BTCC stars offer sneak preview as Thruxton revs up for tin-top tussle
Busy test day hints at thrilling weekend of on-track action
BTCC and support series out in force in Hampshire
#ForzaBilly stickers prevalent throughout the paddock
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) shifted its preparations up a gear as it readies itself for a high-speed thrill ride around Thruxton in a fortnight’s time, with the majority of the field descending upon the ultra-quick Hampshire circuit yesterday (20 April) for an official pre-event test.
The BTCC is the UK’s premier motor sport series, and the 2017 campaign is already proving to be just as competitive and unpredictable as ever, with five different winners from the first six races and no fewer than 11 drivers reaching the rostrum.
Not only that, but thanks to its unique nature, Thruxton frequently throws a curve ball or two into the mix. As they get set to tackle the fastest track in the country on 6/7 May, 21 of the world’s finest tin-top protagonists – two-thirds of the 2017 BTCC grid – grasped the opportunity to get some valuable mileage under their belt.
Amongst the attendees were current championship leader – and last year’s Thruxton pole-sitter – Tom Ingram (Speedworks Motorsport), defending title-holder Gordon Shedden and his Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal, fellow former champions Colin Turkington (Team BMW) and Andrew Jordan (BMW Pirtek Racing), fans’ favourite Rob Austin (Handy Motorsport) and local hero Rob Collard (Team BMW).
At the end of two 45-minute sessions, it was Brands Hatch qualifying star Jeff Smith who emerged at the head of a Honda 1-2-3-4 at the top of the timesheets, with a late flyer dipping two tenths-of-a-second underneath the lap record and narrowly seeing off Shedden, his Eurotech Racing team-mate Jack Goff and Neal. Mercedes twins Aiden Moffat and Adam Morgan followed in fifth and sixth places respectively, with Jake Hill (TAG Racing), Jordan, Ingram and Turkington rounding out the top ten.
“I love Thruxton,” Smith enthused. “It’s a tremendous challenge and one of the quickest circuits in Europe, so any time you get round here prior to the race weekend is very valuable. There are obviously a lot of high-speed areas where you need stability in the car, and then there are the technical areas where you need good agility, so it’s hard to find that compromise between the two.
“The Eurotech guys have done a lot of work over the winter on chassis set-up and we’re really getting our heads around the Civic Type R now. I normally go pretty well around here and the car felt good. We’re fairly close and there’s still some more in it, so if I can put in a lap like that in qualifying at the race weekend, that would suit me just fine!”
The touring car teams were joined at the test by competitors from the Renault UK Clio Cup, Ginetta Junior Championship, F4 British Championship and Ginetta GT5 Challenge, all of whom will return to the track on 6/7 May on the same bill as the BTCC.
Many of them were sporting #ForzaBilly stickers on their cars, in support of F4 British Championship driver Billy Monger, who was badly injured in an accident last weekend. A Just Giving page has been set up to help fund Billy’s rehabilitation, and can be found at: http://bit.ly/2pggxoJ
“We’re excited to welcome the BTCC back to Thruxton,” said Thruxton Group Managing Director, Bill Coombs. “It’s one of our biggest race meetings of the year and this test truly whetted the appetite for what’s to come. Thruxton’s fast-and-flowing nature lends itself perfectly to spectacular slipstreaming scraps, and it really is a battle of the bravest when it comes to keeping it planted around the quickest parts of the lap.
“I’ve also been delighted to see so many cars bearing the #ForzaBilly stickers, and it has been phenomenal and truly humbling to learn how much money has been raised already to assist Billy’s recovery. He is a hugely popular member of the paddock and has always excelled here at Thruxton, which is testament to both his infectious personality and his skill behind the wheel. We wish him all the very best as he fights back to health.”
Top Ten Times:
1. Jeff Smith Eurotech Racing 1m15.941s
2. Gordon Shedden Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.095s
3. Jack Goff Eurotech Racing +0.151s
4. Matt Neal Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.273s
5. Aiden Moffat Laser Tools Racing +0.662s
6. Adam Morgan Ciceley Motorsport +0.772s
7. Jake Hill TAG Racing +0.850s
8. Andrew Jordan BMW Pirtek Racing +0.913s
9. Tom Ingram Speedworks Motorsport +1.017s
10. Colin Turkington Team BMW +1.088s