By a nose.

Race Report: BTCC 2020.
Round 1 (2 January 2020).
Rockingham.

The 2020 season at Falcon Raceway kicked-off with the BTCC championship. Now in its third full year, our BTCC class has always been both exciting and tightly contested, but changes in 2020 have raised the stakes further. First of all – and after a year using SSD – we see the return of RCS64 software. This promises to bring greater depth to the strategic side of racing – though it would be a challenge our rookies would need to meet sooner rather than later. The other change is to the race format, with two minute qualifying sessions preceding each race to determine starting positions.

Champion

Lee goes into 2020 as reigning champion, and is hoping to again be competitive with the Honda Civic. 2018 champion, Darren, had a tricky campaign in 2019, and appeared to have difficulties with both his VW and BMW cars on occasion. He, like Anthony and George, hoped to get on top of their car issues early on. Meanwhile, Steve would be wondering if 2020 would finally be his year, after finishing second in both the previous years’ championships. The established championship protagonists would need to be on the look out for Scott, too. Mounting his first full championship challenge in 2020, the rookie impressed in the two rounds he contested last year.

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The first race of the evening began on a damp track, and all runners bar Anthony started the race on intermediate tyres. The Honda pilot opting for full wets, anticipating the rain forecast for later in the race. This gamble on tyres did not pay off in the end, as Anthony’s Civic was some way off the pace of both Lee and Scott’s cars. The Honda man qualified and finished in third.

Hundredths

Lee had earlier put his Honda on pole, with a lap time just five hundredths quicker than second placed Scott. He managed to convert pole into a race lead, but by the end of the first lap he’d spun off and handed the lead to Scott. Lee was to catch and pass the Passat, but Scott would hang on to second, and Lee only managed to pull out any kind of gap when Scott was delayed in the pits behind Cliff and dropped back by two laps.

Race One Result:
(Qualifying time in brackets, P = Prime, O = Option)
1st Lee – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 1 (11.022)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap:10.513
2nd Scott  – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 2 (11.073)
Laps: 48; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.350*
3rd Anthony – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 3 (11.186)
Laps: 46; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 11.028
4th Cliff – VW Passat (O)
Grid: 4 (11.239)
Laps: 40; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.567
5th Norman MG 6 (O)
Grid: 5 (n/a)
Laps: 34; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.315

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As the track rubbered in, and our racers grew more accustomed with the limits of their cars’ performance, the qualifying times started to tumble. Lee posted a 10.313 early in the session; a time no-one got close to beating throughout the session. Then, as qualifying was about to end, Lee trimmed another two tenths off this time to confirm pole.

Damp

Again, the race began on a damp track, and again rain was forecast to come at some point in the race. Again, Anthony took a gamble and started on the full wet weather tyre. This time the gamble proved to be a good one – the rain began to fall on lap 12, and as the rest of the field started to struggle, one by one they came in to change tyres. Anthony, of course, stayed out, and eventually took the lead.

Spin

Earlier in the race, Lee had again got away from pole into the lead, but a spin early on had let both Darren and Scott by. As the rain started to fall, it was Darren who first appeared to struggle, with both Scott and Lee catching and passing the 2018 champion’s Volkswagen. The three of them emerged from their stops for wets behind new leader Anthony, but Lee was to retake the lead when Anthony suffered a spin. With the two Honda looking like sealing a 1-2, both were forced to make late pit stops – Lee for fuel, Anthony for tyres – and Scott swept by to take the win.

Race Two Result: 
1st Scott –  VW Passat (P)
Grid: 2 (10.476)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.115*
2nd Lee – Honda Civic (O)
Grid: 1 (10.168)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 10.343
3rd Darren – VW Passat (O)
Grid: 3 (10.516)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.672
4th Anthony – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 4 (11.408)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 11.035
5th Cliff – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 5 (11.482)
Laps: 38; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 11.125

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Once again, changeable conditions greeted our racers in race three. The track was still damp from the earlier rain when the race began, but with the sun now shining and the track drying, Anthony was once again tempted to gamble on tyres. Initially, the Honda man struggled, and couldn’t compete with leaders Scott and George at the start. Darren too was having a troubled time with this BMW, and a series of quite spectacular crashes saw him drop to the back with Cliff.

