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Feature:’s BTCC Season Review

Photo: Network Images

So often when covering sport, the event rarely matches up to the build-up it’s been given. The British Touring Car Championship is quite often guilty of self-proclaiming each season to be the ‘closest championship yet’ – but when the PR line actually matches the reality it’s usually a very special moment, and this year’s title fight produced more than it’s fair share of those.

In brief, Gordon Shedden produced a second spirited fightback in succession to defend his title, and claim a third overall that sees him draw level with team mate Matt Neal on honors. Sam Tordoff, who for so much of the campaign was the man to beat, was forced to concede a maiden crown in the final round, whilst Colin Turkington turned thousands of heads with a last-gap shot at a third crown in the brand-new for 2016 Subaru Levorg GT. But my how that only scratches the very surface.

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Subaru were the biggest story of the off-season, and arguably one of the largest during it as well. Jason Plato told this reporter at Media Day back in March that the Levorg GT was “a f**king game changer”, and he certainly seems to be right so far. Thruxton was arguably the lowest point for Team BMR in their superlative rise to the front in the last three seasons, however a historic first ever win for Subaru in the championship at Oulton Park should rightly be the focus of those early races. Turkington actually ended up winning one fifth of the entire season, a stark contrast to their midfield results at the Brands opener. If they can continue with the car’s current vein of development, then 2017 could be the year BMR clinch that first driver’s title.

Debates over driving quality have been touched upon in recent seasons, but Snetterton in August finally saw the argument take on a wider reach. In this reporter’s opinion, the vast majority of the series’ grid deserves a slot. We have an incredibly strong top twenty-four, but a less than sparkling set of regular back markers. Whilst the argument can be appreciated that the resource bases between those at the front and the back are responsible for this; and in fact it is commendable despite this that those in 31st are still only a small margin per lap slower, the argument stands that something needs to be done. Pure speculation, but I suspect when the TBLs go up for review shortly we may find less than 32 re-issued.

When you consider Sam Tordoff has never gone a season without winning in the BTCC, it seems almost laughable his championship aspirations failed to command serious respect until the midway stage of the season, but an air of unnerving confidence hung around the BMW ambassador until the last, and regardless of what he decides to do next season, Tordoff has earned the right to class himself as one of the best in the field. I predicted he would win the championship in our preview, swung by the premonitions of Matt Neal at Autosport that WSR had gotten a handle on their engine power issues, and it nearly came off. There’s always next year’s predictions….

Equally both his team-mates deserve a footnote – Rob Collard has not only proved he can still mix it with the best in the BTCC, but he can also string a championship challenge together when luck falls his way. Jack Goff spent a fair portion of the year getting to grips with the BMW 125i M Sport as Tordoff did last year; watch that space in 2017.

It would be wrong not to stop at this stage and commend Shedden for yet another storming comeback. I’ll admit to be sceptical he would pull it off two years running at the two-thirds stage of the season, and actually predicted a Tordoff-Neal-Collard shootout for glory. But with his usual arsenal of blistering speed, concise overtaking and sheer balls, the Scot once again proved why he’s the class of the field – and arguably well on his way to becoming the most successful driver in the series’ history.

Motorbase Performance have always been a top-quality operation; now they have the championship silverware to prove it. Mat Jackson proved to be as dangerous as ever behind the wheel of his now trademark Ford Focus ST, whilst team-mate Jordan was the epitome of consistency en route to a third independent crown. It’s a shame the duo are unlikely to develop on their partnership next season, but regardless this year has been a breakthrough one of sorts for Dave Bartrum’s outfit.

Many wrote off MG during the winter; the loss of Jordan and fan’s favorite Jack Goff seemed to doom Ian Harrison’s team to a year on the fringes of the front-runners. Nobody doubted the credentials of Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton; and they proved as early as Donington Park they meant business. The two have produced arguably the strongest team effort across the campaign, and should they remain next year it’ll be interesting to watch these young talents challenge with the benefit of another year’s experience.

The same can be said of Tom Ingram; that breakthrough first victory at Brands Hatch paved the way for another strong season that marks him out as a title contender next year. The same can be said of Adam Morgan.

Team BKR were the stars of the rest of the show, claiming a feel-good win in Rockingham that just served to underline to the skeptics just how good Aron Smith is, and the entire affair serves to re-iterate there is always more at work than those punting can accurately predict. Smith deserves to be in a top team – fact. Can he develop BKR into that? Possibly. Monitoring his progress in the Volkswagen CC post-RML upgrade, if they even stick with that machinery, will be fascinating. would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate Aron and Lauren on their recent wedding, and wish them all the best for the future.

A word for those who impressed a little further down; though Jake Hill spent the majority of the season in the midfield, his performances on occasion were staggering and he has certainly marked himself out as a championship contender of the future. Mike Epps did similarly, and impressively hung on to a chance of taking the Jack Sears Trophy from race winner Sutton until the finale.

Ollie Jackson managed to unlock some of the potential of the Audi S3 for AmD following a few seasons in the wilderness – if they stick with that combination for 2017 they’ll certainly be an entry to keep an eye on. Eurotech Racing’s switch to the Type R didn’t go quite as they’d have hoped, but regardless a set of improved results and a notable 4-5 finish at Thruxton will give them refreshed motivation going forward.

It’s seldom easy to predict motorsport, and certainly not the BTCC. Four weeks after the finale, I’m still reeling from another thirty significant plot points that, for the sake of attention spans, didn’t make it into this piece. But one thing is for certain; next year is going to give me the same welcome headache.

Enjoy the winter break.

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