and Jason Plato, the latter of whom set the fastest lap. Pole sitter, and former two-time world touring car champion, Andy Priaulx fell back to 9th whilst struggling with the soft tyres. Meanwhile, reigning champion Colin Turkington could only manage a disappointing 5th place.

BTCC Race 2: The second race saw drama as Jason Plato took a comfortable lead before pitching into the gravel at the first corner with a puncture. This gave Gordon Shedden victory by a margin of just 0.04 of a second from Andy Priaulx, with Turkington taking the final step on the podium.

BTCC Race 3: Another incredibly close finish as Matt Neal took Honda’s second win for the day from Jack Goff by less than 0.2 of a second. Aron Smith took third whilst Turkington and Plato finished down in 12th and 16th respectively.

Collard, Plato, Turkington and Shedden all suffered in the final race as a result of poor grid positions and soft tyres which left Matt Neal and, surprisingly, Jack Goff tied at the top of the standings after the first event, with last year’s champion, Colin Turkington, without a win and out of the top five.

With Donington Park playing host to the second round, both Turkington and Plato will be hoping for better luck next time out.

by Tom McBeth (May 2015)

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