Gamble

Anthony’s tyre gamble started to pay off later in the race. The rest of the field had stopped for fresh inters after a shower made the going somewhat tricky on lap  26. Anthony stayed out on his original set of slicks, and took the lead. The erstwhile race leaders – Scott and George – rejoined and steadily closed on Anthony’s Honda. At the end, the three were running together, but both Scott and George were forced into late stops at the end of the race.

Race Three Result: 
1st Anthony – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 3 (11.313)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 0
Fastest race lap: 10.938
2nd Scott – VW Passat (O)
Grid: 1 (10.608)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.563*
3rd George – MG 6 (O)
Grid: 5 (11.796)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 11.002
4th Darren – BMW 125 (P)
Grid: 4 (11.408)
Laps: 46; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.782
5th Cliff – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 2 (11.055)
Laps: 45; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 11.237

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After marshaling for the first three races, Steve finally got in on the action in race four and quickly set out his championship credentials. Converting pole into a race lead, he set about pulling away on the option tyre on a dry track. Darren, now back at the controls of his Volkswagen, had taken second on the grid in qualifying, but he dropped back at the start, and it was George who took second early on. Indeed, George was to mount a sustained challenge early on, but the handling of his MG – ill-suited to the tight turns of the Rockingham in-field – proved somewhat twitchy. A series of crashes saw George drop down the order; fourth place and an extra point for fastest lap would be his take-home here.

Scare

The main beneficiary from George’s woes would be Cliff, promoted to second with the BMR Passat. Cliff had experienced a torrid time thus far, struggling to get to grips with the RCS64 software. He appeared to turn a corner in race four, however, and was able to post some more representative lap times. Although he as caught and passed for second late on, third place was a good result. Back at the front, Steve survived a late scare as his fuel reserves ran perilously low towards the end of the race. A late splash n’ dash saw his lead evaporate, but he remained just far enough ahead to claim the win.

Race Four Result: 
1st Steve – BMW 125 (O)
Grid: 1 (10.313)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.529
2nd Darren – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 2 (10.658)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.854
3rd Cliff – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 5 (11.538)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.750
4th George – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 3 (10.884)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.362*
5th Anthony – Honda Civic (O)
Grid: 4 (11.530)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.977

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Steve continued his good run in race five with another pole position and race win. He’d been posting fairly mediocre lap times throughout the two minute qualifying session, but popped up to the top of the time sheets in the dying seconds with a 10.452. As the race got underway, his hard work was almost undone; a spin at the Adelaide hairpin on the first saw him drop to fourth. Within a few laps, however, each of the three cars ahead of him had spins of their own, and Steve found himself back in front.

Rain

The race had started amid heavy rain, but this stopped by lap ten, and the track had steadily dried as the race progressed. Both Steve, who was now controlling the race from the front, and second-placed George – who had the measure of Darren behind him – timed their stops perfectly with the changing track conditions. As the chequered flag fell, however, Steve was two laps ahead of the MG, and had grabbed fastest lap too.

Race Five Result: 
1st Steve – BMW 125 (P)
Grid: 1 (10.452)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.400
2nd George – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 3 (10.744)
Laps: 48; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.869
3rd Darren – BMW 125 (P)
Grid: 2 (10.674)
Laps: 47; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.690
4th Cliff – Honda Civic (O)
Grid: 4 (11.204)
Laps: 40; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 11.017
5th Norman – MG 6 (O)
Grid: 5 (12.687)
Laps: 40; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 12.275

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Although the rain had stopped by the time race six began, more was forecast for later in the race, but no-one felt like taking a gamble on tyre choice, so the whole field started on the inters. The pace of the option runners had been very strong in qualifying, and Darren and Lee had blocked out the front row. They carried this pace over into the race, and were able to pull away at the start.

