BTCC: Discussing Driving Standards

The subject of driving standards in the British Touring Car Championship has always been a controversial one, but after a particularly bruising encounter at Snetterton last weekend, people are once again questioning whether things have got out of hand.

Perhaps the most contentious of incidents befell 2009 champion, Colin Turkington. He had been doing a great job in both race two and race three, defending beautifully from faster cars. Despite this, he was biffed out of the lead by Andrew Jordan, and later, Gordon Shedden.

Thanks to their rather ambitious overtakes, we, as fans, were robbed of exciting ends to both races.

That is before you ever begin to go through many of the other incidents from the weekend, which culminated in Jason Plato suffering a scary looking roll over in race three.

But the first point of discussion must be whether driving standards have improved, or deteriorated over the years.

There is the argument of course, that touring car racing is all about close quarters action. It is about drivers not being afraid to swap paint, or bang door mirrors. It is undoubtedly this type of racing that has made the British Touring Car Championship the hit that it is with fans today.

The ever increasing rise of viewing figures, plus the number of people at the track on both Saturday and Sunday shows that while this might not be for everyone, it certainly is getting towards the revered Super Touring era in terms of interest. It perhaps produces the best touring car racing, along with the Australian V8 Supercars series, anywhere in the world.

But, you could also argue that the absence of manufacturers these days has seen driving standards deteriorate since the halcyon days of the mid to late nineties. The majority of the current grid are privateer entrants and there are very few full time professional racing drivers at all. Indeed, while it is good to see the likes of Jeff Smith and others living the dream of being a touring car driver at weekends, to put it bluntly, their inexperience sometimes shines through.

Additionally, the “crash, bang, wallop” style of racing the BTCC produces has been the way that series ringmaster Alan Gow has tried to market the series. Perhaps that is why the BTCC has been reluctant in the past to stamp down on some of the bad driving.

The thing is though, that while we don’t want the BTCC to turn into F1, with drivers being penalised for even daring to go wheel-to-wheel with each other, nobody likes to see expensive cars damaged either.

As already outlined, the days of numerous big budget manufacturers in the BTCC are long gone, and with many of the current teams running on a tight budget, it is not nice to see cars being damaged, week in, week out, particularly if the driver has been the innocent party in any skirmishes that take place.

Likewise, nobody likes to see people get hurt. Already this year in the racing world, we have seen numerous reminders of just how dangerous this sport can still be, not just for drivers, but for volunteer marshals too. At times, the BTCC has been lucky that several incidents have not been more serious.

The question is what should be done? Unfortunately, along with many other forms of racing, the stewarding in the BTCC is incredibly inconsistent.

You may remember that several years ago, Jonny Adam was stripped of victory at Brands Hatch for hitting Jason Plato at Paddock Hill bend. Following this weekend’s antics, Andrew Jordan received a grid penalty, while Gordon Shedden escaped with just a fine.

You have to wonder why there is such variety in the penalties, for three very similar incidents. Nobody likes to see a race result decided in the steward’s room, and fans should go home from a race knowing the result will not change, but it wouldn’t be difficult to start punishing bad driving with drive through penalties.

That way, the instigator gets a justified penalty, and the crowd gets to see somebody else win on the road, rather than inherit the win courtesy of somebody being disqualified post-race.  

I want to make it clear that I am not criticising all drivers in the championship for the hell of it. Certainly, there are many good drivers in the BTCC who know how to race cleanly and fairly. It is just a shame that there is a minority (many of whom are repeat offenders and should know better) have to resort to banger racing tactics.

The problem the BTCC has if it doesn’t get a grip of the situation, is that is encourages bad driving in the support races. Youngsters see what Matt Neal or Jason Plato has been doing for years and getting away with it, and emulate it.

That’s when the problems really start, because perhaps the most startling of incidents at the weekend came from a support race. The sight of the Ginetta GT Supercup field barely reducing in speed even when the red flags came out showed clear disregard for the marshals’ safety, and indeed the rules of racing.

And after all, unless it has changed since the last time I checked, motorsport is a non-contact sport. Besides, anyone can overtake by smashing a rival out the way, but it takes real skill to pass cleanly and fairly when someone is defending as well as Turkington was.

Feel free to let us know what your thoughts on the driving standards in the BTCC are by leaving a comment below.

  • Connor Ambrose

    Basically, I can see what you are saying with driving standards and teams with small budgets not wanting to receive big repair bills. However, the BTCC has always been about close racing and the driving standards have never always been top draw. By introducing drive through penalties and so on, the sport will begin to become more and more F1. It already has option tyres and before to long we could be seeing things like DRS and KERS and by introducing a new penalty system with drive through penalties and so on then this will become boring and take away nature and appeal of BTCC. I will admit that penalty giving needs to be more consistent like in the situation you described but going as far as drive throughs is too much for BTCC.

  • Lee Bonham

    Last year things were appalling really and introducing the three strikes grid system this year appears to have helped. So far the driving has been top draw and it’s only at Snetterton where things went awry. The race 2 Jordan incident is debatable but race 3 was a bit too far. The BTCC is about close-racing but there is a difference between small punts to edge an opponent wide and taking them off completely. I am sure the drivers will be told to tone it down a little before Knockhill. That certainly won’t make for dull racing but close, competitive and fair contests. I for one can’t wait.

  • Chris

    I have read your comments and agree to a degree, I felt sorry for Turkington in race 2 & 3 but if a faster car can’t get past it is the ‘norm’ in BTCC to make a move. It is unfortunate that both moves on Colin were the same and because he was driving a rear wheel drive the manouver spun him out. Andrew Jordan was given a penalty and because of this being his 3rd on track incident was given a 6 place penalty for the next race. Gordon Shedden was given a fine and penalty but doesn’t get a 6 place penalty because this isn’t his 3rd offence.

    It is unfortunate that scuffles like this affect rear wheel drive cars more than front wheel drive and they seem to loose out more. These comments can be heard on the itv4 commentary and it’s also up to the teams which cars they want to race. The other way to look at it is that it’s unfair for rear wheel drive cars to pull away at the start the way the do and leave rear wheel drive cars standing, just like Turkington in all 3 starts at Snetterton. But different cars, different drive options and varying drivers is what makes the BTCC interesting and I love it and follow it, having dropped the procession and tactics of F1 racing!!!!!

    If the BTCC aren’t happy with the drivers driving standards they do need to be more consistent with penalties. However if the driver has a racing licence they have already passed various racing driving standards part time or full time drivers.