As the BTCC Championship moved on to Croft in this condensed – and fascinating - BTCC season, the Championship is still wide open, with Cobra drivers Colin Turkington, Dan Cammish, Tom Ingram and Tom Oliphant still very much in contention.
And it was Colin Turkington who was probably looking forward to the day more than anyone – he’s won at Croft on no fewer than twelve occasions and he holds the lap record to boot!
As it was, Tom Ingram topped a chaotic wet qualifying only to be relegated to the back of the grid for failing the ride height test when he returned to the pits.
That promoted the BTC Racing Honda Civic of Josh Cook to pole alongside the MB Motorsport Honda of Jake Hill, with Colin Turkington in third, and Colin’s West Surrey Racing teammate, Tom Oliphant in fourth with Jack Sears Trophy leader, Bobby Thompson, a very impressive fifth in his GKR Trade Price Audi A3.
Not bad – drivers using Cobra seats taking the first five places on the grid – but that was really only half the story as the wet track precipitated a raft of track-limits offences – and deleted times - predominantly for running wide at the Jim Clark Esses. Unfortunately, this included title contender Dan Cammish, after he set the quickest time of the session only to be demoted to 16th place in his Team Dynamics-run Honda.
On to Race One and Josh Cook held the lead from lights to flag, closely followed by Jake Hill with Colin Turkington rounding off the podium in a round where the top three on the grid held position for the entire race.
That third place meant that Colin emerged from the opening race as the joint Championship-leader after Ash Sutton had to battle his way back to fourth after early contact with Rory Butcher.
Tom Chilton finished sixth with three-time Champion Matt Neal claiming seventh place as the top factory Honda runner ahead of Bobby Thompson in eight and Dan Cammish in tenth.
The satisfaction of that Race One result for Turkington turned to despair at the first corner of Race Two as an uncharacteristic error saw him lock up and slide unceremoniously across the gravel and into the tyre wall.
Turkington could see the chances of his fifth BTCC Championship receding … that was until lap seven when his main rival attempted to lunge past Jake Hill at the final hairpin, the move, which could have seen Ash Sutton move into second in the race, instead resulted in a front-right puncture which meant that Sutton would finish down in 20th position.
In terms of the title, Honda’s Dan Cammish proved to be the main benefactor of Sutton and Turkington's Race Two woes after a fifth place finish that saw the Team Dynamics driver close to within 13-points of the Championship lead.
Meanwhile, Cammish’s teammate Matt Neal was involved in yet more drama. Having worked his way up from seventh on the grid, with two laps to go Neal was all over the back of Josh Cook who had started from pole and had led for every lap of the race.
With Cook carrying 60 kilos of success ballast from winning the opening race, Neal enjoyed a clear pace advantage over his fellow Honda driver and on the final lap made a lunge on the underside of Cook at Sunny In. They made contact, sending Cook into a dramatic slide which allowed Neal to cross the line first. Perhaps inevitably the incident went to the Stewards room and after a brief discussion the places were reversed with Josh Cook awarded the race with Neal picking up a 0.7s time penalty for his part in their final lap contact moving him back to second on the podium.
With Jake Hill third and Tom Ingram fourth, Race 2 proved to be a profitable outing for the Cobra boys – and the Championship race was closer than ever.
“Topsy-turvy”, “roller-coaster” and “dramatic” are three adjectives that keep cropping up in terms of the BTCC, but they certainly applied to this year’s meeting at Croft – as Race 3 proved yet again!
Once again Colin Turkington experienced the downs: an opening lap contact with Ollie Jackson damaged the reigning champion's BMW 330i M Sport. Turkington limped back to the pits for repairs and re-joined the race over a lap down. While he did manage to set fastest lap, the single point which that gave him was scant consolation for the points dropped in the final two races of the day and has left him 13 points off the Championship lead.
Meanwhile Toyota Gazoo Racing UK's Tom Ingram’s fortunes were heading in the opposite direction: Putting his qualifying disappointments behind him he kept his British Touring Car Championship title hopes alive by winning the final race of the day to move within 29 points of the championship lead.
Ingram showed his intent from the off: Starting third on the grid, he immediately moved past Dan Cammish before a daring move on pole sitter Tom Chilton just a couple of corners later saw him move in to the lead and establish a three second lead over the chasing pack.
A huge crash on lap three saw Bobby Thompson barrel roll five times before coming to a halt and groggily clamber out of his Audi A3 – the fact that he hadn’t suffered any injuries was a huge testament to the protection offered by both his seat and the new drivers nets that Cobra has developed and installed in every car on the BTCC grid.
Following the restart on lap 8 Ingram, though still in the lead didn’t enjoy the same pace advantage that he demonstrated in the first three laps. The result was a thrilling three-way battle between Ingram, Cammish and Tom Chilton, but Ingram held on by just 0.2s to record his third win of the season.
Second place moved Cammish ahead of defending champion Colin Turkington up to second in the championship standings, just 7 points off top spot, while, behind Tom Chilton, Dan’s teammate Matt Neal rounded off the top four positions for drivers using Cobra seats.
With just two meetings and six races to go, a mere twelve points separate the top three drivers in the Driver’s Championship, with Tom Ingram just seventeen points further back and still in with a realistic chance of taking the drivers’ title.