Win

Lee and Darren were not to have it all their way, however, with both of them dropping back later in the race. Steve had taken the lead through the first pit stops, and George had emerged from his stop just behind Lee. During the second stint, Lee put his foot down and caught and passed Steve, but a late stop for fuel dropped him to fourth, and handed the lead – and the win – to Steve.

Race Six Result: 
1st Steve – BMW 125 (P)
Grid: 4 (10.930)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.579
2nd George – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 3 (10.783)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.596
3rd Darren – VW Passat (O)
Grid: 1 (10.502)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.401
4th Lee – Honda Civic (O)
Grid: 2 (10.528)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 10.323*
5th Norman – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 5 (12.303)
Laps: 34; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.214

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The penultimate race of the evening saw three of this evening’s race winners line up on the first three grid slots after a tight qualifying session. Scott took pole with a time of 10.255, but Lee was just a tenth-and-a-half behind him, Steve only missed out on second spot by four hundredths of a second. The race was looking like being a classic, and a classic it turned out to be. Again, changeable weather conditions played a major role.

Demolition Derby

The opening laps had more in common with a demolition derby, with spins, crashes and collisions galore throughout the field. It was Steve – possibly by virtue of having fewer crashes – who emerged from the carnage in the lead. He built a modest lead, but second-placed Lee was never far behind. It was a single decision when in the pits that decided this race however.

Slicks

When Steve and Lee made their first visit to the pits, the track was drying, but still essentially damp. Steve played it safe, and bolted on another set of inters. Lee, meanwhile went for slicks. At first it seemed that Lee had made a mistake, and he clearly had his work cut out trying to keep his Honda on track. Steve pulled away, but later, when the track finally dried, he was forced to stop for slicks himself, allowing Lee through into the lead. Steve closed at the end, but Lee held on to take the win by a few car lengths.

Race Seven Result: 
1st Lee – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 2 (10.404)
Laps: 50; Pits stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.448
2nd Steve – BMW 125 (P)
Grid: 3 (10.442)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.355
3rd George – MG 6 (O)
Grid: 4 (10.599)
Laps: 49; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.549
4th Scott – VW Passat (O)
Grid: 1 (10.255)
Laps: 47; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.241*
5th Norman – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 5 (12.673)
Laps: 28; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 12.039

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The fastest three from qualifying for race seven repeated the feat for race eight, though both Scott and Lee improved significantly on their previous times, and Scott being the first to break the ten second mark with his time.

Shadowed

When the race itself got underway, once again the opening laps were marred by a series of crashes, but this time it was Steve making mistake after mistake and steadily dropping down the order. By the time he’d regained his composure and had strung a handful of laps together without incident, he was fourth and over a lap down on the leaders. The battle for the win was this time contested by Lee and Scott, who shadowed each other for the entire race. Scott was to emerge victorious from this battle, though the leaders crossed the line almost together. Another fastest lap for Scott added further to his points tally, and got him to within a point of overall round winner, Steve.

Race Eight Result: 
1st Scott – VW Passat (P)
Grid: 1 (9.969)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.148
2nd Lee – Honda Civic (P)
Grid: 2 (10.165)
Laps: 50; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.434
3rd Steve – BMW 125 (O)
Grid: 3 (10.580)
Laps: 46; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 10.212
4th Anthony – Honda Civic (O)
Grid: 4 (10.703)
Laps: 44; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 10.659
5th Norman – MG 6 (P)
Grid: 5 (12.013)
Laps: 39; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 12.033

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Round One Result: 

1st Steve – 93
2nd Scott – 92
3rd Lee – 88
4th George – 78
5th Darren – 75
6th Anthony – 72
7th Cliff – 63
8th Norman – 55

 

Championship Positions:

Round 1: Round 2: Round 3:Round 4: Round 5:Total
1
Steve

93

93
2
Scott

92

92
3
Lee

88

88
4
George

78

78
5
Darren

75

75
6
Anthony

72

72
7
Cliff

63

63
8
Norman

55

55

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