The fifth round of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship sees the field head to Croft circuit in North Yorkshire, a happy hunting ground for BMW down the years.
Close to the urban centre of Darlington, the 2.1-mile circuit joined the BTCC calendar back in 1997 and has developed into a real racer’s venue.
Croft is also the most local circuit on the calendar for championship leader, Sam Tordoff. The Leeds driver enjoyed one of the best weekends of his still-young BTCC career last time out at Oulton Park, now topping the standings by a solitary point after a hat-trick of podium finishes in Cheshire.
Despite the punishment of 75kg success ballast, Croft is a strip of tarmac Tordoff sealed pole position and a race victory at 12 months ago. It was also a weekend that ominously saw a triple triumph for West Surrey Racing and their BMW 125i.
BMW Unstoppable Up North?
The German manufacturer’s domination in 2015 was by no means a bizarre occurrence, however.
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In fact, since BMW returned to BTCC back in 2007, the marque has claimed a total of 12 victories at Croft in the hands of numerous drivers, including seven in the past nine.
The statistics bring music to the ears of series leader Tordoff who, carrying a spectacular platinum livery for this weekend’s meeting, told TCF that the weight penalty is not a concern at WSR’s best circuit.
“I’m not overly worried about carrying 75kg into qualifying and race one”, said Tordoff. “I still think we can go there and qualify in the top five.”
Team-mate Rob Collard on the other hand had a weekend fraught with incident at Oulton Park. Much was out of his own hands however, after contact from Jeff Smith and a puncture in race two. The WSR man enters third in the points behind Honda’s Matt Neal, 26 adrift heading to a circuit he too tasted victory at last year.
Jack Goff meanwhile will hope to emulate Andy Priaulx by claiming his first win for the team at Croft, the former MG racer carrying much less of a penalty for lying eighth in the points.
Subaru Turn Up The Wick
The most pleasant surprise from the fourth stop on the calendar was the maiden success for Subaru in just their 10th BTCC race to date.
That came in the hands of Colin Turkington, a man that has won at Croft circuit no fewer than 10 times in his career.
Turkington not only grabbed a comfortable pole position for the improved Levorg, but lead from lights-to-flag in a weekend that also saw Jason Plato earn a podium hat-trick at Oulton Park and announce Silverline Subaru BMR Racing as real spoilers heading to a circuit suited to rear-wheel drive machines.
Honda meanwhile survived a weekend that could have been much more disheartening. Neal and Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Gordon Shedden looked odds-on for a one-two finish in race three at Oulton Park, before a puncture dented the latter’s Drivers’ Championship position.
Honda’s last win at Croft came in the hands of Andrew Jordan in 2014, Neal last winning for the works team a year prior to that.
Wide Open Season Continues
The visit to Cheshire recently saw several drivers lose ground in the early championship fight.
Adam Morgan‘s hugely consistent run was halted by results no better than 10th to drop him to fifth in the championship, while former Croft winner Mat Jackson suffered a similar outcome to his weekend after which he emerged seventh.
Both will want to make amends in North Yorkshire, a place that brings back podium memories also for a certain Rob Austin.
While the Toyota Avensis driver looks to beat his best result of eighth place so far in 2016, the Japanese manufacturer also have hope of success from the rapid Tom Ingram, who again showed himself to be a feisty top-five contender for Speedworks Motorsport.
Triple Eight Racing found themselves on the wrong end of several incidents at Oulton Park, something that Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton will be delighted to avoid in North Yorkshire in their bid to break their victory duck.
Jackson and Jordan will be hoping to give Ford their first Croft victory since 2011, a result claimed by the former after a hard-fought dice with a pair of WSR BMWs.
Young Guns Impressing
One of the young stars that shone two weekends’ ago was Eurotech Racing‘s Daniel Lloyd. A front row qualifier, the Honda man grabbed a personal best result of sixth place, just less than six years on from a brief BTCC debut at Croft circuit.
Another youngster that continued a fine run of form to shine was Team HARD‘s lead driver, Jake Hill.
In a 2012 Avensis with limited data, the former Ginetta Junior racer ended the third race of the day an impressive ninth overall, less than a second behind podium finisher Plato in doing so.
Timetable And Weather
The weather continues to confuse the British public heading into the summer period, although a wet build-up to the week in Darlington will become a dry affair for both days of action this weekend.
Race day coverage will see more than seven hours of live action screened on ITV4 from 11:00am, while admission tickets can be bought on the gate throughout the weekend.
Free Practice 1 – 09:35
Free Practice 2 – 12:00
Qualifying – 16:00
Race one – 12:02
Race two – 14:39
Race three – 17:06
TCF will be reporting live from Croft this weekend, so keep up with the BTCC and support race action here and via @TheCheckerFlag throughout the two days.