The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship saw another chapter written in the battle of former champions, but also produced one of the most significant glimpses into champions of the future as many young guns gave them a shock along the way…
Ultimately, five former champions could have won the title heading into the final three races of the season at Brands Hatch, but it was the battle between Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato that was left to be decided in a mightily tense final encounter in Kent after neither could be parted it seemed.
Switches in the winter ‘silly season’ breathed new life into other drivers, while some including Triple Eight showed their fight despite a dip in performance from the previous 12 months.
Young blood mixed up the duels against experience in 2015 meanwhile, with several names marking themselves out as potential champions of the future.
With all this in mind, here’s a look at TCF’s top 10 drivers of the 2015 BTCC season…
10) Rob Collard
Pitted alongside the 2014 champion in Colin Turkington for the past two seasons was always going to test the experienced BTCC hand prior to the most recent campaign, but Collard proved that his strong efforts that season were no fluke with a hat-trick of victories and just as much fighting spirit in his belly.
With Turkington exiting West Surrey Racing due to budget restrictions, the former Independent champion effectively moved up to team leader at the BMW squad, which was then backed up with a triumphant start to the season at Brands Hatch.
This was the first of three wins in 2015 which proved more than his rapid team-mates, Andy Priaulx and Sam Tordoff, those particular internal bragging rights pleasing the 47-year-old in particular when discussing the campaign with TCF in October.
The first of those saw him even lead the championship, winning the opening race of the season in style with a trademark rapid start. Wins at Croft and Knockhill where also hard-fought and displayed Collard’s entertainment factor as a great racer, but 10th in the championship said less so about this.
Consistency ultimately let him down this season, as did qualifying pace in a similar manner to 2014 in his own words.
9) Sam Tordoff
While consistency was not Collard’s fortay, new team-mate Tordoff looked to have that trait down to a BTCC tee in the opening half of his first season with WSR, following life with Triple Eight.
The adaptation to rear-wheel drive seemed steady, but ultimately solid enough to warrant a good move in the winter by the Leeds racer, and he remained inside the top 10 throughout the season as a strong contender.
A first win finally came at Oulton Park, briefly putting him as the form man after pole position and a second win at Croft followed on a fine weekend for the German manufacturer’s three 125i machines.
The decisive factor that tainted his title charge was a weekend littered with misfortune at Knockhill in Fife, punctures ruining his brief title push.
Despite this denting his season and leading to a somewhat sluggish conclusion, Tordoff rightly enjoyed his time between April and mid-October 2015 and left him hopeful of an extended stay under the WSR camp.
8) Matt Neal
Despite his position in this countdown, 2015 was a season very much of redemption for the triple BTCC champion, having endured a rough campaign in the Civic Tourer a season prior.
Neal returned to being a regular front-runner both in the championship and during race weekends in 2015, starting strongest of all and collecting two victories from the opening two meetings of the season as the Honda Yuasa Racing squad staked their claim with the new, ultimately successful Type-R.
Neal’s consistency ultimately saw him fall out of the championship hunt in the final two races of the season, but he kept his team-mate Shedden very honest all season and would have been much closer had it not been for a clumsy incident with Team BMR‘s Aron Smith at Thruxton earlier in the season.
Qualifying pace had previously been a problem for the Honda ace, but that improved significantly in 2015, while the opportunistic fighter within him emerged again during a third win when presented an opportunity by Adam Morgan in the final laps of Knockhill’s third encounter.
7) Andy Priaulx
Returns in the modern BTCC era have become as frequent as football manager sackings much to the delight of fans around the country, but triple World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx’s comeback was an instant hit.
Bring a vibe similar to that of Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi‘s comebacks last season, Priaulx wasted no time bursting back onto the scene with pole position in the Brands Hatch Indy season opener, although he learned before anybody else the gamble of softer rubber in race one of the year.
The mistake would not be repeated, as Priaulx’s learning process seemed rapid. That first win did eventually come at Croft and was backed up later in the season at Silverstone, while eight podiums flattered his followers.
One of the most impressive runs of form in the series this season also came from Priaulx between Croft and his Rockingham absence, with nine finishes inside the top five that helped him to eighth in the championship. Whether he returns in 2016, that is very much in his hands.
6) Adam Morgan
One of the BTCC’s young stars of the future, the still-young Morgan arguably could have had three triumphs in the Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class in 2015.
One did come his way in decisive fashion at Thuxton from the front, but Morgan’s luck was not always kind to him during the year.
These were not all lady luck however as he will tell you following a jump start from pole position at Oulton Park, but more gutting was picking up debris at Knockhill – unsighted over the chicane – while cruising at the front in race three.
More experience will undoubtedly see him defend moves like the one Neal subsequently pulled on him more sternly, but Morgan almost certainly displayed enough outright pace to make rivals keep an eye out for the yellow and black machine in their mirrors next season.
21 times Morgan finished inside the top 10, deserving of his seventh place in the championship and seven visits to pick up silverware.
5) Josh Cook
The second future star in the making is last year’s Renault UK Clio Cup runner-up, Josh Cook, who made the switch to BTCC look almost effortless rather than letting the opportunity ahead of him get the better of him.
Despite the rookie being strapped into an older machine, the updated Power Maxed Racing Chevrolet Cruze was the perfect kit for his maiden assault, but his attitude throughout the season from media day was frank and full optimism.
Stating “I don’t want to be seen as a rookie” for the majority of 2015, his consistent top-10 threat and regular ability to match the experienced Dave Newsham in the same outfit was a pleasant surprise to the neutral.
Besides the Jack Sears Trophy domination with 22 wins from 30 outings as the top rookie, two races will stand out for Cook. Taking the experienced Collard for the lead in race three at Donington may have been enough for a shock win had a safety car not intervened, but the star performance came at Rockingham.
