Things looked tough for Northern Irishman Colin Turkington as he lined up against six other former champions at the start of the British Touring Car Championship.
The team that prepared his eBay Motors-backed BMW 125i M Sport spent time in the wind tunnel over the winter, in the end finding a specification that totally refined the car. But reigning champion Andrew Jordan hit the ground running in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic Type-R, and it wasn’t until after Thruxton in May, the third meeting, that the refreshed BMW got on a roll.
That was partly thanks to a set-up gamble on the part eBay Motors BMW team boss Dick Bennetts, who was engineering the team's second 1-series, driven by Rob Collard. After scratching their heads at Thruxton, Bennetts threw caution to the wind with a radical new set-up which transformed the BMW's handling. The set-up was then tried on Turkington's car, which flew thereafter.
But there was a cloud. Jason Plato in his KX Clubcard Fuel Save MG6 was the most vociferous in complaining that rear-wheel drive machines, such as the BMWs, had an advantage at the start of the race. Officials looked took a view and mandated a revised first gear ratio to nulify some of the cars' gain.
Then there was astonishment at how the BMW could carry the 45kg of success ballast into each meeting and still fight. Turkington said the ballast allowed him to alter the weight distribution and ‘settle’ the lively rear axle, so it was in fact handing him an advantage.
As a result, the ballast couldn’t take the shine off a summer in which Turkington snatched six victories and asserted himself at the top of the BTCC table. More impressive was his comeback from 27th to fourth in race two at Knockhill in August after he had been shunted off the road in race one. As he said at the time, the result in Fife was a pivotal moment.
Strong weekends from Plato at Snetterton and Silverstone kept him in with a shout of the crown ahead of the showdown, but it was a long shot. After the Brands Hatch showdown's opening race - won by Plato but with Turkington third – it was over. To show Turkington’s pace, his team-mate Collard could only muster one win and finished sixth.
Plato had taken six wins on circuits particularly suited to the MG’s layout, but a couple of non-finishes following electrical woes at the first race of the season and a shunt at Thruxton put him on the back foot.
The MG’s heavy front end made it harsher on its tyres than others. Nevertheless, he was a master tactician and tried his best to mix things up with the BMWs at Silverstone. His optimistic lunge cannoned a few cars into each other – including Turkington’s – but in the end things didn’t work out his way.
Plato's team-mate Sam Tordoff didn’t qualify outside the top three over the last five meetings and picked up his second win at Donington Park in April. His pace was unquestioned but if there was a car failure going around at MG, it seemed to happen to him.
As a publicity stunts go, introducing the Honda Civic Tourer was huge. The factory team had run the Civic hatchback since 2007, so cue the new, elongated Tourer version – and lots of development back at the workshops of Team Dynamics, which operates Honda's race programme. The Tourer was a podium finisher in its first meeting and a winner in its second at Donington in Gordon Shedden’s hands.
The wheels came off Shedden's team-mate Matt Neal’s title charge with a mid-season spell when he was ruled out of race three twice in succession, and he was also excluded at Croft when his Tourer was found to be under the minimum ride height.