Heading into the penultimate round of the 2016 BTCC at Silverstone, there was still no sign of a breakaway leader. Time is running out to stake a claim on the British Touring Car Championship. So this was the weekend in which many teams decided to pull out all the stops.
Little did anybody realise just how dramatic that reshuffling would turn out to be…
Silverstone – Free Practice and Qualifying
Damp conditions blighted the first free practice session. However, with three Avensis models setting lap times within the top ten, it was clear that the Toyota teams were pushing hard. The same three cars showed strong form again in the second session, with Tom Ingram’s sub-one-minute pass eclipsed by just seven hundredths in the closing moments.
But if we thought that was close, the qualifying round shrunk the difference between first and second to a distance of just 13 centimetres on track! Speedworks driver Ingram was again edged out of first place – not to mention his pole position hat-trick – by just 0.003 seconds.
Silverstone – Round 25
Round 25 saw battles kicking off all the way down the order. Though starting second on the grid, Ingram was able to reclaim first in the dash off the line. But from lap eight the Speedworks car was being harried by Ash Sutton and Josh Cook. Despite a valiant defence by the Avensis driver, it was the MG pairing that assumed control for the remainder of the race.
But the battle was far from over. After the conclusion of the race, both MGs were disqualified for a technical infringement. Their rear wings were outside of the allowed tolerance.
This promoted Ingram from third to an unexpected but very welcome first place, and Handy Motorsport driver Rob Austin from fifth to third. A phenomenal result given that the steering on his Avensis had been damaged after being side-swiped by Adam Morgan.
Also showing incredible pace was Jake Hill in the RCIB Insurance Racing car. Behind the wheel of his Avensis, Hill managed to fend off the attentions of multiple champions Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden to claim a well-deserved fifth place.
Commenting after the race, Ingram said: “Obviously it wasn’t the way we’d have liked to have won the race and it would have been nice to cross the finish line first on the road. But a win is still a win and we have the speed to run right at the front throughout.
“If it hadn’t been for Josh Cook’s robust move, I think we could have taken the fight back to Ash Sutton again. But we got the result in the end anyway, and it proved we are right back on the pace after recent events.”
Silverstone – Rounds 26 and 27
Unfortunately, success was not as immediately forthcoming for many of the Avensis drivers in Round 26. Ingram provided the main highlight by securing third place despite carrying a lot of success ballast. Meanwhile, Austin’s pace was strong until his race started unravelling on lap five. He eventually exited the round with damage sustained from a front-left puncture (see image below).
Frustrations were felt even more keenly in Round 27. A mechanical issue halted Ingram’s efforts and another retirement ruined Rob Austin’s heroic rise through the field. Although starting from the back of the grid, Austin had battled from 31st to 13th before succumbing to yet another puncture.
2016 BTCC: current standings
|10||Tom Ingram||Speedworks Motorsport||200|
|15||Rob Austin||Handy Motorsport||110|
|17||Jake Hill||RCIB Insurance Racing||70|
|24||Michael Epps||RCIB Insurance Racing||23|
|30||Chris Smiley||TLC Racing||0|
|32||Michael Caine||Team Hard||0|
The 2016 BTCC season finale takes place at Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit over the weekend of 1-2 October.