British Touring Car Championship 2016 Round 1 – Brands Hatch

By Paul Goodman Photos Martin Cumming

The Dunlop MSA BTCC Championship contenders arrived at Brands Hatch on April 2 for their first three races of the season. None of them, or their teams, had any idea of their relative strengths and weaknesses. The introduction of new cars, suspension parts, tyres and engines meant that all of the cars on the grid were new.

Everybody was concerned about the qualifying session. The Brands Hatch Club Circuit tarmac would have a full grid of 32 cars circulating, all looking for the essential front row grid slots. They would be free from success ballast. The driver skills would range from the huge experience of the five former championships to several drivers making their debuts.

The new look 888 MG6 cars sparkled in their new white and red colour scheme with the MG logo prominent on the flanks of the cars. New drivers Ashley Sutton and Josh Cook had adapted to the cars during testing and the team was revitalised with the two young drivers pushing the mechanics to improve the cars.

Front runners were likely to be the Halfords Yuasa Hondas of 2015 champion Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal. Former MG driver Andrew Jordan was desperate to grab pole in his Ford Focus with team mate Matt Jackson pushing him hard. The three BMWs of Jack Goff, Sam Tordoff and Rob Collard would also be quick out of the blocks. The surprise of testing had been the pace of the revitalised Toyota Avensis cars with Tom Ingram and Rob Austin the quickest of them. Finally, the two Mercedes of Aiden Moffat and Adam Morgan featured, the short wheelbase very suited to tight circuits.

The big unknown was the new Subaru Levorg GT. None of the four cars entered by Team BMR had turned a wheel before the start of the weekend.

Saturday Practice Sessions

At ten o’clock the 32 cars took to the circuit for the first practice session. Big news from 888 was the recruitment of Alain Menu, the hugely experienced French saloon car driver, as driver coach. His role is to help Ashley and Josh with car set up and race craft. Tom Ingram topped the time sheet in his Toyota Avensis. The two MG6s were competitive from the start, both setting times in the top ten. The leading cars beat the previous quickest time round the circuit, meaning that the many changes to the cars and tyres have been positive.

The second session of free practice also went well for the two MG6 drivers, with both clocking up a good number of laps and achieving times which put them comfortably in the top ten.

Qualifying

As everybody expected, 32 cars out on the very short Brands Club Circuit made it very difficult to get a clear run. The two MG6s looked superb, warmed the tyres, swapped them over, and returned to the track. They then put in amazing laps with Ashley grabbing fourth and Josh a fraction slower in sixth. As everybody was gearing up for another run on fresh tyres, a light drizzle started to fall which was just enough to make the track slower. Very few drivers were able to improve their times although Jack Goff in the BMW just got ahead of the two MGs, leaving them fifth and six with Ashley really impressing the commentary team by his performance in his first ever BTCC qualifying session. Tom Ingram (another former MG ZR190 driver) achieved his first ever pole position driving the Toyota Avensis, with the two Halfords Yuasa Hondas of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal right behind in second and third spots.

Race One

The full grid of 32 cars was released onto a slightly damp track for race one. Tom Ingram made a perfect start in the Toyota Avensis and was never challenged, taking his first ever BTCC race victory. Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal slotted the Halfords Yuasa Hondas into position two and three to complete the podium. Ashley Sutton got a great start and grabbed fourth place, which he held to the end despite coming under pressure from 2015 MG driver Jack Goff, driving the BMW. Josh Cook was shuffled down to seventh at the start, but two excellent overtaking manoeuvres took him to fifth. Seeing the two MG6s circulating together at the end was a great sight.

Race Two

Under the new rules, the grid for race two formed up in the finishing order from race one with success ballast being added, Ashley having to carry 48kg and Josh 39kg. Josh opted to run the new compound soft tyres in this race. The two MG6s were hard to get off the line carrying the extra weight. At the front, Tom Ingram and Rob Collard disputed the lead, collided, and were eliminated. This resulted in a perfect result for the Hondas with Gordon Shedden winning from Matt Neal. The other podium place was taken by Aaron Smith, piloting one of the VW CC cars. Ashley and Josh were overtaken by the two Fords of Matt Jackson and Andrew Jordan, but looked secure in sixth and seventh places until encountering fluid on the circuit which sent Josh onto the grass and into the barrier. Ashley hung on to finish sixth, with Josh retiring to the pits.

Race Three

The draw for the starting grid resulted in a fourth place start for Ashley who would be carrying 33kg of ballast. The incident in race two for Josh meant that he would start near to the back of the grid. When the red lights went out, Ashley’s car moved slightly and then stopped. Other cars managed to avoid the MG6 and then he got rolling, pulling away, but with many places lost. This put both the MGs on recovery drives, with Ashley getting back to finish tenth and Josh fourteenth. Race winner was Adam Morgan in the Mercedes, with the two former MG drivers Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff completing the podium in their BMWs.

So a hectic day ended with Ashley Sutton securing three top ten finishes, giving him seventh place in the Championship, with Josh Cook down in fourteenth. Matt Neal left Brands Hatch as the leader. In the Manufacturers Championship, the Honda team are the early leaders with the WSR BMWs second and 888MG in third place.

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