The short, undulating Brands Hatch Indy circuit is always a formidable opponent, but introduce a mix of front’ and rear-wheel-driven machinery, 32 exceptional cars and drivers, with a downpour or two thrown-in for good measure, and you’re going to need many more sides to your lucky dice than six to be able to predict what might happen next.
It was fast, furious and bruising. If ever there was a fitting way to open the BTCC’s 60th season, then this was it.
But before the programme had even started, those who turned-up on Saturday to watch qualifying were treated to an exemplary display from Honda newcomer, Dan Cammish.
When faced with the task of replacing Gordon Shedden (the former double-champion), Team Dynamics knew that ‘good’ simply wasn’t good enough, they needed better. Enter Cammish. I’ve watched him since his early days in Formula Ford. He has the rarest of racing talents; he has finesse. His control, balance and confidence, all orchestrated into a record-breaking lap as he pushed onwards, ever faster and ever deeper. Only to be halted by the heartbreak of a self-inflicted wound (failing to stop in the pit lane for the weighbridge). It was such a rookie mistake from someone so used to living by the rulebook, and it cost the Yorkshireman dearly. Gone was a stunning pole position for his BTCC debut, yet it was plain for all to see that after only three races there is already a new hero in town, and perhaps more importantly, one of the few who can rise to the challenge of Colin Turkington.
As so often happens in the BTCC, what started-off in Race 1 as a familiar pattern of solid points scoring by race winner Jack Goff and P2 man Turkington was soon transformed into a Race 2 battle of judgement calls. As the cars left their garages, the rain was still falling, but by the time they arrived on the grid, it had stopped: It was too wet for slicks, but would soon become too dry for wets. If you’re in with a shout, you have to race with your head; if you’re not, then you can afford to race with your heart. And that’s how it played-out. The front-runners stayed on wets and found grip off the line, but those brave enough to risk the melee held-on until the dark grey tarmac lightened, propelling them ever faster out of each corner and stopping them ever quicker going-in.
It was a race where positions changed so rapidly that as the end drew-near, standing from my vantage point at the top of Paddock Hill bend, I genuinely had no idea who was leading, who was chasing and who was desperately holding-on. And then all of a sudden, the screams of the crowd turned into a roar, and into sight and across the line came the trio of Senna Proctor, Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson. And that was it. The race was over. The car starting in 27th had won, and the car that had started just in front (in 25th) was second. I’ve seen some epic encounters in my time; this one will now rank amongst them.
For the third and final race, we were treated to just a little more Alan Gow magic, this time with the Reverse Grid Pole Position being drawn in favour of Rob Austin and the debuting Alfa Giulietta. Austin and team boss Simon Belcher have worked relentlessly over the winter to develop their car into a winner and whilst it lacked the edge on this opening weekend, both car and driver held their nerve under relentless pressure to finish in a podium place.
What have we learned from Brands Hatch, and what we can now expect (as the season progresses)? I’m going to play it safe and say ‘more of the same’. There were 9 different podium finishers this weekend, which tells us just how close this season will be. But with an early call, I think that Turkington and Cammish will be the two who end-up battling for the drivers’ title, with Goff, Austin and Tom Ingram, followed closely by Aiden Moffat, Adam Morgan and Tom Chilton who will fight ever harder and closer for the Independents’ crown.
So here are twenty of our favourite images from the day, and please believe me when I say it was a difficult choice.
* * *
The next rounds (4, 5 & 6) of the 2018 British Touring Car Championship will take place at Donington Park at the end of this month, from April 28-29, with tickets available from just £28 in advance (online).
* * *