It may have featured an experimental qualifying format, but the cream of this year’s BTCC Championship still rose to the top.
A 25 minute qualifying session followed by a 10 minute shoot out for the top ten cars resulted in a Race 1 grid with Colin Turkington on pole, having nailed all the apexes on a very impressive late run to deny Jake Hill his first ever BTCC pole. Behind them, Tom Ingram claimed third to continue his late charge for the title, while Dan Cammish grabbed fifth and Colin’s teammate Tom Oliphant qualified seventh.
Snetterton has never been on the BTCC calendar in late October and that meant dealing with track temperatures that were much cooler than the drivers are used to, putting extra emphasis on track temperature and tyre management - a factor exacerbated by heavy overnight rain which meant Race 1 started with a wet track but rapidly drying conditions: a nightmare combination especially for rear wheel drive cars.
Despite this, at the first corner Turkington held off early pressure from Ingram to establish a lead on a dry line, leaving Ingram to battle it out with Jake Hill for the minor places.
Apart from a lap one spin for Oliphant, the race settled down into a pretty civilised affair: The battle between Ingram and Hill kept the two drivers fully occupied, giving Turkington the ability to tease out his lead and the top three eased away from a battle between Butcher and Dan Cammish for fourth and fifth.
Drama came on lap seven when Hill tried a risky late lunge on Ingram resulting in contact: It was lucky that both cars survived without any damage and while Hill temporarily went in to second, he avoided a potential penalty by handing the place back. It was a spat that allowed Turkington to extend his lead to four seconds but allowed Butcher to close the gap on Hill, though the positions remained unchanged to the chequered flag.
So, a relatively genteel Race 1 saw Turkington take maximum points, followed by Ingram, Hill, Butcher, Sutton, Cammish and Cook. The top of the Championship table was closer than ever!
In many respects, with the exception of a poor start for Jake Hill, Race 2 was a repeat of Race 1: Hill got bogged down on the grid which saw him drop from third to sixth, allowing Turkington, Ingram, Butcher, Sutton and Cammish to hold formation for eleven laps in what was – for the BTCC – a pretty sedate affair, especially considering that these were the top five drivers in the Championship standings.
The twist (or spin) came on the penultimate lap when Jack Goff put a wheel of his Team Hard Volkswagen CC on the grass at the ultra-fast Riches right-hander and smashed into the inside barrier before rebounding back across the tarmac to rest on the outside of the circuit in yet another dramatic test of the new seat nets that Cobra has supplied to all BTCC cars this year.
The resulting safety car meant a dramatic one lap shoot out for the podium positions. Once again Turkington made a superb restart but behind him, the elbows came out: Butcher whacked Ingram at the Wilson hairpin to send both wide. Ash Sutton took the opportunity to move into third but didn't quite have enough to deny Ingram from taking his second “second” of the day.
The drama still wasn’t over: Butcher got sideways at the exit of the final corner, delaying the Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R of Cammish, who was pipped to fifth at the flag by the Honda Civic of Jake Hill.
If we have learned one thing from this season, it’s that even if Colin Turkington used a double headed penny in a coin toss it would probably land on its edge! Once again when it came to the reverse grid draw Colin pulled out a high number for himself – this time putting him tenth on the grid for Race 3.
We may have used the words “sedate” and “civilised” for the first two races of the day, but don’t worry – we can pull the adjectives “frantic”, “chaotic” and “dramatic” out of the drawer for Race 3. It was classic BTCC.
The reverse grid saw the main title contenders crammed together between the 4th and 9th starting places.
Behind a feisty battle for the race lead between Jackson, Morgan and Smiley, who had started 1 - 2 - 3 on the grid, there were even more feisty battles between the Championship contenders.
As early as lap one Butcher, Dan Cammish and Josh Cook were involved in drama when contact from Butcher pushed Cook into Cammish as they entered the back straight. Josh Cook’s BTC Racing Honda looked doomed until he shed enough bodywork to free his tyre and leave him finish in an unlikely seventh.
The main loser in the carnage was Tom Ingram who, having started ninth on the grid, had moved up to sixth by the end of lap one and had then advanced to fourth on lap five after a “who blinks first” three car sandwich with Sutton and Smiley saw the Toyota come out on top.
Once free of that aggression, Ingram set fastest lap and chased after Butcher who, by now, had moved into third behind Jackson and Morgan. Then, as Butcher ran a little wide into Coram on the final lap, Ingram saw his chance and took the inside of the bend. There was contact further round the corner, with Butcher's Ford touching the grass and shooting back onto the circuit at Murrays left-hander and rifling Ingram off the road.
While Butcher subsequently received a verbal reprimand and a 'strike' for his conduct in the last corner incident, Ingram finally limped across the line in eighth to reflect on the real impact of the drama – the effect it has had on his Championship hopes.
As Butcher and Ingram returned to the track in the aftermath of the incident, Turkington emerged from Murrays to take an unexpected third.
So, with the season finale at Brands Hatch to come, Turkington leads Sutton by 9 points with Cammish 25 points behind and Ingram 34 adrift.