A quartet of leading drivers from the British Touring Car Championship believe that the drivers should have been additionally consulted before the decision was taken at Thruxton last weekend [7th-8th May] to shorten the second and third races by twenty-five percent on the grounds of safety.
After a number of issues during the first contest, combined with the extreme heat conditions that saw Thruxton’s track temperature soar up to highs of around forty degrees on Sunday, both the championship officials and official tyre supplier Dunlop made a decision on the grounds of safety to cut both races by a portion.
It was a puncture for Matt Neal that indirectly led to the multi-car pileup on the main straight which resulted in the first race being curtailed five laps prematurely, as he made contact with Josh Cook after attempting to enter the pit lane having cut across the final chicane.
Cook then spun into Neal’s team-mate, Gordon Shedden, who hit the pit wall nose first after attempting to correct the spin. Jake Hill completed the incident by hitting the rear of Neal’s Type-R as he arrived on the scene from the final corner, whilst Jeff Smith and Sam Tordoff also went off-line to avoid the incident.
Árón Smith, three-time race winner in the series, believes that additional driver consultation should have been held before the decision was taken, explaining the ramifications the call had for the setup on his Team BKR Volkswagen CC.
“One thing that I’m really disappointed in is that they’ve shortened the races without a vote from the drivers,” explained Smith to TouringCars.Net.
“Because we spent all day on Saturday perfecting our setup to go sixteen laps, so when you cut a race down by twenty-five percent, without really consulting the drivers, it’s basically saying we could have left the cars in the truck since Saturday.
“It was the same for everyone and punctures are always an issue around here. The kerbs don’t help much, and the heat didn’t help it either.”
Cook, who managed to get back out for the second race a little over two hours later with some quick work by the mechanics of both MG RCIB Insurance Racing and Silverline Subaru BMR Racing, agreed with Smith’s viewpoint and was frustrated to have lost the chance to showcase the performance of the MG6 in the latter stages of the race had it run to the original length.
“Definitely,” said Cook when asked if there should have been more consultation. “Ultimately they’ve made a decision based on their opinion of safety – I could have gone out there and popped them [tyres] in two laps, you just give them absolute death.” he commented.
“But you drive to the limit of what you’ve got, we’ve been really careful with the tyre, we’ve been really conservative, one of our strengths this weekend was how well we’ve been looking after it. We had loads of pace in the car, just not enough laps.”
His team-mate, reigning Renault Clio Cup UK champion Ashley Sutton echoed his sentiments and believes that those who obeyed the guidance given to the drivers and engineers by Dunlop prior to the weekend are those who didn’t have any issues on circuit over the course of the two days.
“I couldn’t agree more with Aron, to be honest,” he stated.
“We could have all sat down and put our views on it [shortening the races]. Because Dunlop do warn us – ‘stay off the kerbs, you’ll puncture them’, all the normal stuff for Thruxton. And guys who obeyed it, like ourselves and other teams down the grid didn’t suffer anything. The guys who didn’t, they suffered.”
Adam Morgan, arguably the star of the weekend as he claimed a hat-trick of podium finishes including the first race victory, admitted on balance he could see Smith’s viewpoint, but underlined that the decision was made with safety in mind, which is correctly a priority.
“I can see where he [Smith] is coming from,” he acknowledged.
“I don’t think the drivers actually got much of a say. We were sat in the office and told it was twelve laps. Dunlop, and obviously the championship itself, want to think about safety, it’s a very high-speed track and it’s prone to tyre punctures.”
Whilst the issue of tyre degradation is likely to continue in the near future at the notoriously challenging 2.4 mile Hampshire circuit, the decision taken by Dunlop and TOCA was successful in reducing both the number of incidents and the associated risks, and therefore must be seen as the correct choice. However, it is interesting to theorise whether driver consultation is set to play a larger role in the issue of tyre compounds at Thruxton in seasons to come.
The next three rounds of the championship are due to be held at Oulton Park in three weeks time [4th-5th June], with Matt Neal and Rob Collard heading to the Cheshire circuit as joint points leaders ahead of Morgan.