Unseasonally wet conditions (if you can ever say that about the British weather) failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the large crowd who were thrilled and enthralled by the first three rounds of the 2018 BTCC championship at Brands Hatch – and based on the evidence of those three races the season promises to be more unpredictable and more exciting than ever: Unbelievably, not only were there three different winners, but incredibly nine different drivers filled the nine podium positions on offer. Dan Cammish (Gordon Shedden’s replacement in the Team Dynamics Honda team) was the first of the “Cobra” drivers to make his mark early on in qualifying by setting a new qualifying lap record for the Indy Circuit. Dan was the only driver in the BTCC paddock who was able to break the 47 second barrier, a truly astounding feat in his first ever BTCC qualifying session. Unfortunately, he went through a red light in the pit lane shortly afterwards which subsequently erased all of his previous times. Incredibly, he then went P4 with 5 minutes remaining, with team mate Matt Neal lining up on the row behind in P6.
Race 1 was declared a wet race. Cammish, Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan all made good starts, but Matt Neal was out of the race early on after a coming together which resulted in a safety car. Rob Austin in the Duo Motorsafe Alfa Romeo was out soon after the restart with suspension damage; not the return the Alfa had hoped for, but at the front of the race the “Cobra flag” was being waived by the West Surrey Racing BMW 125i M Sport of double BTCC Champion Colin Turkington. In a typically close finish Colin took a valiant second place on the podium. WSR’s Andrew Jordan took the final podium place with Tom Ingram 4th in his Speedworks Motorsport Avensis and Dan Cammish 8th after being overtaken on the last corner at Clearways.
Race 2 was a lottery – the track would start wet but would dry resulting in indecision among teams as to whether to start on wets or slicks, the latter being favoured by those further back on the grid including Matt Neal who started from the pit lane. Colin Turkington’s BMW was reluctant to move on the initial warm up lap meaning his place on the front row was vacant. Jordan and Ingram made excellent starts; a car in the gravel early on resulted in another safety car but after the restart they continued to battle for the lead on their wets. By mid-race the slick-shod cars were very much in the ascendancy: That’s when Jake Hill was on a charge in his Team Hard Volkswagen CC: “From 25th on the grid we didn’t have much to lose and chose slicks - very quickly we realised we had made the right choice”. He and team-mate Bushell traded fastest laps and made quick progress – so much so that Jake finished second – his first ever BTCC podium. Behind him there was a 4th place for the returning Tom Boardman in his MG, Rob Austin finished 6th in the Alfa Romeo, Matt Simpson finished in 7th (a result he repeated in Race 3) and Mike Bushell eventually finished eighth.
Rob Austin’s Alfa was on pole for the third, reverse grid race; a grid that was even more mixed up than usual after the earlier rain. WSR’s Rob Collard’s poor day at the office continued after he went into the gravel at Druids – another safety car!
At the front, Rob Austin had made a fantastic start in the Duo Motorsport Alfa and was battling for the lead with Tom Ingram’s Speedwork Motorsport Avensis. It looked like it would be a “Cobra 1-2” until Adam Morgan slightly spoiled the party by overtaking Austin on the timing line entering the last lap to take second. Still, a first for Tom Ingram and a third for Rob Austin concluded a promising start to the season for Cobra drivers – and mention should also be made of Mike Bushell in his Team Hard Volkswagen CC whose return to the series was marked with an impressive fifth place finish in the final race, which also secured him Dunlop’s #FOREVERFORWARD spoils for making the most passes during the day.
So, at the end of the first round of races Tom Ingram leads the overall standings, with Rob Austin 4th and Colin Turkington 6th. Next round at Donnington on April 29th.