The 2019 BTCC started off in style at Brands Hatch as changeable conditions created great racing and allowed the series to pick up where it left off in 2018.
Ashley Sutton started his Subaru on pole position for Race 1, which was delayed by 5 minutes due to heavy fog.
As well as fog, changeable conditions with rain in the air gave teams a dilemma on whether to start on wets or start on slicks and gamble conditions improved. Most of the top 10 chose wets while drivers further down chose to risk it on slicks.
Sutton held the lead off the start, while Jason Plato was swamped by the fast starting rear wheel drive BMW’s of Andrew Jordan, Colin Turkington and Tom Oliphant, however a bad start was the least of his worries.
Plato was given a drive through penalty due to being out of position on the grid, taking him out of the running for a good finish.
Sam Tordoff’s season didn’t start very well either, as he pulled his Honda Civic over at Graham Hill bend on Lap 3.
On Lap 4. conditions started to favour the slick tyre runners as Senna Proctor and Bobby Thompson set the fastest lap of the race, both running the slick tyres.
A few laps later, Cook used the slick tyres to his advantage as he passed Oliphant for 4th into Paddock Hill, before passing defending champion Turkington into Druids, then the other BMW 330i M Sport of Jordan for 2nd and eventually race leader Sutton on Lap 10.
As the race continued, more and more slick runners came charging through the field, with Jake Hill coming through to 2nd on Lap 12, before Tom Chilton and Aidan Moffat passed Sutton for 3rd and 4th, Moffat coming from 23rd on the grid.
While one BTC Racing car was leading the race, the other’s race was ended with contact between Dan Cammish and Mark Blundell, pitching the Honda into the wall and out of the race.
Rain started to fall again on Lap 21, making things difficult for the front runners on the slicks.
But Cook stayed cool and took victory, with Jake Hill bringing his Audi S3 home in 2nd, where he finished in Race 2 at Brands last season, and Chilton completing the podium for Motorbase Ford.
Moffat was 4th, ahead of the fellow Mercedes of Adam Morgan, Bobby Thompson’s VW, Stephen Jelley, Matt Neal who was the lead wet tyre runner, ahead of pole sitter Sutton in 9th and Rory Butcher in 10th.
Notable mentions outside the top 10 included Jack Goff in 11th, Michael Crees in 12th, last season’s runner up Tom Ingram in 13th, Blundell 14th, Jordan 15th, Cammish 16th, Turkington 19th, Nic Hamilton 20th, and Plato in 25th after his penalty and a further pitstop for slicks.
Race 2 started in similar conditions as Race 1, however all drivers decided to take slick tyres judging how well the gamble came off in Race 1.
It was also a first running of the new 2019 ballast system, with the maximum ballast being dropped from 75kg in 2018, to 54kg for first in 2019 down to 6kg for 10th.
Cook led away from pole position with Chilton making a good start up to 2nd, while Jordan jumped from 15th up to 7th on the first lap.
Jordan would make up more progress as he followed Sutton past Moffat for 6th, as Sutton went on to take Morgan and Hill to climb up to 3rd in the Subaru.
Sutton would then go for a move on Chilton for 2nd into Clearways, however Chilton pulled off the switchback to retake the position.
Sutton tried again with a dive into Graham Hill Bend, dropping Chilton wide and allowing Hill, Morgan and Jordan past the Ford as well.
After Jordan passed Morgan and Hill, he joined Sutton in chasing down Cook for the lead, with the three cars together on Lap 13.
Sutton went for another dive, this time for the lead into Graham Hill, allowing Jordan to follow through as well into 2nd place.
Jordan then used the straight-line speed of the new BMW 330i to power past Sutton along the pit straight on Lap 17, as the Subaru started to struggle for grip of the soft compound tyres compared to Jordan’s medium compound.
Behind the leaders, the fight for 3rd was hotting up as Hill passed the struggling Cook for 3rd, with Morgan and Jelley also passing the Honda through Druids.
Morgan then ran wide through Paddock Hill on lap 20, slipping through the gravel and allowing Jelley’s BMW 125i up into 4th.
