It was party time at Thruxton as the circuit - which is 50 this year - showed off its spectacular new £2 million hospitality centre and glorious weather helped to attract record crowds as the BTCC roadshow hit town.
The sun was certainly shining on Matt Neal in his Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda as he produced a mind-blowing lap during qualifying for Round 7 of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, smashing his own lap record by nearly half a second to grab the 18th pole position of his career.
In a season that has seen so much new talent come to the fore it was great to see our “elder statesman” produce the goods at the UK’s fastest circuit – and equally gratifying to see another “Cobra driver” Colin Turkington share the front row of the grid.
All bode well for a great day of racing which remarkably, it turned out, didn’t need a safety car in any of the three races.
Race one certainly proved to be a perfect race for Matt who – not unexpectedly – came under immense pressure from the fast-starting rear wheel drive of Colin’s WSR BMW 125i, but he braved it out in the first corner and led from lights to flag to claim win number 62 of his career. Significantly it was the first win for the new TypeR which sported a special livery for the weekend in recognition of Yuasa’s 100th Anniversary.
Colin Turkington claimed second (his 125th BTCC podium) and Matt’s team mate Dan Cammish completed a podium clean sweep for “Cobra drivers”.
Mention should also be made of Andrew Jordan who made a storming start and grabbed 6th place in his WSR BMW 125i despite suffering badly from a gastric bug which left him looking 50 shades greyer than the Thruxton tarmac.
It wasn’t such a good race for Championship leader Tom Ingram, whose Speedworks Toyota Avensis lost battery power on lap 6, forcing an early retirement: A misfortune that also impacted on Race 2 where Tom had to start on the back of the grid.
So, Race 2 started with the same front row as Race 1, but this time Turkington nailed it in the drag race to the first corner and took an early lead, with Neal second and Jordan – who was feeling weaker by the hour – a very creditable 4th.
Inevitably Turkington (carrying 66kg of ballast) and Neal (with 75kg on board) were eventually overhauled by a car carrying just 15kg of ballast, but finished an impressive 2nd and 3rd in the race, respectively. Andrew Jordan held on for an invaluable 5th position but looked totally drained as he climbed out of his BMW and – not surprisingly – made the decision not to compete in the final race of the day.
Places were being exchanged throughout the field: Tom Ingram was wringing the neck of his Avensis to move from 32nd on the grid to finish in 12th (guess who took the Forever Forward honours?) while the battle for 14th on lap 14 saw two “Cobra boys”, Rob Austin in his HMS Racing Alfa Romeo Guillietta and Rob Collard in his WSR BMW in an epic battle, Rob just holding it as he came sideways out of Church to audaciously move up a place.
On to Race 3 and Colin Turkington once again made a great start, though he had to go the long way round the first bend to settle in to third – eventually finishing fifth as his extra ballast again took its toll.
Tom Ingram put in another feisty performance to move from 12th on the grid to 7th at the finish and keep his Championship hopes very much alive despite the alternator trouble that threw a huge spanner in his hopes for the weekend, while Dan Cammish put in a storming drive to move from 25th on the grid to 13th at the flag.
As we move on to Oulton Park, just 34 points separate the top eight drivers in the Championship, so Tom, Colin, Matt and Dan still have their eyes set very much on that top prize.
Not all “Cobra drivers” have had the best of luck so far this season, but the Dunlop Forever Forward standings show that we have a talented and resilient group of drivers putting their trust in Cobra Seats: Jake Hill tops the standings in his Team Hard VW CC, with Tom Ingram 2nd and Tom Boardman 4th in his AmD MG6.