After the three-week break from action saw an unusual amount of dispute between teams, the fifth round of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship from Croft gives us our first opportunity to see the effect of changes to the series’ regulations.
The end of this weekend’s action will as ever mark the halfway point in a championship that has already flown by, and with drivers looking to go into the subsequent five-week summer break on a high, expect thrills and spills aplenty on the popular Yorkshire circuit.
The fourth round of the season was the first weekend for a long time that failed to live up to its billing somewhat as the series returned to Oulton Park’s International circuit for the first time since 1996, but even though there was a lack of on-track action, there were still two big talking points after the race.
For the first time since Rockingham in 2013, Andrew Jordan no longer leads the championship as a near-perfect weekend for Colin Turkington – who scored pole, two victories and a third place in his eBay Motors BMW – moved the 2009 champion to the top of the standings.
Such was the advantage of the rear-wheel drive cars over the Oulton weekend (Turkington and teammate Rob Collard finished 1-2 and 1-3 in races one and two, with Rob Austin in his Audi splitting the pair in race two), that leading front-wheel drive teams and drivers, including Triple Eight and Jason Plato, called for their rivals to be pegged back. TOCA responded, insisting that the rear-wheel driven cars run a longer first gear from Croft onwards, in order to stymie their advantage off the line.
Austin was one of a number of drivers and fans to speak out about the decision (which brings with it a financial burden) but the change is not expected to bear too much influence on the order as we look towards the weekend’s action.
Indeed, it is leader Turkington who – despite the contentious change of rules – is favourite to consolidate and extend his advantage at the head of the pack, with both history and the circuit’s characteristics suiting his chances.
Turkington has enjoyed victory on the 2.1-mile circuit more times than at any other track, with eight wins to his name including six victories in his last nine races, while all seven of his victories with the West Surrey Racing operation at the track have been with a rear-wheel drive powered machine, with good traction and corner stability required for a strong lap time. If the 32-year-old can continue his dominant form at Croft, it will stand him in good stead for the remainder of the 2014 championship.
That is not to say that the Northern Irishman will be nursing any lead he may accumulate until the end of the season once the weekend is over, but Croft does on paper provide Turkington with the best opportunity to bolster his points score before the championship run-in.
With second-place man Gordon Shedden having three victories to his name, and his Honda teammate Matt Neal having another five, Turkington nevertheless has his work cut out to secure any victory. Shedden, who is nine points back, will be looking to keep Turkington in his crosshairs, while Neal will be just as fired up as he still searches to gain momentum in a so far faltering championship charge, which sees him sixth in the drivers standings behind Collard – who himself has a chance at victory this weekend.
Just as we spoke last time out about Jordan’s consistency, the erstwhile pacesetter endured his worst weekend in the series for some time, securing just one top ten finish in the three races at Oulton Park. The reigning champion remained cool about the situation however, feeling that he had the pace to compete at the front had he been able to complete his final qualifying lap, and will hope that no such issues stand in his way this weekend.
Whatever happens, with overtaking opportunities aplenty and the weather threatening to play its part once again, Rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship are well set to be exciting additions to another classic season.
Keep up to date with all of this weekend’s action on www.touringcars.net and by following @touringcarsnet.