Analysis: Will New BTCC Grid Rules Shake 2015?

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The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will feature a wash of regulation changes applied, surrounding both technical alterations and a modification to the way the second race grids are decided. But just how much will these changes affect the series next season?

These include an alteration to grids for the second of the trio of races during each meeting, so we at The Checkered Flag analyse how the situation may affect next season with the rules applied to the recently-concluded 2014 campaign.

Previously, race one results would define the line-up for the second race grids, a rule employed since 2005. Next year, however, will see the best quickest lap times achieved in race one decide the grid slot for drivers in the second race of the weekend, race three’s reverse-grid selection still in place.

So how will this, coupled with the numerous alterations to technical regulations and penalty ballast modifications, affect the Sundays of next year’s action?

The rule change had initially appeared likely to hand drivers 10 ‘lifelines’, if you like, for next season should their opening race end prematurely, however that will no longer be the case as series administrator, Alan Gow, addressed the state of the rule by stating that drivers must be classified as a finisher in race one for fastest laps to count towards their grid slot afterwards.

Gow answered the question of how the scenario will affect race two grids via the BTCC official website’s forum, saying: “The driver must still be classified as a finisher for their fastest lap result to count.

“The driver must still be classified as a finisher for their fastest lap result to count.” – Alan Gow

“Also they must not have changed one or more tyres of the same type (i.e. slick to slick or wet to wet) during that race. The mixing of tyres, say wet on the front and slick on the rear, has been banned for a few years.”

With clarification in place, looking at the recently-concluded campaign we can see that the rule would still have altered the situation of race two in numerous meetings, sometimes helping and conversely sometimes hindering the starting position of key championship contenders.

Should non-finishes in race one HAVE counted, the most obvious grid scenario that pops out is Knockhill’s second contest, where eventual champion Colin Turkington would have been promoted from 27th to pole position on the grid. This would have also unfortunately have surely deprived BTCC fans watching both at home and at the Fife circuit of witnessing the Northern Irishman’s now infamous charge through to fourth spot, one which Turkington himself told TCF was arguably his defining title-winning moment.

The situation will likely mix up several encounters of the 10 meetings in 2015 still, that due to numerous factors.

Most obvious of these include tyre life at specific stages of the race and battles surrounding drivers throughout the pack that will hinder some from putting in a lap strong enough, meaning those making an early break at the front of the pack are most likely to cement their place towards the head of race two grid.

Yes, it will still act as a get-out-of-jail card in certain scenarios, those being the case of mechanical problems which are repairable during the race and require no tyre changes, those who limp across the line or, finally, drivers recovering from an incident or spin.

Brands indy grid change

For instance, Andrew Jordan’s dramatic puncture endured on the final lap of race one at Thruxton while leading in 2013 would have undone further damage thanks to reaching the flag and still holding a competitive lap time, while, as you will see later, Sam Tordoff’s Knockhill gremlin this season would also have not damaged his race two chances as much as it did so.

Looking at how the rules would have affected 2014, we begin with Brands Hatch at the end of March and how the grid would have looked for race two with next year’s regulations in place…

The form drivers Jordan and Jason Plato would have kept their grid slots as they set the best laps from the front, while Rob Austin would jump up to third spot ahead of Turkington who leaps three spots better off than where he ultimately started.

The real gainer would be Alain Menu. Luckless in 2014 after the Swiss found himself on the wrong end of scrapes on too many occasions this year, Menu would rise 15 spots up the grid for race two providing no tyre change was made following his spin at Paddock Hill Bend in the opening race of the season.

‘Out Of Jail Card’

That is the prime example of rising up the grid from adversity, although not a lot of change occurs to make it appear a dramatic alteration.

This displays itself much more dramatically at Donington, a weekend stymied by changeable weather conditions and no driver gaining a stranglehold at Leicester.

BTCC race 2 grid change Donington 2014Triple Eight Engineering did however look the strongest if any down the field, Plato and Tordoff both taking a win apiece in a pair of one-two finishes.

Plato’s race one win did not however warrant the quickest lap, but the third of all behind Tordoff and, more alarmingly, the Audi A4 of Austin, who was caught up in the opening race kerfuffles.

Donington grid changes 2014Austin finished the race crucially, albeit a disappointing 29th, but his quickest lap of the race would have beaten all to pole position and given him a great chance to claim victory much earlier than Rockingham in September, particularly without ballast as the penalty weights are set to increase significantly in 2015.

Note also the drops of specific drivers; Turkington having only set an ultimate best good enough for a 23rd on the grid which would have dropped him like the proverbial stone from the fifth spot he actually started – narrowly missing out on the race three spoils after a last-chicane rallycross tussle through the gravel with Gordon Shedden.

Thruxton however would have seen less modification, the top four staying put while big movers would have been the recovering Aron Smith and Hunter Abbott.

