It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be rough: But most of all, it’s guaranteed to be an awesome spectacle!
Long after Sunday’s chequered flag falls, this will be a weekend that will be remembered. It will be savoured, talked about, and argued over, not for days or weeks but for years, and across generations. What started at Brands Hatch six months ago is now set to culminate in a title-decider unlike any other. Thirty drivers, squaring-up against each other and the demands of one of the most challenging circuits in the world. Eight of these (including six former champions), all in contention for the greatest prize in UK motorsport, the British Touring Car Championship.
BMW driver Sam Tordoff is the man who will arrive at the Kent circuit leading the standings. His current tally of 278 points gives an 11 points and 13 points respectively advantage over 2015 champion, Gordon Shedden, and his Halfords Yuasa Racing teammate (and three-times former champion), Matt Neal. But with 67 points available over the three races, all those down to Jason Plato in 8th place (on 220 points) could theoretically take the spoils.
So who will come out on top?
It’s no coincidence that all eight of the drivers in contention come from the top four teams; and that of these, three are manufacturer backed (BMW, Honda and Subaru). These are the squads with the depth of experience, talent and budget. They know how to win and in this game, nobody is interested in coming second. And then there’s Motorbase. The local independent outfit. Based just a few minutes down the road in Wrotham. David Bartrum’s team could only manage half a season in 2015 due to a lack of funding, but this didn’t stop them from building an exceptional car (Ford Focus ST). And now, with the backing of Duo and Pirtek, drivers Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan have been able to convert the promise and potential into podiums and points.
Tordoff: it’s his title to lose
If you look at the black and white, Tordoff ought to be the man in control. He might not have been in this position before but I’ve seen him soak-up the pressure to take wins in both Touring Cars and the Porsche Carrera Cup, including around this same circuit. Plus he’ll be very ably guided by team boss, Dick Bennetts, a man who knows more about winning than most. As Tordoff suggested to Touring Car Times as he left Silverstone a few weeks ago, this is now his title to lose. Or is it? I’m going to argue it slightly differently: I think the title is still there for others to win.
I think it’s for others to win
There are so many different factors to consider and way too many variables, but I think that this is going to be a difficult weekend for the BMWs. Tordoff might arrive in Kent with a solid advantage but the leader’s weight penalty has been hurting him badly in qualifying, and unlike the previous two rounds (Rockingham and Silverstone), Brands Hatch is a difficult place to make-time and overtake, especially with a 75kg lump of lead bolted to your car. Realistically, to be in with a chance of scoring big points on Sunday, you have to qualify well on Saturday. I just don’t think this is going to happen, especially if we see the rain forecast for the early part of the weekend. Any of the rear wheel drive advantage that the BMWs might hold will be instantly lost on a damp track, and the Brands Hatch Grand Prix loop is notorious for staying wet once the clouds have opened. And if the Yorkshireman fails to score well in the opening two races, then the opportunities will be presented for those who covet his lead.
Ironically, Collard is probably in a stronger position, despite being 18 points adrift. He’s the grittiest of all racers and can conjure exceptional results from often lowly positions. But as I’ve just said, I believe that to win this championship, you’re going to have to be on the front row of the grid for races 1 & 2, and I don’t see this happening for either of the West Surrey cars. They’re quick once the lights go out, but I think they’re going to give themselves too much to have to do.
Can Subaru cap an already incredible year?
Subaru are represented by Team BMR, and in this particular battle, by former double champions Colin Turkington and Jason Plato. For 2016, the cars were new, very new. Arriving for Round 1, only one of its four cars competing had even turned a wheel. It was a smoky and troubled start. Most of the grid had been testing in private for weeks; BMR had to do its before a baying public. It was both painful and brutal, but long, determined hours in the workshop and an unfailing belief in the unique combination of its chassis and Mountune’s Subaru Boxer engine would be repaid. By Round 10 at Oulton Park, they were on top. Pole positions, wins, podiums and fastest laps; all now came in abundance. But alas, I think there is just too much to do. Turkington and Plato are exceptional racers, but even if one of them was to take all three remaining wins, they still need everyone else to score badly, and this is unlikely to happen.
Honda or Ford?
At the very start of this season, I said that the title would ultimately be played-out between two cars, the Honda Civics of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, and the Ford Focus’ of Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan. I still think this is true. Of these, I singled-out Shedden and Jackson as the men to beat. They’re probably the finest racers in the country. Both supremely confident and both remarkably at one with their machines. This doesn’t take anything away from Neal and Jordan. Neal understood from the very start that this championship could be won by consistency and he has consistently delivered. However, pitched against his teammate in a brutal fight to the line, I have to back Shedden every time.
With Jordan, the story is different. He was new to Motorbase for 2016 and he’s racing in a car that was very much developed around his teammate. Give him another year and I think that he’ll match Jackson every inch of the way. He’s also a former champion, and importantly, he won as an independent, so he knows what it takes. I just think that with a 10-point deficit to Jackson, and trailing Shedden by 20 points, he has too much to have to hope for.
Shedden or Jackson?
So, Shedden or Jackson? Shedden has a 10 points advantage over his rival, but managing this is not going to be easy, especially when you consider that at this very meeting last year, Jackson scored a massive 61 from the available 67 points. Contrast this to Shedden’s (championship winning) haul of just 23 and you can see how open this championship really is.
So it could well come down to the very last race, where the grid is reversed after a draw featuring those finishing between P6 and P10 in race 2. As I see it, Shedden ought to arrive at Brands Hatch as favourite, but I think that Jackson sees this as his best ever opportunity to join the hall of fame.
Don’t miss it!
It’s been an incredible season of BTCC racing. We’ve already had twelve different winners from 27 races. Now there are just three more races left to see who will be crowned champion of 2016. Don’t wait to read about it on Monday, get yourself down to Brands Hatch, or in front of ITV4 this Sunday and watch it happen live.