With six races to go and just 31 points separating the top five drivers, the fight for the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship heads to the home of British motorsport, Silverstone.
For the ninth visit of the season, the shorter 1.64-mile national layout of the Northamptonshire circuit will be in use as the 2016 season enters its nitty gritty stage with just six races to play out.
The man in the ascendancy is Sam Tordoff, holding a mere five-point cushion over triple champion Matt Neal with a total of 134 still on the table to squabble over.
Consistently racking up those points in 2016 has been Neal, the Halfords Yuasa Racing driver having finished 19 of the 24 races inside the top 10 this season, alongside a trio of wins in comparison to Tordoff’s two.
Neal will also tick over 600 BTCC starts in race two this weekend, another milestone for one of the BTCC’s most loyal stalwarts.
Fresh from Goodwood Revival success, the former’s Honda team-mate Gordon Shedden sits a further 15 points adrift in third, while a fine Rockingham weekend for Mat Jackson moved him ahead of Tordoff’s West Surrey Racing team-mate Rob Collard up to fourth.
The situation? Five drivers now enter just 31 points apart heading to Silverstone, a circuit featuring just six corners that invites cars with strong engines and drivers with a braver brake pedal to excel.
Advantage Tordoff, Turkington To The Back
A serious title contender prior to Rockingham, Colin Turkington will have to do it the hard way at Silverstone if he is to remain in contention for a third BTCC crown.
A brace of indiscretions at the Corby Motor Speedway last time out saw the Northern Irishman pick up his third ‘strike’, therefore meaning he starts race one on Sunday from the tail end of the grid.
The Silverline Subaru Team BMR driver currently lies 48 points adrift of Tordoff in the standings, but the latter proved at Rockingham that you can recover a weekend from the depths of the grid in 2016. Starting 27th in race one, Tordoff fought back to 10th place before adding a second win of the season in the second encounter of the day.
Turkington’s Subaru Levorg team-mate Jason Plato endured a tough weekend of his own at Rockingham, a non-finish in race two seeing him slip 59 points adrift in the title chase.
Power Struggle At Silverstone?
Plato does however hold the most BTCC wins at Silverstone of the current field with 12 – double that of his nearest threat, Jackson (six).
BTCC Wins At Silverstone:
Silverstone’s national circuit is one that rewards a lighter, more slippery car with three key power sections to focus on, something which leaves many teams entering into the unknown.
Despite BMR’s well-documented kerfuffle with TOCA over engine equalisation, Turkington remains hopeful, telling TCF: “It’s so hard to say really at this stage of the season. The BMWs are very fast and have been good everywhere, but if you can get a tow in qualifying then you can have a good weekend.”
Tordoff meanwhile carries the maximum 75kg of success ballast into qualifying and race one, adding: “ I’ll need a tow in qualifying and a bit of luck, but I still think we can qualify in the top 10. The engine is better [this year].
Honda have trailed in the speed traps for much of the 2016 season, so both Neal and Shedden remain more coy over their chances. “There’s not enough corners for us, so we’ll be steady away, but we’re breathing down their neck”, said Neal to TCF.
Volkswagen meanwhile added their first victory at the national circuit 12 months ago, that being Turkington’s maiden Silverstone triumph also.
Whether Aron Smith can repeat that this weekend is another question on the lips of onlookers, the Irishman having claimed an emotional maiden win at Rockingham for Team BKR in a well-driven final race.
Jackson Ready To Pounce
Jackson and Motorbase Performance on the other hand have found their feet once again after a mid-season blip, the 2008 runner-up having won the most races in 2016 with four.
Andrew Jordan backed up his team-mate’s strong performances in the most recent meeting, adding his third visit to the rostrum of 2016.
The Ford Focus ST has been a formidable force at Silverstone since the team’s in-house NGTC machine first arrived in 2012, Jackson hopeful of trimming the Drivers’ Championship deficit after Motorbase provisionally clinched the Independent Teams’ crown last time out.
Triple Eight‘s MG6 GT meanwhile is no slouch either, having clinched three pole positions and six victories at Silverstone since 2012 with Plato then behind the wheel.
Current drivers Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton returned to the top five at Rockingham recently, both hopeful that they have now seen the back of their bad luck since the end of the summer break.
Toyota and Mercedes are yet to win at Silverstone, Tom Ingram and Adam Morgan‘s title chances seemingly now very slim after a Rockingham outing to forget.
Time For The Underdogs To Shine
The visit to Corby was however a much more fruitful affair for some.
Among those included Ollie Jackson, collecting his best result of the season for AmD Tuning with 11th place in the final race.
Jake Hill also came away with his third top-10 result of the season in eighth, impressing once again in a Team HARD Avensis not up to the development of rivals, Speedworks Motorsport.
Fans’ favourites Rob Austin and Dan Welch took the plunge as early as Thursday afternoon meanwhile, but in a very different way, as both took part in a skydive to raise vital funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Timetable and Weather Report
Sunny skies are expected throughout the weekend in Northamptonshire, with temperatures climbing to as high as 21°C in stark contrast to the tornado that arrived in the last meeting.
Expect over seven hours of live coverage from ITV4 on Sunday afternoon, BTCC supported this weekend by Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Renault UK Clio Cup, F4 British Championship, Simpson Race Products Ginetta Junior Championship and Michelin Ginetta GT4 SuperCup.
Advance tickets can be booked online at www.silverstone.co.uk or via the hotline on 0844 3728 270.
Free practice one – 9:30
Free practice two – 12:45
Qualifying – 15:45
Race one – 11:57
Race two – 14:32
Race three – 17:22
TCF will bring you all the action from the BTCC and support championship paddocks at Silverstone, which you can keep up to date with right here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk, or via Twitter at @tcfBTCC.