It’s a case of six of the best after as many races in the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship so far, so will this weekend’s visit to the high-speed Thruxton circuit continue the run of different winners?
The 2.36-mile Hampshire circuit is one of the most eagerly-anticipated on the calendar, famed for its rapid, very abrasive nature that often takes its toll on tyres, even in the BTCC’s sprint races.
Challenges arrive at the many sweeping bends of Thruxton, making it vital for teams and drivers to discover a set-up that won’t hurt the Dunlop rubber late in the three encounters.
The opening two meetings of the 2016 season have already thrown up surprises, with two new pole-sitters and a string of six different winners from as many outings in April.
Leading the way is the latest of those victorious drivers, Matt Neal, who heads Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda team-mate Gordon Shedden by five points after the team’s second one-two finish of the season.
Despite carrying 75kg success ballast in response to a consistent start to the campaign, Neal says that this could help rather than hinder the Halfords duo as he bids to add on just four wins at the circuit from his illustrious BTCC CV.
The grid also expands to 32 cars once again, as Daniel Lloyd bolsters Eurotech to a three-car line-up alongside Jeff Smith and Martin Depper in a Honda Civic Type-R. Lloyd previously made his BTCC debut for Vauxhall at Croft in 2010, tasting success in Porsches here back in 2012.
Wins At Thruxton:
Honda Head To Happy Hunting Ground
Thruxton is a place where success for Honda and Team Dynamics is a common trend, with 37 podium finishes to the team’s name in less than 20 years.
Reigning champion Shedden holds seven wins in Hampshire – the most of any driver on the grid – so the Dynamics duo will hope to continue their strong start to the season, both back in the Halfords colours they wore en route to a brace of one-two finishes here 10 years ago.
Both drivers enter feeling optimistic, Neal insisting that maximum ballast will be more of a help rather than a hindrance due to momentum in such high-speed bends.
“We say that for any track to be carrying the weight, Thruxton is probably the best, because you’re gaining momentum rather that dropping back”, Neal told TCF after his recent Donington victory.
They do however face stiff competition from BMW and West Surrey Racing, the 125i M-Sport hanging onto its tyres most efficiently of all at Donington Park it appeared, as Rob Collard claimed the team’s first triumph of the year.
Colin Turkington claimed the team’s last win in 2014, while Jack Goff has started life in rear-wheel drive BTCC machinery very fluently, lying third in the championship ahead of a positive Collard.
Tightly Packed For Thruxton
A trend among drivers after Donington was the realisation of how difficult it now is to string together a trio of strong races, what with soft tyre degradation, ballast differences and a tighter field seemingly than ever in 2016.
At a place that saw Dan Eaves clinch the BTCC’s first of just two hat-tricks since 2004, predictions appear to have been thrown out the window ahead of the third meeting of the season as MG, Toyota, Mercedes and Ford have all graced the podium this season – the former the only still yet to win in 2016.
Rookie Ashley Sutton and Jack Sears champion Josh Cook look to change that fact however, Sutton clinching a sensational maiden BTCC pole in meeting two of his career at Donington, while Cook clinched silverware in Leicester on Sunday.
Andrew Jordan has enjoyed success only once at Thruxton, but admits it is a track he loves having graced the podium seven times and earned three pole positions at in his BTCC career to date. A truncated, learning start to 2016 sees him 11th however, but ballast-free ahead of a meeting where he will surely shine for Motorbase Performance.
Team-mate Mat Jackson claimed victory at Donington’s opener to show the Ford Focus ST will be a title contender in 2016, while Brands winners Tom Ingram and Adam Morgan will again threaten – Morgan also a winner here last season.
Subaru Still Learning, Surprises Possible
Team BMR are yet to challenge the front-runners, but the development process has been encouraging thus far for the team’s new Subaru Levorg.
Colin Turkington clinched a maiden top-10 finish for the squad at Donington, a meeting that was cramped by a spectacular engine failure for the similar Levorg of James Cole.
14 points sit beside the BMR outfit’s name after six meetings, although another near top-10 qualifying effort by former double champion Turkington showed Subaru’s wet weather potential also.
The opportunity for an upset is very much still on the cards at Thruxton however.
Eurotech in particular could stir the pot with a trio of Civic Type-Rs this weekend, what with Smith and Depper already looking strong before they even head to a circuit that naturally suits their chassis. Lloyd will require Saturday time to bed into the new environment, but the youngster has high potential and youth on his side.
Another giant killer could well be last year’s pole-sitter, Aron Smith. The Team BKR man has already impressed with two podium visits in the Volkswagen CC, proving that last year’s specification parts are not yet prehistoric material.
Timetable And Weather
The lap record will be once again in danger in 2016, although it will take a brave competitor to topple Jordan’s record average speed of an alarming 111.31mph around the 11-corner circuit.
Want to witness a masterclass in how to tackle Thruxton? Step forward 2013 champion Jordan and his blistering 2012 pole position lap on a greasy circuit.
Weather appears to be finally taking a positive turn this week, with sunny skies and warm temperatures currently predicted for the weekend in Hampshire.
Race day will see more than seven hours of live action from ITV4, while those looking for online tickets can do so at advance prices by visiting the British Automobile Racing Club [BARC] head office.
Free Practice One: 10:00
Free Practice Two: 12:40
Race One: 12:12
Race Two: 14:32
Round Three: 17:17
TCF will be reporting live from Thruxton this weekend, so keep up with the action here and via @TheCheckerFlag throughout the two days.