After the racing action seemingly faltered at Oulton Park, Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship fans were treated to a fine spectacle of on-track entertainment in the fifth meeting of the season most recently at Croft.
The summer-greeted weekend in North Yorkshire was one to savour for fans and drivers alike, more particularly for the trio racing under the colours of West Surrey Racing.
Dick Bennetts‘ operation romped to a hat-trick of victories on Sunday afternoon, Sam Tordoff having claimed pole position on Saturday at his most local circuit before clinching one of the three triumphs in between those of his team-mates, Andy Priaulx and Rob Collard.
History was made by the WSR outfit when their BMW 125i machines locked out the BTCC podium positions for the first time in the sport, the spotlight in race one shone on that of triple World Touring Car Champion, Priaulx, who pounced on a mistake by team-mate Tordoff as spots of rain interjected.
The closest challenge to the BMW outfit turned out to be Honda Yuasa Racing‘s Gordon Shedden, the Scot involved in much of the more eye-catching on-track jostling that took place during races two and three – particularly his battles with Collard and then Priaulx later in the afternoon.
While Shedden emerged from a forceful dice with the former in race two that left both disagreeing over afterwards, the third encounter saw the 2012 champion embroiled in a cleaner battle with Collard and then Priaulx during the final handful of laps that left both absorbed, disclosing any (very brief) concerns over the racing witnessed prior to the Croft meeting.
“Race two was interesting…then race three was great”, Shedden told The Checkered Flag after his dice with Priaulx in race three.
“I had a cracking battle with Andy. He’s is a world class driver; we gave each other just enough room both ways and showed that you can have a fantastic race.”
Echoing his rival, Priaulx added: “I really enjoyed that race.
“Racing against people like Gordon; he’s a tough, tough racer, but it was good to have a really fair race with him. We gave each other just enough room, his tyres were going off and I got him right in the end.
“He was fair with me and I was fair with him, so it was good fun.”
A close opening half to the 2015 season sees a blanket of just 39 points covering the top six drivers in the standings, that comparing favourably to the 92 that separated the top six at this stage 12 months ago.
Furthermore, the simple fact that there has been eight different winners already – still not yet including wins for the likes of Andrew Jordan and Aron Smith who have threatened – stamps home just how tight 2015 is.
The latest action also took place in front of a personal record turnout of fans for Croft Circuit’s traditional BTCC visit, the outright number unstated but continuing to display the raise in profile of the sport.
Croft circuit manager Mike Cantelo praised the turnout for the event also, adding: “It was a fantastic, bumper crowd – the best seen here in a very long time. They enjoyed magnificent summer weather for most of the weekend, as well of course as some superb racing.
It is no secret that interest in the BTCC continues to increase – more so than the 2014 season which included the return of two former champions in Fabrizio Giovanardi and Alain Menu.
Cantelo further confirmed that fact, continuing: “We had an incredible day on Saturday – 40 per cent up year-on-year in terms of ticket sales – and a healthy increase on race day too.”