BTCC Mid-Season Analysis: BMW Stealing The March?


15 down, another 15 to go. The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship began full of hype, and has since proved too close to call after the first half of the season. We at The Checkered Flag look at the top stories so far, as BMW look to have located the sweet spot with the 125i.

The championship will be lead into its second period by Colin Turkington, the recently-married Northern Irishman having risen to the helm following a stellar run of form in the previous two meetings at Oulton Park and Croft where he took pole and two wins in each.

The 2009 champion leads the way by just seven points thanks to six wins, five of those coming in the previous seven encounters. Gordon Shedden takes up the chase for Honda Yuasa Racing, proving the speed is already there in the eye-catching Civic Tourer thanks to wins at Donington and Thruxton.

BMW take the early advantage

Photo: btcc.net
Photo: btcc.net

Such has been the success of the BMW 125i of West Surrey Racing and Turkington particularly in the previous rounds, rival teams have already jumped to defend themselves by saying the BMW is at an advantage – Triple Eight’s Ian Harrison and his MG squad’s driver Jason Plato the initial figures to voice their concerns.

A longer first gear has already been introduced to the rear-wheel drive machines and proved initially tricky to manage, but the outright development race has seemingly been where WSR have stolen a march – rather than the rear-wheel drive advantage away from the line and superlative traction exiting slower technical sections.

Turkington’s team-mate Rob Collard has further confirmed the rapid development of the 125i, collecting five podiums in the last eight races and lying fifth in the championship after previously struggling with the car in its debut year.

Collard summed up the squabble since the Oulton Park meeting by stating that BMW’s step-up in performance simply has not been matched by their slacking rivals.

BTCC halftime stats“There’s a lot of unhappy people at the moment because, essentially, there’s another manufacturer that’s come along now to spoil their party”, Collard told The Checkered Flag in the build-up to Snetterton.

“When you look at the form of the front-wheel drive cars like the MGs and Hondas over the last four or five years, they had dominated. It’s not exactly that we’re doing so much better, it’s just that some of the others aren’t doing as good a job.

“Gordon [Shedden] has been strong all season so far but the other front-wheel cars haven’t been particularly great. We didn’t expect to be so quick at Oulton Park. I think we’re in for a very strong second half of the year that’s for sure.”

Turkington And Shedden Taking Charge

Shedden has indeed been the closest contender to Turkington throughout the season, their battles stemming from a fantastic second round dice in the final laps of the third race at Donington Park where the pair bounced through the gravel at the final chicane with the Scot out-racing his Northern Irish competitor to the flag.

In fact, statistics show that Shedden has been the most consistent performer of the 2014 season, the Honda Civic Tourer bang on the pace as the 2012 BTCC champion has finished all 15 races.

More impressively, his worst result of the season has been sixth – a fact which is as rare in touring cars as a year without controversy for Luis Suarez.

Shedden commented to TCF after Croft that the Civic Tourer’s pace has already caught his eye just five rounds into its BTCC life, saying: “We’re using the car and the handling of the car well, tyres are good and the Tourer is handling the tyres well so we can look to now make a bit of progress.

“Points in every race makes a big difference. Points in all 15 races so far is certainly making a difference as you have got to keep scoring to stay in it as the year goes on.”

Shedden and Turkington 2014
Photos: btcc.net

Gordon Shedden

Colin Turkington

Wins

2

6

Podiums

8

9

Top 10s

15

14

DNFs

0

1

Poles

0

2

Points

221

228

 

Turkington’s season has been equally consistent, but the seven-point cushion has been trimmed to what it is by an unfortunate clutch problem in the final race at Croft that lead to his first retirement of the 2014 season.

Turkington added that consistency will be the most important trump card of the season, telling TCF: “It’s about scoring points. As you saw from Croft I’d had what was looking like a faultless weekend, but not finishing race three really hurts the points score you take away. Scoring points over every race and obviously staying out of trouble is the most important recipe for success in the BTCC.”

Jordan In Hot Pursuit, MG Looking For More

The closest rival has aptly been reigning champion, Andrew Jordan. The Pirtek Racing man has however ended up 28 points from the series lead, only due to a difficult meeting at Oulton Park where qualifying interruptions left his languished down in the pack and a magnet for trouble.

His fourth win of the season came at Croft in the final race of the day last time out, a win he felt was crucial to his title chances after the rough patch. This came after a superlative opening round at Brands Hatch where pole was followed by two fine wins, while another came at Thruxton on a weekend that put the Honda Civic driver in the hot seat.