Jelley then went for a move for 3rd, however ran wide and dropped all the way down to 6th in the tight battle pack as Morgan took 3rd from Hill into Druids.
As the fight for 3rd continued on, the dominant Jordan took victory for WSR, the team’s first victory using the new BMW 330i, as Sutton parked his mobile chicane well enough to just claim second on the run up to the line, just edging out Morgan, with Hill, Ingram and Jelley a few tenths away as well.
Race 1 winner Cook came home in 7th, ahead of Butcher in 8th, Chilton 9th, and Sutton’s BMR teammate Proctor rounding out the top 10.
Outside the top 10, the two Team Dynamics Honda’s of Neal and Cammish came home in 11th and 12th, Turkington was 14th, Tordoff recovered to 19th from 30th on the grid, Plato finished 21st, Hamilton 26th and Blundell 27th.
The reverse grid pole position to decide the grid for Race 3 drew out Matt Neal to start on pole position.
However, Neal wouldn’t lead into Turn 1, as Proctor used the rear wheel drive power of the Subaru to take the lead from 2nd, but all eyes were on the rocket launch made by Stephen Jelley, who raced from 6th on the grid, into 2nd by tTrn 1 and into the lead through Druids.
Proctor then spun through Graham Hill, ruining his chances of fighting for the lead.
Rob Collard’s quiet weekend ended prematurely as he collected rear suspension damage on Lap 3 after contact with the VW of Carl Boardley who lost control through Paddock Hill and clipped the Vauxhall.
Back at the front, Neal used his soft tyres to retake the lead from Jelley on Lap 7, using a classic Neal move on the inside through Clearways, before Chilton pulled the same move on Jelley on the next lap to take 2nd.
Meanwhile, Ingram was starting to form a train, and on Lap 10, Butcher went for a lunge on the Toyota Corolla into Graham Hill for 4th, Ingram was able to hold off Hill through Clearways, before Cook passed Hill through Paddock Hill.
However, Hill’s race would take a blow, literally, as he collided with Sutton’s Subaru on the exit of Druids, spinning the Subaru into the barriers and damaging his Audi, as he then spun at Graham Hill on Lap 13.
After watching Neal pull his move at Clearways, Chilton then pulled the same move on the man himself for the lead on Lap 14.
As Neal started to struggle with his soft tyres, on Lap 17 Jelley and Butcher were all over him, both passing the Honda as Jelley forced his way through at Graham Hill, a move he clearly thought was not on, as Jelley then let Neal back through at Clearways.
Back on the Ingram train, Cook was next to attack the Toyota, taking 5th place and opening the door for the WSR pair of Turkington and Oliphant. Ingram held off Oliphant at first but on Lap 20 the BMW was through into Druids, allowing Chris Smiley to capitalise.
As the final lap began, Matt Neal’s Honda gave up the ghost, as the left rear wheel failed through Paddock Hill, ending the pole sitters hopes of a podium finish.
With all the drama behind, Tom Chilton became the third winner of the day, taking victory for Motorbase, ahead of AMD’s Rory Butcher, who claimed his best ever finish in BTCC with 2nd place, and Stephen Jelley completed a competitive day with a podium finish.
Cook completed the day with 4th place, ahead of Turkington who went from 14th to 5th, Oliphant in 6th, Chris Smiley in 7th from 20th on the grid, Neal survived to 8th with a smoking Honda, Moffat came home 9th with Ingram completing the top 10.
Plato went from 21st to 13th, ending a promising day lower then hoped, Tordoff was 16th, Blundell finished his first BTCC weekend with a 19th, Hamilton also completed a solid day with a 20th place, while stragglers Jordan, Sutton and Hill finished 24th, 25th, and 27th respectively.
However, post-race drama saw Chilton receive a five-second penalty for his move on Neal. Consequently, this meant that Rory Butcher picked up his first win of 2019.
BTCC is back, and back in style, reminding everyone why it is the premier racing series in the UK, and as we leave Brands Hatch with more questions than answers, the circus heads to Donington in 3 weeks time, for another 3 rounds of crazy action.