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BTCC readies for another step into the unknown

The fight for the British Touring Car Championship title will head into the unknown for the second meeting in succession this weekend as the series heads for Brands Hatch for round two of the year.

Whilst the field has now been able to gain experience of racing with the series’ new hybrid systems, this weekend will be the first in which the revised qualifying regulations will have been in place – meaning the top ten in the standings will have a reduced amount of hybrid available for Saturday’s all important session.

Tom Ingram heads the way going into the weekend on the back of his race-winning performance at Donington Park, but the EXCELR8 driver will now have no hybrid at all in qualifying this weekend as a result.

Ingram’s usage in the opening race will also be restricted to just nine of the scheduled 24 laps although he remains confident of a strong performance at a circuit where he won in the Hyundai last season.

“This weekend is a big step into the unknown because it’s the first time we will have gone into qualifying with no hybrid behind us,” he said. “I don’t think the impact will be as big as carrying maximum ballast was in the past, but the simple fact is that we don’t know how things are going to play out and it is going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery.

“If we could get into the top ten in qualifying and then score three top six finishes, it would be fantastic, but we may need to revise our goals depending on what impact the hybrid has in qualifying. We just have to focus on ourselves and make sure that we maximise the points that are available across the three races.”

Ingram sits seven points clear of Gordon Shedden in the standings, with the Team Dynamics driver having also tasted victory at Donington last month after overhauling Ingram to grab race two honours.

Shedden will take 1.5s of hybrid into the weekend at a circuit where the Civic Type R has been a winner in the past, with the Scot eager to maintain the solid form he displayed in the season opener.

Just behind Shedden in the points sits defending champion Ash Sutton, who ended his first weekend in the NAPA Racing-backed Ford Focus with a podium at Donington Park.

With Brands Hatch being the home circuit for Motorbase squad, Sutton will have extra reason to try and fight for his first victory of the campaign as he continues to acclimitise to the return to front-wheel drive.

“Donington Park was very much a weekend of learning and to come away with a podium at the end of it was a real reward for the team and a step in the right direction,” he said.

“Heading to Brands Hatch we’ve been able to dig into the data and hopefully we can unlock even more from the pace. I always enjoy driving Brands, it’s a mega circuit and always produces great racing.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the hybrid deployment plays its part in qualifying – I’m looking forward to getting there!”

Josh Cook – running with a new livery on his BTC Racing Honda this weekend – sits in fourth spot despite the team admitting that it was lacking straight line speed from the new M-Sport engine throughout the Donington weekend.

Cook is level on points with Adam Morgan, who is currently the best placed of the BMW drivers after a strong start to the new campaign for Ciceley – with rookie team-mate George Gamble also sitting inside the top ten.

Between the pair sit WSR duo Jake Hill and Colin Turkington, as well as EXCELR8’s Dan Lloyd, with all three hoping to fight for silverware during the weekend ahead.

Hill at least has a victory to his name already this season having managed to fight back from his race one exclusion to win race three at Donington on his first outing in the BMW, with Turkington also grabbing a podium from the opening weekend before a clutch issue at the start of race two cost him the chance to push for a win of his own.

Lloyd meanwhile came close to a top three finish before being overhauled by Cook late on in the final race of the weekend.

The top ten going into the Brands Hatch meeting is rounded out by Team HARD driver Bobby Thompson, which means a number of fancied runners further down the order will benefit from having the full 15 seconds of hybrid in qualifying and a full 24 laps in race one.

That chasing pack is headed by Speedworks driver Rory Butcher after a technical issue in qualifying at Donington left him on the back foot for race day and unable to fight for the kind of results that were expected from the Toyota Corolla.

“Brands Hatch has been a happy hunting ground for me in the past,” he said. “I won the Formula Ford Festival there in 2009 and my first BTCC race in 2019, and it just seems to suit my style.

“We go back this year with a bit of a point to prove after not achieving what we wanted at Donington due to a failure in qualifying that was beyond our control, but we have an excellent package underneath us in the Toyota Corolla and a fantastic team spirit.

“One of the key differences with hybrid this season is that it has eradicated the up-and-down inevitability of race weekends that the success ballast system used to generate. Now, if you can start towards the front in race one, you have every possibility of scoring well in all three races – and that’s exactly what we intend to do at Brands Hatch.”

The likes of Dan Rowbottom, Jason Plato, Tom Chilton and Dan Cammish will also be able to count on full hybrid which could well work in their favour, although the short nature of the Brands Hatch layout will mean traffic could be an issue.

That’s particularly true with the addition of debutant Will Powell, meaning a full grid of 29 cars will be on track for the first time this season.