It was a brake-smoking end to 2019 for Dan Cammish. As he crossed the line to start lap 558 of 559, he was leading the British Touring Car Championship and had just over three minutes remaining of a season that had promised so much: Three more minutes and he would claim the title: Yet less than sixty seconds later, he sat motionless in his car, talking calmly to his engineer, explaining that he had lost his brakes and crashed out of the race.
It wasn’t the way that the former single seater and Porsche champion had become accustomed to ending his year, and it wasn’t the way that anyone wants to see a championship won or lost.
Now he’s back and focused on the job in hand. The brake issues have long been resolved and the drive for success recharged. So can he guide his team and his Honda back to victory, wrestling the crown away from four-time winner Colin Turkington and the BMW squad? He’s certainly in the right place to lead the challenge. Team Dynamics is a mighty force in touring car racing. Together with Honda, it’s won four drivers’ and four teams’ titles since 2010; only West Surrey Racing can match this (if you go back a year). And his own rise continues too. In 2018 (his debut season), he managed just two wins and five podiums; last year, despite the team’s difficult start to the first six races, he recovered to record another two wins but importantly, twelve podiums.
You don’t win this championship by delivering occasional moments of brilliance, you win it through consistency, not only in the races but also in qualifying. Turkington is probably the finest professional driver of the BTCC’s modern era, and right now he’s in the best car too, so Cammish is going to have to dig deep to secure the advantage. But you also need just a little bit of luck and for the Yorkshireman, COVID-19’s impact on the calendar, pushing the racing deep into late Autumn, might just result in the type of conditions at the tracks in question that are going to suit the leading front wheel drive cars (such as the Type R).
Of course, there are many others who will see this as being their chance to shine. Tom Ingram and the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK squad have worked relentlessly to refine the Corolla through the extended break. Ingram will always deliver more than his car deserves and right now, both are looking strong. Still, there’s much riding on the way the results go and Ingram and team boss Christian Dick won’t rest until they deliver the silverware back to their paymasters.
And it would be crazy to discount the BTC Racing pairing of Josh Cook and Tom Chilton. Both know how to win, both are in a fantastic car, and with all their experience and instinct propelling them forward, every podium finish these leading independents take will be valuable points lost by the works drivers.
The big unknown for me is Ash Sutton. In my opinion, the former champion is one of the standout drivers in the entire history of the BTCC. His feel of the car and understanding of the track is exceptional, but whereas Cammish, Turkington, Ingram and Cook enjoy the support of well resourced teams fielding proven chassis’, Sutton sometimes finds himself out on a limb. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be very fast; if his team can keep him in the mix, I wouldn’t bet against an upset.
And then there’s Matt Neal, Jake Hill, Chris Smiley, Rory Butcher and Tom Oliphant. Each of these can be expected to hold their own in the top ten; each will most likely race to any number of podiums, and each might just be expected to win on one or more occasions. I don’t think that they’re championship class this year but once again, it’s the points that they take off the contenders that might just make all the difference.
Finally, it’s important to recognise that this season will never be the one it should have been due to the loss from the grid of Andrew Jordan, Jason Plato and Mat Jackson. I don’t think that series returnee Jackson would have threatened the leading lights but he’s always great fun to watch. Plato, who rediscovered the joy of winning last time out, should have been on a journey towards his century (of BTCC firsts) and would have certainly been in the most of the mixes. And then there’s Jordan . . in all honesty, when I saw him at the Media Day test, I felt that he was looking likely to enjoy the finest form of his life; he would be the man to beat. Now we’ll never know.
All who have had to withdraw will be sadly missed, as will every single one of the fans who would normally stand side-by-side in every type of weather, but the BTCC will go on and in the end, it will be remembered for all the right reasons and not for the pandemic that tried to blight it.