Why it’s a two-horse race for the 2017 BTCC drivers’ title

This weekend, it’s the final round of the 2017 British Touring Car Championship, and while “technically speaking”, it’s a four-way battle, here’s why we (and probably almost everyone else) will be reporting as though it’s really just down to two.

I ran a quick poll on Twitter ahead of the last race at Silverstone, asking how many drivers would still be in contention for the championship after the weekend? I had my own view (which was two). The result of the poll said there would be between three and four.

I’m going to declare though, that we’re both right, here’s why:

Team BMR Subaru driver Ash Sutton heads to the Brands Hatch circuit with a 10-point lead over West Surrey BMW’s Colin Turkington, while the Team Dynamics Honda of Gordon Shedden is 66 points back, and Speedworks Toyota driver Tom Ingram is 67 behind, with exactly 67 points left to play for.

From a mathematical standpoint then, Shedden and Ingram are still in it, but neither are counted as realistic contenders, and in fact, could both be ruled out on Saturday afternoon after qualifying.

What Ingram and Shedden would have to achieve over the weekend is actually the same, despite the one-point difference between them. In the case of a tie-break, with anyone tying on points with Sutton, the champion would then be the driver who had the most wins during the season. If Shedden won all three races on Sunday and scored all the available bonus points, he’d be one point ahead of Sutton – if he missed one of those points, he’d tie on points, but then with only four victories for the season against Sutton’s six, Sutton would be crowned the champion.

The opposite is true for Ingram. The 23-year-old has already won four races this year, so should he complete the fabled hat-trick and max out all the bonus points, he’d win the tie-break with Suttoon, seven-six.

However, it’s still very, very unlikely.

In the history of the BTCC, no one has ever scored the maximum of 67 points, so it’d truly be a championship first should it happen.

That’s partly of course as 20-points for a race win only came in back in 2012 as the grid sizes began to ramp up, but only twice in the three-race BTCC era has a hat-trick been accomplished, which would be the chief step needed to score the maximum points haul from the weekend.

The BTCC’s points system is a little unique in the world of touring car racing, with up to seven bonus points available during a race weekend which gives it the 67 number.

The first available point is for “starting from pole position.” This is actually an important distinction, as it’s not for “qualifying on pole”. The driver still has to make the start, and it’s been the case before where the point hasn’t been awarded if the pole-sitter doesn’t make the start of the race.

However, the first opportunity to formally count out Shedden or Ingram will still come on Saturday, for if they don’t qualify on pole position, they most certainly won’t pick up that point on Sunday in Race 1, and will then be out of the title fight.

There are then three more bonus points available for leading a lap in each race. The point is only awarded once per race, but given the scenario here requires Shedden/Ingram to win all three races, they would of course be awarded those points as well, as at the very least they would have led the last lap.

The other three bonus points are for setting the fastest lap in each race. A fairly easy point for the pole-sitter to achieve if his car is on the pace, but there are plenty of obstacles which make getting this point, and of course the hat-trick of victories, all the more impossible.

Different compound tyres

In one of the races of the day, each driver has to run the Dunlop Sportmaxx soft option tyre. This tyre may deliver some good grip and a fast lap time near the start of the race, but would work against the driver late in the race as the hard tyre-shod drivers have better wear.

We know Tom Ingram, Ash Sutton and Gordon Shedden all have to use the soft tyre in Race 1, while Colin Turkington will run them in Race 2, which will mix up the strategy a bit.

Success ballast

The championship leader (at this point, Sutton) always goes into the weekend with the maximum possible of 75kg of ballast. Gordon Shedden will carry 57kg and Tom Ingram 48kg for being third and fourth in the standings, which will make getting that pole position all the more difficult. But let’s say they achieve it and then win the first race – in Race 2, they’ll then pick up that 75kg maximum ballast, and will have to win the race again to keep their title chance alive, AND set the fastest lap while carrying the equivalent of a 12-stone person in their car.

Then, with that 75kg of weight again, and with a best-case random grid draw of six for Race 3, they’ll start sixth for the last race and have to make their way forward to win the race, in doing so scoring the first hat-trick since Brands Hatch GP in 2009, when then RML driver Jason Plato scored only the second hat-trick in the modern BTCC era, in what was basically the best car on the grid.

The first hat-trick by the way was achieved by Team Dynamics driver Dan Eaves at Thruxton in 2005, then driving a Honda Integra Type R, but it’s worth bearing in mind there were only 12 cars on the grid for that meeting.

Oh, and also, Shedden and Ingram have to do all this while hoping Ash Sutton doesn’t score a single point – that’s either a pole, a fastest lap, lead a lap, or a finish higher than 15th in any of the day’s three races.

So with that in mind, here’s to Ash Sutton or Colin Turkington, the 2017 BTCC drivers’ champion – and if Shedden or Ingram win it, I’ll gladly eat humble pie, as I would have probably just witnessed one of the best or most insane race weekends in the championship’s history .