Turkington’s dominance from then stymied much alteration in the next handful of meetings, as the front row remains the same for race two at Oulton Park, Croft and Snetterton, Turkington dominating the former pair while Plato took the advantage at Norfolk’s 300 circuit from his title rival.

Then comes Knockhill, which sees another lifeline handed out.

Consistency Still Key

That goes the way of the unlucky Tordoff who, having lost the lead to Matt Neal, was brought to a halt briefly by an electrical problem.  The MG began rolling once again, but the damage was done, leaving the Leeds driver 24th on the grid for race two and his weekend wounded terminally.

With the new rules however, as Tordoff was a finisher, his fifth-quickest overall lap puts him into the top five for race two, while Adam Morgan grabs the pole position from sixth place in race one after the Mercedes A-Class flaunted its pace from the Fife meeting onwards.

As mentioned however, the controversial incident that saw Turkington pitched into the gravel following the connection from Plato at Scotsman’s corner will see the BMW man’s ultimate fastest lap not in fact applicable. Turkington would be on pole had his 125i recovered from the kitty litter, but that was not the case, meaning that the fabulous charge from 27th that followed would have still been witnessed.

Rockingham next up again sees Turkington return to the top of the tables where his weekend would not have been affected greatly, unlike the Sunday of Jack Goff who would have enjoyed the sight of race two’s grid under the 2015 rules.

Goff’s BMR Racing Volkswagen moved from 10th to the front row alongside the eventual champion, while Fabrizio Giovanardi could have evaded his clashes with Motorbase team-mate Mat Jackson thanks to a leap from seventh to third on the grid ahead of the MG pair which joined Turkington on the race one podium.

Turkington would conversely have had a BMW carrying not just added penalty ballast in these scenarios, but also the potential hindrance – potentially slight – of the weight moved further forward as an equalisation method.

BTCC race 2 grid changes 2014

Silverstone grid changes 2014 BTCC

Add into this however the added factor that boost levels will have been altered, and the most obvious difference would have shown itself at high-speed circuits such as Silverstone and Snetterton, Honda in particular seen to lack the ultimate straight-line performance of the likes of Volkswagen and Ford.

Race pace is however very different to qualifying, as cars and drivers find their rhythm without qualifying pressure on new rubber.

Silverstone would have seen these qualms cast aside for the race two grid by Honda and Neal, thanks to a sterling lap in the triple champion’s recovery bid that would have put him on race two pole despite having actually had to start 21st, following a difficult weekend stemming from a poor qualifying for the works Yuasa Racing duo.

Not just that, but team-mate Shedden also climbs 10 spots to fourth, while the top two in the championship would have had to fight through the pack from 10th and 11th respectively after their pace proved too leisurely it seemed compared to the chargers coming through the field.

The Brands Hatch GP finale would not have affected the title outcome, although Rob Collard would have moved to the front row alongside his BMW team-mate Turkington as the eBay Motors pair showed better race pace than the MGs which took a one-two finish.

Yes, the rule is open to producing a lifeline still, however the fact that those ending the opening encounter in the kitty litter or parked for the contest will not profit ensure that consistency remains vital – an important part of the sport.

Technical Changes More Crucial?

It does however ensure drivers must not switch into a conservative mode up front if they are to stay there for race two, although the rule will not turn grids entirely upside-down.

Wet weather races still prove eligible providing the switch of tyres is to a different compound entirely such as slicks to wets, damp openers on Sunday likely to be the biggest mixers in the race two grid pool.

A real issue for the most successful drivers in 2015 however come on the technical side, starting with heftier loads carried in the other side of the car as penalty ballasts potentially will rise, the final amounts currently yet to be announced.

This will affect some cars more than others, BMW targeted in terms of the positioning of the penalty weight as the forwarded ballast will add to various rule changes that will potentially damage rear-wheel drive machines’ starting advantage.

More crucial are the equalisation methods applied. TOCA confirmed that Cosworth and Xtrac will independently analyse the start-line performances and in-gear acceleration of all cars, before inducing parity through engine management programming when necessary to ensure an obvious advantage is not exploited in 2015.

A boost level meanwhile will instead be set regarding the performance of each engine for the entirety of the 2015 season, and before the campaign kicks off, banishing the controversial race-by-race system introduced along with Next Generation Touring Car rules back in 2011.

Quite how these alterations appear when put into action remains to be seen, but the move to induce further parity has been looked at greatly following off-track wars of words from front-wheel drive competitors during 2014. Race two may be tougher for fans at the circuits to get their head around without timing screens thrust in front of their faces, but the situation appears to open a slight door of recovery and improvement from a race one struggle.

One thing is certain; the racing will not change, meaning that Turkington’s efforts to hold onto the #1 plate will be no easier…

(BTCC action photo credits: all

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