Photo: Kingsley Newman/KAN Photography
Photo: Kingsley Newman/KAN Photography

A 10-place grid penalty however will make it tougher for Jordan at Snetterton on 2/3 August, although he will consider himself very much in the epicenter of the title fight, unlike Honda’s Matt Neal.

The triple BTCC champion’s season started in a strong manner, but 12 months after he had entered the summer break leading the 2013 championship, Neal admitted he may be already out of 2014’s battle already after a disastrous Oulton and Croft double put him 101 points adrift, following an exclusion at Croft from third in race two and incidents in the third race of the previous two meetings.

The team needing to pick up the pace it seems are Triple Eight, as the MG6 has only collected two wins to its name in 2014 despite starting the year with plenty of promise.

Double champion Jason Plato initiated a charge for supremacy by just missing out on pole position at Brands Hatch, before thrashing the opposition at Donington in qualifying and then claiming race one spoils in Sunday’s mixed conditions. Mechanical problems left Plato stranded on the grid at Brands Hatch’s second race, while rotten luck saw him taken out in Thruxton’s race three melee.

Team-mate Sam Tordoff matched that by winning race two at the Leicester circuit, but has since endured a mixed season. Both are Snetterton specialists however, so expect MG to threaten to dominate the Norfolk visit.

Ford And Volkswagen Lead The Chasers

The BMR team celebrate their first BTCC victory (Photo: btcc.net)
The BMR team celebrate their first BTCC victory (Photo: btcc.net)

If MG’s pace has floundered, Airwaves Racing and Ford’s has risen in spades. Mat Jackson has returned to his giant-killing form in the Focus ST which has made its way back to being a podium contender since its in-house NGTC machine’s 2012 debut at Snetterton, Jackson collecting two rostrums and 12 top-10 finishes so far two years on.

Team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi brought the hype to the team with his appearance on the grid, but it has taken time for the double BTCC champion of 2007/08 to acclimatize himself with the new cars. A podium at Thruxton was character-building and kept the beaming grin on the Italian’s face, although he was unfortunate to be removed from the lead at Croft.

Fellow returning double champion Alain Menu has been right in the thick of the action, none more so than at Croft when he was pitched into the barriers by former team-mate Plato in a tetchy incident during a typically bruising campaign for several involved thus far.

Menu’s best result of 2014 so far has been fifth in a fighting final race at the Brands Hatch opener, although the rough outings in between solid results mean his recovery drives place him at the top of the Jack Sears Trophy for most overtakes of the year so far.

The real star of the new BMR Racing team has been Irishman Aron Smith however, who famously held off the front-runners at Oulton Park in the very capable Volkswagen Passat which has been on the money during much of the season.

Photo: Stu Stretton Design
Photo: Stu Stretton Design

Adam Morgan finally found a sweet spot in the WIX Racing‘s new Mercedes A-Class in the marque’s much-anticipated return to the championship since the 1980s, a fifth place at Croft the team’s best result of the season.

One of the stars of the season has also been rookie Tom Ingram, the Ginetta GT Supercup champion already taking it to the big boys at the head of the field and proving a regular top-10 player of the grid with a personal best of fifth in qualifying, plus seventh overall at Oulton Park’s second race in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis.

Jack Goff has shown that the so-nearly race-winning pace displayed in the final race of 2013 was no fluke, challenging for podiums in the first half of 2014 but proving a Vauxhall Insignia-shaped punchbag at Thruxton and Croft. Elsewhere, Ford’s Dave Newsham is also due some good fortune after spending half a season with AmDTuning being stuck in other people’s accidents.

Of the newcomers, Jack Clarke enjoyed his best showing in the Crabbies Racing Focus at Croft, while a variety of setbacks have made 2014 a baptism of fire to overcome for others.

None more so than Simon Belcher, who found himself barrel-rolling through a tree at Thruxton after following Ollie Jackson‘s Proton Gen-2 into the scenery at the high-speed Church corner.

While repair bills were overcome by the Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis man, Jackson and team-mate Dan Welch have been plagued by mechanical demons all season, similarly as has Chris Stockton in the BTC Racing Chevrolet Cruze hatchback and Aiden Moffat in the ex-Andy Neate Cruze.

Current BTCC Championship Standings after 15/30 races:

1) Colin Turkington

West Surrey Racing (BMW)

228pts

2) Gordon Shedden

Honda Yuasa Racing (Honda)

221pts

3) Andrew Jordan

Pirtek Racing (Honda)

200pts

4) Jason Plato

KX Clubcard Fuel Save BTCC Team (MG)

179pts

5) Rob Collard

West Surrey Racing (BMW)

170pts