The latest action from this year's British Touring Car Championship - Gordon Shedden claimed first place, despite fierce challenges
2 April 2017

Gordon Shedden made a solid start to the defence of his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title coming away from the opening round of the 2017 season at Brands Hatch with a win, a second place and a six-point lead over race-winner Tom Ingram in the drivers’ championship.

The Halfords Yuasa Honda driver, bidding to become the first person since touring car legend Andy Rouse some 32 years ago to win three consecutive BTCC titles, emerged unscathed from a dramatic and incident-packed curtain-raiser.

Andrew Jordan completed the trio of winners on his debut for West Surrey Racing on a weekend that saw three different makes of car on the top of the podium, while his team-mate Colin Turkington put in a starring role as he raced from the back of the grid to second place in just two races.

Race One

With five manufacturer-backed teams (Honda, BMW, Subaru, Vauxhall and MG), a full grid of 32 cars and a new wider Dunlop tyre to contend with, Saturday qualifying set the tone for a dramatic weekend. Twice the session was interrupted for red flags to recover cars caught out by damp and greasy track conditions. It also threw up a massive shock when Jeff Smith timed it perfectly and stole pole position from far more established opposition just before the second of those stoppages.

The 51-year-old Eurotech team owner, who runs a pair of privateer Honda Civic Type Rs for himself and Jack Goff, delivered a lap of 48.367s around Brands Hatch’s Indy layout just as the red flags waved for a second time to recover Ash Sutton’s Subaru from the barriers at Paddock Hill Bend.

Impeccable timing aside, Smith’s lap was impressive and only a couple of tenths shy of Tom Ingram’s free practice pace. The Speedworks Toyota Avensis driver duly took second on the grid.

Rain was not an issue on Sunday, but the start of race one brought more drama as Honda ace Matt Neal and Colin Turkington, in the fastest of the now manufacturer-supported West Surrey Racing BMW 125is collided on the start line. The incident eliminated both former champions instantly and brought out the Safety Car.

While all this was going on, Ingram had bolted off the line and taken the lead from Smith. When the Safety Car returned to the pits, the 23-year-old, who also won the opening round in 2016, set about building a lead as behind him reigning champion Shedden, Adam Morgan, Rob Austin and Jordan all stacked up behind Smith.

The pole-sitter hung on gamely but couldn’t get his option tyres to switch on. The queue behind him got bigger and one by one they slipped through. By the time they had though, it was too late for Shedden’s works Honda to do anything about Ingram whose consummate performance bagged a third career win. Smith eventually retired with a broken wheel nut.

Shedden, whose dashboard flashed oil warning lights at him in the closing stages, had to work hard for second as Morgan’s Mercedes closed right in towards the end of the race. Behind them, Goff battled through to fourth to give Eurotech some solace, while Austin’s Toyota and the fast BMWs of Jordan and Robert Collard chased him home.

Race two

There was carnage again at the second race start. This time it was another former champion out on the spot when Jason Plato thumped the pit wall hard in his Subaru Levorg, having clipped Matt Simpson’s Honda off the grid. The front of the car was considerably worse off than its pilot, who climbed shaken and sore-chested but otherwise okay. The impact was big enough to bend the Levorg’s chassis, crack the engine block and end Plato’s participation in the weekend.

Plato had started race two 12th after fighting through from 19th on the grid in race one. He’d spent the weekend re-learning his BMR-run estate car following regulation changes that equalized the centre-of-gravity of the Subaru’s boxer engine with the rest of the field. The Levorg had been the car to have at the end of 2016 and had won two of the final round races at Brands Hatch, this time they spent the majority of the weekend near the bottom of the timesheets.

However, Plato’s misfortune saved Ingram’s race. The Toyota had been given a drive-through penalty for causing an aborted start but the red flag annulled that and allowed him to start from pole after all. But 75kg of success ballast proved too much to resist Shedden’s Honda which took the lead out of Clearways on the second lap.

Carrying 66kg of his own ballast, Shedden didn’t break away instantly though as Ingram focused his attention on defending first from Andrew Jordan (impressing on his rear-wheel drive debut) and then Rob Collard, who passed his WSR team-mate on lap 10.

A brief Safety Car period to recover the wreckage of Ant Whorton-Eales’ wasn’t enough to save Ingram from the clutches of Collard, who forced his way past the Toyota on the run up to Druids with four laps to go.

Behind them, Austin thought he’d come out on top of a fierce battle with Morgan, Jackson and Jordan, who beat Josh Cook to sixth on the road by a tenth of a second. But Austin was later disqualified for overtaking Jordan under yellow flags. That meant Chilton took an amended eighth in the brand new works Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra while Turkington, having started at the back of the grid fought his way back to ninth ahead of Michael Epps.

Race three

Austin’s disqualification meant that Chilton, astonishingly, found himself on pole for a humdinger of a final race – with the top eight finishers of race two reversed for the final grid.

Jordan made a blinding start in the soft-tyred BMW and shot into the lead from third on the grid. Chilton tucked in behind him, in pursuit with Collard and Morgan initially behind.

But as the laps counted down, so Turkington emerged as the real threat producing perhaps the drive of the day from ninth on the grid. By lap eight, the Northern Irishman was third and all over the back of Chilton. The duo put on a fantastic show as they twice went side-by-side into Druids before the Vauxhall finally relented into Graham Hill Bend with seven laps to go.

The 2007 and ’14 champion then set about tracking down leader Jordan in the sister 125i. The pair engaged in a thrilling dice, Turkington trying everything legal – including a gentle tap into Clearways on the last lap – to get past, but it wasn’t enough to deny the 2013 champion his first win of the season.

Chilton completed a strong weekend with a podium, his third top ten finish of the day, ahead of Matt Neal who ended a challenging weekend with a strong fourth.

Shedden’s seventh place meant that he left Brands Hatch with 48 points, ahead of Ingram (42) and Jordan (41) as they head to Donington in two weeks time.

Read more: 

2017 BTCC teams entry list confirmed

2017 Honda Civic Type R BTCC racer revealed with striking new livery

Tom Chilton on why he's ready to win in the BTCC and WTCC

Autocar renews media partnership with British Touring Car Championship

Simon Strang

Our Verdict

Honda Civic Type-R
Honda's new Civic Type R is powered by a 306bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine

Probably the most capable front-wheel-drive car in production today, with only limited edition specials getting close

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