Cook climbed through the field methodically and snatched a last-lap podium from Morgan – a battle that we may see for silverware more often in the future.
15th in the overall championship saw Cook beat Newsham by two points, six top-10 results perhaps disguising his performances as Power Maxed impressed.
4) Tom Ingram
Finishing a countdown of the young stars that will be surely fighting for the championship in the not-too-distant future is Tom Ingram, who was a major part of one of the most poignant scenes of the season.
That was the third and final race of the Rockingham weekend in Corby, where Jason Plato admitted afterwards that he may have taught his former KX Akademy pupil a tad too much as the pair duelled in out in a fabulous, but fair encounter for victory.
While spoils went to Plato ultimately, the former Ginetta Junior and GT4 Supercup champion’s resolute return attacks on the BMR driver were gutsy, yet clean, making his former mentor work for it harder than anybody had all season arguably.
Emotional words afterwards from Ingram tugged on the heartstrings of onlookers, the first of two podium finishes in a Toyota Avensis much improved but still not looking like race-winning material in other’s hands.
Who knows what ‘Tingram’ could achieve in a better machine, but 18 finishes inside the top 10 from 30 races puts his performances in an inconsistent car into perspective.
3) Colin Turkington
Whilst 2014 was a year a sheer brilliance for Turkington, 2015 showcased a calmer side to the Northern Irishman that still oozed similar class.
The initial feeling was relief that a spot on the grid emerged thanks to BMR when budget unbelievably restricted his place at WSR to defend his crown, but the season soon become an enjoyable one for the double champion in a new environment.
The Volkswagen CC was a very different kettle of fish compared to the BMW 125i M-Sport Turkington sprinted to the title with last season, also forcing him to adapt to front-wheel drive again for the first time since 2006.
Admitting the drivetrain transition was a hurdle for him for most of the 2015 campaign, the fact Turkington claimed two pole positions, four wins and challenged Honda and team-mate Plato while still not entirely comfortable with the equipment speaks volumes of the job done behind the wheel.
Development and a year’s experience in the car make Turkington potentially a greater threat in 2016 to snatch back his crown, so more testing under his belt and with the new TOCA parts will be something that he will want to gain prior to next year’s assault.
2) Jason Plato
Six wins made him the most successful driver of the 2015 season, but yet again Plato was left to play bridesmaid for a third year in succession.
The mighty efforts of the double champion in 2015 however were made more impressive by the fact he entered a new chapter of his illustrious BTCC career in April, switching to Team BMR and Volkswagen with what appeared to be initial caution, twinned with the hope of more optimism to come.
That optimism became greater after the opening meeting, but was tainted by frustration as a certain win in race two of the season was torn apart by a similarly punctured tyre while cruising up front – the same fate costing him points at Silverstone also.
Those were the paining moments that Plato will look back on in 2015 as potentially what cost him that third championship, as will several slip-ups in qualifying with maximum ballast and a lap one incident in race one at Rockingham. Plato’s racing brain however turned those scenarios into positives, and he kept the title fight going all the way even by sacrificing two race one results for a strong end to those particular weekends.
A massive push in the final round, as ever, almost saw the Volkswagen man pull off the comeback of the decade, although he questioned the help he had within the BMR camp compared to rivals Honda.
After 10 rostrums, six wins and 17 top-five results, Plato’s defeat was ominous in just his first season with a team that will again will big strides in 2016 should he stay put.
1) Gordon Shedden
Deciphering the top two of 2015 was a question that rumbled all season, and it was fitting that it was decided by arguably the most dramatic race of the year.
Both the Scot and his big rival Plato could not be separated and arguably it was very tough on whoever would lose out at Brands Hatch, but the way the title was decided was by a drive worthy of being the decisive difference.
It showed just how much a driver wants to win a championship, Shedden seemingly on the brink of throwing away a title that, after Silverstone, appeared to be falling perfectly into his grasp.
A rotten Snetterton handed Plato an initial opportunity but a superb performance at Silverstone with maximum ballast to begin with was a moment of class that left even that weekend’s dominant man, Mat Jackson, turning his head at Shedden’s results in Northamptonshire.
A problematic second race at Brands Hatch’s finale added to Shedden’s bad luck portfolio, leaving a showdown which Plato ultimately dominated. Shedden had the task of climbing from 19th to fifth, and survived three tedious safety car interruptions before picking off enough rivals to snatch what Plato himself declared a “worthy” title win in a hugely tense tin-top conclusion.
Shedden and Honda ultimately got the better of Plato and Volkswagen on this occasion, but it sets up a perfect opportunity for both to continue their rivalry once again in April 2016…
Special Mention: Mat Jackson
Deserving of a mention, although Motorbase Performance’s late entry to the 2015 season makes it seem unfair to compare Jackson’s showing to that of the full-season campaigners.
When the EcoBoost Ford Focus ST hit the grid at Snetterton in August ahead of a half-season assault, Jackson and the Kent-based squad were optimistic, but unknown as to the true pace of the updated machine. What followed was a shock to the system for their opposition.
Jackson has previously displayed his ability in any BTCC machinery, but a run of three consecutive pole positions in the final trio of outings was ominous, as were the four victories and near hat-trick to round off the season.
The performance of Motorbase and the straight-line speed of the Focus in particular were questioned, while the lack of success ballast was a factor that Jackson thrived on. However, the performances with the ballast on were equally impressive by the 2008 runner-up and displayed the outright speed of the man behind the wheel that was missing to fans in the first half of the season.
Could he have even won the championship if the team had entered a full campaign? We’ll never know. But for now, with Andrew Jordan heading to the outfit for 2016, Motorbase look very handy for the new season…