Phew, did you see the final meeting of the British Touring Car Championship at Brands? It was quite something, the best championship finale for the British tin toppers since Cleland and Soper got acquainted at Silverstone back in 1992. Colin Turkington took the title, but boy did he have to work hard as he diced with fellow contenders Fabrizio Giovanardi and Jason Plato for the crown over the final three race meeting. It was like the good old days of the BTCC; there was even a Ford battling it out at the front and to top it off there was a crowd of nineties proportions with over 35,000 packing into Brands’ natural amphitheatre.
Before taking to the majestic Brands GP circuit it was nice guy Turkington who held a narrow lead in the drivers championship in his West Surrey Racing BMW ahead of the Vauxhall of the gloriously unhinged double champion Fab Gio and the unlikely lad Plato in his reasonably priced car. Watching from the pitlane were four generations of the Northern Irish Turkington clan; this was going to be emotional.
In race one Tom Chilton led away from his shock pole position in the aforementioned Ford, but Jason Plato in his Racing Silverline Chevy Lacetti was putting him under pressure the entire way. Plato was the surprise member of the three championship protagonists, he only got the drive with days to go before the start of the season, but he gamely went down fighting ’til the bitter end. Tom Chilton’s Team Aon Ford Focus dominated the race from lights to flag. Almost. With only one corner to go Plato pounced and scored the narrowest BTCC victory of all time as he pipped Chilton by a mere 0.015s. Team Aon were denied their first win, but the spiky coiffured Chilton wasn’t done yet and continued to figure at the sharp end all day. Turkington was down in eighth which allowed Giovanardi and Plato to close that gap.
Race two and the championship tightened up still further as Plato once again had to find a way past Chilton who gamely fought to keep a train of quicker cars behind him. Alas, they soon bundled Tom out of the way with Plato starting the Ford’s demise by nudging him wide at Druids. I can’t get over how Jason gets away with so much rough stuff, but this time it did have the effect of prolonging the title battle to the final round as Giovanardi and Turkington followed the Chevy home. It was great to see the top three in the championship proving their status by locking out the podium. It was clear that with Gio’s Vauxhall teammate Matt Neal on the pole for race three that Turkington would need to deliver the drive of his life to hold onto his slender title lead.
After a thrilling Nascar-style side-by-side duel between almost everybody on lap one, leader Matt Neal played the team game and held up Turkington to put him within reach of Giovanardi. This put Plato in striking range too though and the old fox wasn’t out of the championship chase just yet.
Eventually Colin Turkington made a move on Matt which ended in contact, an unusual sight for the BMW pilot in ’09. Although Colin now had the lead he was visibly slower and did an incredible job of hanging onto the top spot until lap 15 when, you guessed it, Plato snatched it from him. But a rare three wins from three races wasn’t quite enough for Jason as championship leader Turkington refused to give in and took his wounded car to second, enough for the title.
Colin’s first BTCC championship brought out the cheers and tears from the team, the family, the man himself and me. Yep, I got all emotional about it, which I think is about right. It took me back to the halcyon days when I was first watching touring cars intently and a nice bloke scooped the honours. Let’s hope next year delivers more of the same.
Well, things won’t quite be the same next year as Vauxhall are leaving the sport after 20 years on the trot. The marque gathered all their previous works drivers except race-a-holic James Thompson who was off racing whatever touring car he could get his hands on, as per usual. From Jeff Allam to Yvan Muller, they were all there to pose by a selection of Vauxhall’s most successful 2 litre touring cars.
Vauxhall were the last of the works efforts in the BTCC, it looks like it will be all privateers next year as the big boys tighten their belts. That makes it seem rather apt that two independent runners, Turkington and Plato, took the first two spots on the leaderboard by season’s end. I doff my hat to both for putting on a mighty show at Brands and bravo to Vauxhall for supporting the sport so loyally for so long.
Those in Britain can still catch all the action on ITV4’s website.