Paying the penalty? Weighed down by success ballast? These are some of the cliches that may no longer apply to several teams as ‘weight training’ from pre-season testing paid dividends to many in the opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship meeting at Brands Hatch.
The season opener of any series in motorsport is where all that you’ve learned – be it developments, adapting to modified regulations or testing a new machine entirely – is finally put into practice in front of the TV cameras for all to see.
Race one of 30 is also the first and only time during the BTCC season that all drivers take to the grid without the burden of success ballast, meaning (in theory) cars are in their prime for the initial battle.
This makes Gordon Shedden‘s response following his victory in race two a head-turner at Brands Hatch, having triumphed with 66kg of success ballast on board his Honda Civic Type-R after a podium finish in the opener.
“The car was better with 66 kilos of ballast in that race than it was with nothing in the first”, the reigning champion told TCF after the second race of the weekend in Kent.
Comparison: Shedden’s 2017 v 2016 Brands Hatch Fastest Laps
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It soon started a trend among drivers that Sunday afternoon.
A handful of Shedden’s rivals agreed that additional ballast had not negatively affected them as would have been expected, Team BMW‘s Colin Turkington saying “we’ve got a little bit of ballast and the car felt good with it at Media Day – this car is good with ballast in it.”
The latter’s team-mate Rob Collard also carried 66kg in his BMW 125i during race three, telling TCF “I was pleased with how well it was hanging on with the weight on board. To have a sixth place finish with 66 kilos on a softer tyre – that’s a good result.”
Despite the name given to it, many took Media Day at Donington Park in mid-March as an important testing opportunity to fine-tune their car for race scenarios, the most popular being learning how to cope with issues they will regularly encounter during a season such as carrying success ballast.
Shedden even went as far as saying one of the Honda’s strengths is the balance of the Civic with this on board. This can be traced back to pre-season, when Honda and Team Dynamics were one of many that utilised on-track time in winter to focus on this to help their proven title winners maintain consistency at the helm of the title fight.
“It’s very strange”, he added. “It was a nicer car to drive [with 66kg] and I managed to sneak past Tom [Ingram]. We test with the weight all the time so maybe we’ve not quite found out how to make it work without the weight just yet”, he added.
Shedden’s nearest rival heading to Donington Park will be Tom Ingram. It was a case of deja vu for the pair as they played out a repeat of 2016’s first meeting, the latter winning the opening race while Shedden claimed race two honours.
While separated by just six points, both appear on the same page when it comes to performance carrying the additional penalty however.
“We’ve taken a big, big step forward and we can see that by the way that we carried the weight”, Ingram told TCF, another to reap the rewards of Media Day testing.
Ingram left the season opener encouraged by pace shown with ballast, buoyed further by improvements to a facelifted Toyota Avensis enjoying improved temperature cooling in tight battles.
“The last race didn’t show much because we were on the soft tyre, but in race two we were able to put into practice what we’d learned carrying the weight in winter testing.”
While the long straights at Silverstone’s National circuit will be one that still hurts those carrying success ballast, cornering balance appears to be the least of a driver’s worries now with an extra burden in the passenger seat.
Practice makes perfect it seems, Donington Park this weekend potentially a real test of what teams learned that day in Leicester from their tactical pre-season data-gathering.
How It Works: Success Ballast
Success ballast was introduced in 2004 – along with the three-race format and removal of pit stops – as one of several equalisation methods introduced by the series.
Between events, ballast is allocated based on championship positions and is carried accordingly in qualifying and race one. For races two and three, ballast is allocated according to the finishing positions in race one and two respectively.
Ballast is now given to the top 10 finishers as follows:
1) 75kg, 2) 66kg 3) 57kg, 4) 48kg, 5) 39kg, 6) 33kg, 7) 27kg, 8) 21kg, 9) 15kg, 10) 9kg
Photos: BTCC Media