The BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) is brilliant. It’s short, snappy racing that sees drivers regularly swapping paint in a bid to be the winner. Everything can change in a corner or two. The underdog can claim victory with relative ease and, while it’s not something we wish on any driver, the inevitable crashes are usually pretty spectacular.
However, things took a turn for the worse this weekend when Snetterton became the unwilling bearer of not one, but two red flags. Both were due to serious accidents that many agree could have been avoided if the driving standards were up to par.
The first incident happened at the start of race two. After Triple Eight’s Ash Sutton was unable to avoid privateer, Dan Welch, in his Proton, Ash’s car sustained heavy damage. It was nothing compared to what Dan’s Proton went through, having been damn near turned inside out from the impact. A terrifying prospect when you consider how tough BTCC cars are.
Triple Eight boss, Ian Harrison, was far from thrilled by the day’s events. “It’s true that rubbing is racing in the BTCC, but there comes a time when the level sinks so low that you have to question whether some people who are racing in the championship should actually be racing in it,” he said. “The bottom line is that it is a difficult job to be quick and consistent in British Touring Cars and some of the guys who are out there are the moment just aren’t good enough – they should go off and do something else.”
Ash Sutton, who was the unfortunate party to hit Dan Welch who’d been hit by Ollie Jackson was also quite vocal about the standards: “If you’ve got people crashing in a straight line, there’s something wrong. If someone is going up the inside for a move into a corner, OK, it’s racing. You’re going to end up having these nudges and budges. But if you’re crashing in a straight line twice, in race two and three, then something isn’t quite right. Poor old Dan Welch might not be racing for the rest of the season because of someone else’s stupidity. For me it needs to be looked at.”
Thankfully Dan Welch walked away from his crash, though the privateer is fairly sure his season is over as the car is a complete write off. “I had a good start, got on the inside of Ollie [Jackson] into turn 7 onto the back straight and he basically should have conceded the position instead of hanging it on the outside of the corner. The car has done its job because it’s saved me but it’s a write off. It’s one of those things. He tried to hang onto my rear quarter until he went out wide. The car is totalled. I reckon I might have one good corner left on it. I was in the middle of the track and thought ‘this is going to hurt’.”
While Welch’s crash was a sickening eye-opener for drivers and fans alike, the real drama came in race three. On the start line and accelerating hard, Hunter Abbott was forced to avoid Mark Howard’s Volkswagen CC and Alex Martin’s Ford Focus colliding. Doing so, Hunter made contact and sent his Chevrolet spiraling through the air. It flew over and long the armco and into a TV camera stand, flinging the unfortunate camera operator some 12 feet to the ground after it collapsed.
The initial concerns were obviously for the cameraman. Thankfully he was okay apart from some bruises and obvious shock. The race was immediately red-flagged.
So what’s to be done? How can the BTCC improve? Will Alan Gow (BTCC Series Director) do anything? It certainly seems the drivers and teams want action, as Triple Eight’s Ian Harrison happily explained: “This isn’t a series where you can be out of your depth and you have to expect there to be racing at close quarters with other cars. If you don’t know where those other cars are because you are hanging on for dear life or using all of your faculties just to keep the car on the track, then you have no place being here.
Maybe we need to look at things and see if the licence you need to compete in the championship should be different to the licence you need now,” he said. “It could be time to say that you have to have done x, y and z in order to qualify to race in the series, because as the moment, some of the drivers are just not qualified for this championship.”
Clearly there is work to be done, and while this weekend was awful for a number of reasons, the main thing is that the only irreparable damage was sustained by metal and rubber. There’s no doubt though, that the BTCC needs to up its game if it wants to continue.