The summer break is over, so it’s time for the second half of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season to roar back into action at Snetterton this weekend.
Norfolk is the venue for rounds 16, 17 and 18 of a highly-competitive season, Sam Tordoff currently leading the way by 12 points ahead of his West Surrey Racing team-mate, Rob Collard.
The BMW duo demoted erstwhile championship leader Matt Neal to third in the points after a brace of impressive hauls from Oulton Park and Croft most recently, the Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda man still just 15 adrift of Tordoff.
In fact, just 45 points separate the top six drivers heading to Snetterton, while the real story has been the rise of Subaru into perennial front-runners.
The Silverline Subaru BMR Racing team had only collected 13 points from the initial three meetings, but former champions Colin Turkington and Jason Plato have since earned a combined 183 points from the previous six races alone to move up to 11th and 13th in the championship respectively.
Plato’s Happy Hunting Ground
History also states one clear fact about this circuit – Snetterton is Plato territory.
Most wins at Snetterton on the grid:
|2||Mat Jackson/Matt Neal/Andrew Jordan|
|1||Sam Tordoff/Jack Goff/Aron Smith|
The double champion’s tally of 13 wins around the Norfolk circuit is nine more than that of the man who comes closest, Gordon Shedden, who entered this meeting as championship leader 12 months ago.
Plato enters the second half of the season in majestic fashion following a recent surge with the climbing Subaru squad, not to mention the boost of having zero success ballast for sitting 13th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Subaru’s progress has been superlative since a sluggish early learning phase, one that included withdrawal from the Thruxton meeting after fuel pressure-related safety concerns.
The recovery since then has seen Plato collect five podiums in six races, while Turkington added two pole positions and a brace of race one victories at Oulton Park and Croft.
Both drivers have been tough to separate in recent years at Snetterton, Plato getting the better of the Northern Irishman in 2014 on two occasions before the latter returned the favour 12 months later when both competed in Volkswagen machinery.
BMW On Fine Form
Snetterton is a circuit that has not often been kind to BMW, who last took victory here back in 2009 in the hands of eventual champion, Turkington.
Last year produced scenes that WSR boss Dick Bennetts would gladly prefer to forget, Tordoff and Collard colliding in race one on that particular Sunday.
This time, the BMW squad hold the top two spots in the title race and a 125i displaying greater performance than it did at this stage last season, Collard brimming at Croft about a new-found joy in driving the latest machine.
At Croft, Tordoff you could say was both unlucky and equally very lucky on Sunday after an engine problem hampered his opening race, Collard closing the gap with a second win of the season that afternoon.
The latter has never won at Snetterton, unlike his two team-mates. Tordoff became a BTCC winner back in his 2013 rookie season, while Jack Goff broke his duck with MG this time last year.
Expect Overtaking Aplenty
It’s a season that looks highly unpredictable thus far, what with the competitiveness throughout the grid and the uncertainty over tyre and ballast performance.
Boost levels also return to a debating subject, Subaru and Honda among those that will be keeping a close eye on their performance down the long Snetterton 300 circuit’s straights.
It’s a circuit that lends itself to great race craft, so expect fireworks as has been the case. Scenes such as Neal and Plato’s 2006 last-lap fallout and the latter’s trip across the Bombhole grass with Fabrizio Giovanardi a year later remain iconic, so 2016 could bring more of the same.
The Question ‘Weighing’ On Drivers’ Minds
When discussing the topic of weight meanwhile, BMW have retained an edge over their opposition when the additional ballast is dragged into the equation.
During the two races which a Levorg GT had to carry 75kg success ballast with Turkington behind the wheel, a WSR 125i has been the machine to come out on top.
That is a factor that Subaru’s rivals have already taken into consideration, championship leader Tordoff adding: “The more [Turkington wins], the more ballast he’s going to get and then he’ll be getting to the point where he’s carrying a reasonable amount of weight.”
Who Needs Results?
While the likes of Tordoff are shining, several drivers that started the season strongly have encountered a rough patch in recent rounds.
Honda have been one of those, Shedden slipping back to ninth in the championship while Neal surrendered his championship lead after being forced o recover from a qualifying incident at Croft.
Only two finishes inside the top 10 in the last two meetings have dropped two-time winner Mat Jackson to eighth in the championship meanwhile, while Adam Morgan and Mercedes have only collected 12 points in six races after such a fine opening nine.
Fortunes for Andrew Jordan have looked brighter on his climb to fourth overall, while Triple Eight became winners at Croft again thanks to the season’s best rookie and qualifier, Ashley Sutton.
Toyota have often looked dangerous here too, and Tom Ingram has now become a very serious threat for success on a regular basis. Sixth in the championship, the Speedworks Motorsport man will want to add to his four podiums so far in 2016 to close the gap.
Caine In, Lloyd Out
Eurotech Racing will be reduced to two cars once again for Snetterton, Daniel Lloyd unfortunately forced to withdraw for budget reasons despite his heroics since Thruxton.
Chris Smiley is another driver leaving the BTCC grid without funds on his side, switching to Renault UK Clio Cup duties with JamSport.
In the place of the Team HARD man will be a familiar face to UK motorsport fans, as Michael Caine returns to BTCC in the Toyota Avensis. Caine has experience in both 2011 and 2013, all three meetings being with Motorbase Performance.
Timetable And Weather Report
After summer finally showed its true colours midway through July, fans can expect blue skies and warm temperatures this weekend at Snetterton.
Expect more than seven hours of ITV4 coverage across the weekend, while tickets for both days will be available to purchase on the gate.
Free Practice 1 – 09:30
Free Practice 2 – 12:05
Qualifying – 15:50
Race one – 11:32
Race two – 14:02
Race three – 17:02
TCF will be reporting live from Snetterton this weekend, so keep up with the BTCC and support race action here and via @TheCheckerFlag throughout the two days.