For all the entertaining racing it produced, this weekend’s action at Thruxton raised serious questions about the safety of the fastest circuit in the UK.
The Thruxton event is always one of the highlights of the TOCA season, with plenty of spectacular shots of cars at the absolute edge of control. It is compelling viewing, but yesterday, two of the touring car races were marred by big accidents at the notorious Church corner. Nick Foster, Ollie Jackson and Simon Belcher were all fortunate to escape injury.
Additionally, Billy Monger suffered a similar accident in one of the supporting Ginetta Junior races. Out of the four, Belcher’s accident was by far the most dramatic, with his car being launched over an already badly damaged tyre barrier and into the trees.
It leaves you to wonder whether something should be done. Surely, for a circuit this fast, the safety standards should be far more up to scratch than a flimsy tyre barrier that wouldn’t look out of place at your local outdoor kart track.
Of course, you could argue that Thruxton’s charm is its old school nature. One of the common complaints in motorsport today is that if anything, modern tracks are now ‘too safe’ and sanitised by miles of tarmac run off. Furthermore, the circuit is no stranger to big accidents.
Several years ago, Kelvin Burt cleared the catch fencing in a Porsche Carrera Cup race, albeit at a different section of track. A couple of years ago in qualifying, Jason Plato also ended up in the woods at Church. You could just say it’s just part of the inherent risks of racing there. But, surely if Foster, Jackson or Belcher had been injured, we’d soon be hearing about changes being made.
In too many of these instances, motorsport is reactive when it comes to safety, rather than proactive. It is only extremely good luck, and the strength of the NGTC cars that prevent a far more serious outcome than just badly damaged racing cars.
The incidents at Church weren’t the only concerning moments in that third race. The decision to go back racing after Belcher’s accident, with the tyre barrier in very poor condition, was a controversial one. With two cars having crashed there in the space of just a couple of laps, it was possible a third could have gone off as well. It certainly wasn’t what you expected from the TOCA package, who are normally exceptional in dealing with safety matters.
It is perfectly understandable that race control felt under pressure to restart the race, with live TV coverage and thousands of expectant fans at the circuit. But surely, the best decision would have been to have stopped the race and made more serious repairs to the tyre barrier.
In the end, the decision was to carry on racing, with the corner in question under yellow flag conditions. But cars were still going through there at barely reduced speed, and, as Gordon Shedden proved with a pass on Jack Goff, drivers didn’t appear to have any qualms about doing so.
So, while the racing lived up to expectation this weekend, there were other areas that certainly let the show down.
As racing fans, we can only hope that knee-jerk reactions don’t end up in Thruxton being sanitised, and as a result, losing some of its charm. However, equally, we can only hope that we don’t hear of an even more serious accident at the Hampshire venue in the future.
These accidents act as a reminder about the dangers involved in racing, but also that safety standards can always be improved. The BARC should act now, before Thruxton is the scene of a potentially tragic incident.