The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship signed off its time at Rockingham with a memorable weekend (August 11/12) with Adam Morgan, Ashley Sutton and Chris Smiley shared the spoils.
Following the announcement earlier in the year that the Corby venue would not be part of the 2019 calendar, the series’ latest visit added yet another plot twist in what is turning out to be an intriguing title battle.
Qualifying on Saturday proved to be a frenetic affair as a host of drivers all held provisional pole position at some stage during the 30-minute session. As the clocked ticked to zero however it was the MAC Tool with Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes of Morgan who scored his maiden pole in the series, setting a blistering time of 1:22.835.
Joining Morgan on the front row was the series’ top qualifier Sam Tordoff, whilst Dan Cammish, Mike Bushell, Daniel Lloyd and Chris Smiley rounded out the top six as the chequered flag fell to mark the end of the session.
Morgan converted his pole position in a comfortable lights-to-flag victory in the Rockingham opener; meanwhile behind there were plenty of major moments. The first came on the run down to the Deene hairpin as Cammish spun Tordoff, causing a chain affect that involved Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan, Ollie Jackson, Daniel Lloyd, Chris Smiley, Tom Oliphant and Sam Smelt.
Tordoff’s race was ended on the spot but Cammish continued, however his mirrors were filled by reigning champion Sutton following a brief safety car period. With Tom Chilton having rocketed into second, Cammish conceded third shortly after racing resumed but stayed on the back of the Subaru Levorg.
Catching the Ford Focus RS of Chilton, Sutton produced his latest spectacular move at the Tarzan hairpin – sending the Motorbase driver a dummy before diving down the inside of him. From there the positions remained as they were with Morgan scoring his third win of the season and Sutton and Chilton bringing themselves further into title contention with podiums.
Tom Ingram and Colin Turkington, the top two in the standings heading into race one, had been locked in an almighty battle towards the back of the top ten. Holding an advantage over the Team BMW driver, Ingram looked on course to extend his points lead until a throttle issue struck on the final lap, causing him to slow and ultimately cross the line in P24.
A heavy rain shower in-between races one and two added further spice to the action with many drivers questioning what tyres to go for, all of them in the end opting for slicks.
Launching off the outside of the front row, Sutton took the lead as the lights went out and was never troubled from then on. Despite having to manage two safety car periods, the Adrian Flux-backed driver controlled the race to notch his fourth victory of the season and bring himself firmly into title contention.
Behind Sutton, race one winner Morgan enjoyed a quiet race as he managed 75kgs of success ballast to second place. It was to be the battle for third that would captivate everyone however as Ingram produced another scintillating performance to charge scythe through the field and collect more silverware.
Just as he did at Snetterton, the Speedworks Motorsport driver started P27 and over the course of the next 18 laps he picked his way through the field, ultimately deposing Senna Proctor of third to reclaim his championship lead toward the end. Proctor finished fourth whilst Turkington was the footer of the top five.
BTC Norlin Racing’s Smiley became the latest driver to enter the winners circle in the reverse grid encounter, producing a perfect drive to become the 12th different victor of the year. Starting fifth, the Northern Irishman survived an early scare in mixed conditions on the opening tour to jump into the lead. From there he was never headed and powered his way to a popular win, joining his team-mate Dan Lloyd who won at Croft.
Behind, Turkington used all of his experience to get the better of Matt Simpson on the final lap to steal second, the Honda driver settling for third having pipped a charging Tordoff and Ingram for it on the line.
In the wake of Rockingham’s three high-octane races, Turkington returns to the summit of the standings although just four points separate himself and Ingram. Sutton remains in contention albeit 32 points further back.
BMW and Team BMW continue to lead the BTCC Manufacturer/Constructors Championship and BTCC Teams Championship respectively whilst Ingram and Speedworks are doing the same in both Independent categories. Smiley’s breakthrough win draws him closer in the Jack Sears Trophy standings although he continues to trail Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Cammish.