Season review: Colin Turkington triumphs once again
It’s almost become the norm that the battle for the BTCC title will go down to the season finale at Brands Hatch, and so it proved once again in 2018 as Colin Turkington became champion for the third time.
In a season that featured a record breaking number of race winners, the West Surrey Racing driver showed all of his experience to fend off the challenge of Tom Ingram, with a campaign based on consistency ultimately proving to be enough.
The 36-year-old would take just one victory – making it his worst season in victory terms since 2004 – but Turkington consistently picked up vital points despite the fact his BMW wasn’t the quickest car on the grid.
It would prove to be a good season all round for WSR and BMW as they successfully secured both the Teams’ and Manufacturers’ titles, whilst the Independents’ titles for a second straight season was fine reward for Speedworks driver Ingram.
With fresh faces making the breakthrough at the sharp end of the grid and action aplenty on-track, the BTCC certainly delivered the goods in 2018.
But did you expect anything else?
Turkington’s finest hour
Turkington’s total of 304 points might have been the lowest total of any champion since the current scoring system was introduced – and nearly 50 less than he picked up in finishing second twelve months earlier – but make no bones about it; the 2018 title win was Turkington’s finest hour.
Taking the challenge to rivals in quicker cars and emerging on top would have been an impressive feat at the best of times, but the fact that Turkington did so whilst dealing with the loss of his mother mid-season made his success on track even more remarkable.
Things didn’t start that well with three no-scores from the opening six races, but a double podium at Thruxton kick-started Turkington’s campaign before his only victory of the year at Oulton Park in the most emotional of circumstances – coming just weeks after his mother’s death.
From that moment on, Turkington had one goal in his mind and his approach of maximising the points available in every race – such as at Silverstone where he fought back from a tough qualifying session to end the weekend with a podium finish – ultimately paid off handsomely.
The reaction from the Turkington family in the paddock when the title was secured said it all.
Ingram comes of age
Every season since he joined the grid, Tom Ingram has made forward progress up the order and 2018 was no exception.
Three wins was one less than he managed in 2017 but the combination of Ingram and the Speedworks-run Toyota Avensis was arguably the strongest package on the grid.
That was seen by his numerous charges through the pack when running without success ballast, most notably at Rockingham and Silverstone as he battled to keep his title bid alive.
Unfortunate retirements at Snetterton and Rockingham (which set up his stunning charge through to a race two podium), as well as his much discussed exclusion at Knockhill, would ultimately prove to be key in the end reckoning but Ingram won plenty of admirers with his performances on track across the year.
Switching to a new car in the Corolla will mean a new challenge for Ingram in 2019 but surely it’s a case of when, and not if, he adds an overall title to his Independents’ crowns.
Sutton pays the price for slow start
In 2017, Ash Sutton was forced to fight back from a difficult start to the year in order to secure his maiden championship title – and whilst he gave it a good go, the Team BMR driver couldn’t do it a second time.
Sutton would win more races than anyone else across the season but a lack of performance in the early rounds would leave him with too much of a mountain to climb.
It’s a mark of Sutton’s talent behind the wheel that he was able to get anywhere near the top of the championship standings and fourth in the final reckoning is nothing to be sniffed at.
However, you have to wonder what might have been had the 24-year-old been able to hit the ground running from the opening race of the campaign…
Matt Neal – Diamond Geezer…
The highlight of the 60th anniversary season was the special Diamond Double race at Snetterton and it was somewhat appropriate that victory in the extended race went the way of Matt Neal.
Neal endured a mixed campaign at the wheel of the new Honda Civic Type R. The FK8 was clearly a quick car but was also a different beast to the model it replaced, meaning that results were sometimes harder to come by than expected.
The Snetterton race however allowed Neal to show all of his experience, with a strong drive in tricky conditions that saw him find a way ahead of pole-sitter Jack Goff before fending off Goff and Tom Ingram for victory.
Securing a place in the history books was without doubt the high point of Neal’s campaign as he ended the year in ninth spot.
Most impressive driver(s) – take your pick…
When it comes to choosing the best driver from the 2018 season, the likes of Turkington and Ingram would be the obvious choices, with Tom Chilton also worthy of a mention for going under the radar to launch a title challenge of his own.
However, looking elsewhere on the grid for those who impressed, Josh Cook headed into 2018 looking to get his BTCC career back on track after a difficult 2017 campaign where he found himself in the wars on more than one occasion.
Putting those lows firmly behind him, and back with the team that gave him his BTCC chance back in 2015, Cook returned to form in fine style – with pole and a win at Donington and then another victory on home soil at Thruxton being the real highlights.
Whilst he wasn’t able to turn those early season results into a championship challenge, Cook was consistently there or thereabouts, and a top six in the end of season reckoning concluded his best season to date.
He also helped show that, having shown flashes of speed in the past, the Power Maxed Racing team is now very much amongst the front-runners.
Special mention should also go to BTC Norlin’s Chris Smiley, who showed his potential early in the season with a podium finish at Donington Park and then went on to secure a deserved maiden victory at Rockingham, and to Matt Simpson for an unexpected pole and win at Oulton Park.
Of the drivers not to taste victory, Rory Butcher showed there was still life in the ageing MG6 with a number of solid top ten finishes, whilst Ricky Collard got to grips with BTCC machinery impressively when thrown in at the deep end replacing his injured father.
Surprise of the year
You know that the BTCC isn’t a series where the wins will be shared by a few people, but still, there weren’t many people who would have bet on 17 winners at the start of the campaign.
There were shocks amongst them as the likes of Senna Proctor, Simpson and Smiley took to the top step, whilst it was also a surprise to see the likes of Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson take trips to the podium on the dramatic opening race of the year.
The big surprise however was the lack of results for double champion Jason Plato, who endured a miserable campaign; the first winless one of his career.
A myriad of issues – many of which were engine related – prevented Plato from running at the sharp end of the grid although when the Subaru was on song at Croft, he was right there fighting for the podium.
After two seasons he describes as being ‘hell’, the most winning driver in series history will be keen to get back on form in 2019 as he attempts to move closer to 100 wins.
Couldn’t buy a win (nearly…)
For two drivers, it looked like a win just wasn’t going to happen during 2018, with Sam Tordoff and Dan Cammish both forced to wait until the closing rounds to take to the top step.
Tordoff’s was quick, as seen by the fact he topped the qualifying averages across the season, but he had next to no luck on race day and struggled to even break onto the podium until Silverstone when he secured his only win of the campaign.
Cammish meanwhile has also shown he was quick and would have been on pole at Brands Hatch for the season opener had it not been for his much discussed penalty.
The double win he picked up back at Brands Hatch on Finals Day was a good way to end the year.
Race of the year
The wet/dry race at Brands Hatch at the start of the year looked like being a shoe-in for the race of the year, but that was before the 30th and final round of the campaign on the longer GP loop came around.
With the titles won, the season finale was all about who could take bragging rights into winter as the final winner of the season and the battle to secure that honour would be one that will live long in the memory.
The friendship between Ash Sutton and Josh Cook is well known, and the respect the pair have for each other was clear as they went wheel-to-wheel for victory.
Going side-by-side on more than one occasion, the battle was touring car racing at its very best and it looked like Cook had held on only for his former team-mate to somehow steal victory at the line.
It was the perfect way to bring the curtain down on a dramatic season on track.