2018 SEASON REVIEW: TCR UK TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
The first-ever season of TCR UK drew to a close at Donington Park in late October and so we’ve finally had a chance to sit down and take stock of an eventful first year. It’s difficult to believe how much has happened since we first took to the track in April, but the twists and turns of the 2018 season make for interesting reading.
The championship began at Silverstone with a grid of thirteen cars, representing six different car brands. The sun shone (even if it was a bit on the chilly side), the circuit ran out of entry tickets and we saw two good races that delivered plenty of entertainment. Tens of thousands of fans watched the live coverage online and many thousands more caught up with the highlights programmes that were broadcast on Sky Sports, Motorsport TV and Front Runner.
Unlike some other championships, one of the benefits of owning and running a TCR car is the fact that you can compete in any number of TCR championships around the world. That was clear right from the start of the year, as Olli Kangas from Finland and Swedish siblings Andreas and Jessica Bäckman entered the opening rounds. Olli then went on to compete in TCR Germany and the Bäckmans entered every round of TCR UK as well as running in the TCR Scandinavia series.
Rounds 3 and 4 saw what was, for most of us, the longest journey of the year to Knockhill. The welcome from Stuart and his team couldn’t have been warmer and, apart from a murky start to Sunday, the weather was a very pleasant surprise. Who knew that the sun shone in Scotland…?
The circuit’s distinction of being licenced in both directions allowed us the unusual luxury of being able to choose whether to run in the ‘normal’ clockwise direction or to do something different and opt to use the anticlockwise layout. The decision to go for the latter prompted a fair amount of discussion beforehand, particularly regarding the first corner and the number of overtaking opportunities, but two exciting races played out and the feedback from drivers, teams and fans couldn’t have been more positive. The sight of Josh Price standing on the podium in both races, despite it being his TCR debut, and Sean Walksinshaw’s third place in Race 2 confirmed that our policy of doing things ‘a little differently’ had more than paid off.
Both Stewart Lines and Carl Swift missed Knockhill while their cars were converted from using DSG transmissions to sequential gearboxes and the pair returned for the next races at Brands Hatch having decided to pair up and run under the Maximum Motorsport banner. Brands also saw the largest grid of the season so far, with Alex Morgan entering the Renault Mégane that he uses in TCR Germany and Ollie Taylor making the switch to the FK7 Honda Civic that he would use for the remainder of the season. We could have had a total of 17 cars on the grid but, despite some sterling efforts, we couldn’t quite translate two late enquiries into entries.
Ollie’s sprint to Paddock Hill Bend in Race 1 set up a great scrap with Dan Lloyd while Lewis Kent’s increasing confidence meant he claimed his first podium finish of the year. Race 2 was then one of the best races of the season so far, with Carl unlucky not to finish on the podium and Jessica in floods of tears as she collected her first TCR UK trophy for finishing second. However, her rookie mistake of spraying her champagne too soon and allowing Dan and third-placed Howard Fuller to reply with two full bottles probably won’t be repeated…
The meeting at Castle Combe finally proved that Dan Lloyd was beatable! Ollie Taylor grabbed pole position by a mere three-thousandths of a second and then went on to lead Race 1 almost from lights to flag. Dan’s robust pass on the final lap led to the Clerk of the Course reversing the race result and so Ollie became only the second driver to win a round of TCR UK. The second race then saw Carl Swift score the maiden podium finish that was denied to him at Brands Hatch, while Dan and Ollie finished first and second The incidents at Quarry corner in Race 1 and Camp corner in Race 2 resulted in the first penalty points of the season handed out and so Stewart Lines, Dan Lloyd and Jessica Bäckman all lost championship points as a result.
Oulton Park then saw Finlay Crocker hand over the Verizon Connect Racing Honda Civic to Ash Sutton and the reigning BTCC champion duly delivered a perfect weekend for the team. Pole position and two race victories meant Ash took maximum points away from the one-day event and the format itself drew praise from drivers and teams alike. The event also saw one of the biggest crowds of the season, with the grid walk allowing hundreds of fans to see the cars up close.
Despite its compact format, the event wasn’t without incident. A dramatic crash in Race 1 sidelined the CUPRA of Carl Swift and Robert Gilmour’s Alfa Romeo while a clash in Race 2 between Dan Lloyd and Stewart Lines saw another fifteen-point penalty awarded to Dan. Lewis Kent was unlucky not to score his best result of the season when he ran wide through the penultimate corner and so allowed Ollie Taylor to snatch second place in the sprint for the line.
With Croft clashing with the TCR Scandinavia round at Rudskogen, Andreas Bäckman was forced to switch from his regular Volkswagen Golf to the SWR FK2 Honda Civic. Despite his lack of experience with the car, Andreas enjoyed a near-perfect weekend, firstly securing pole position, then winning Race 1 and finally securing another podium finish in Race 2. Ollie Taylor was the other race winner, while Finlay Crocker re-took the wheel of the Verizon Connect Racing Honda to secure his first podium result of the season by finishing second between Ollie and Andreas in an all-Honda top three.
Croft also saw the Drivers’ championship battle take a dramatic twist, when Dan Lloyd recorded his first DNF of the season. Broken suspension meant the WestCoast Racing VW ended Race 2 in the infield and so Dan’s lead over Ollie had shrunk to 31 points with a possible 91 on offer at the season’s final event.
WestCoast Racing had already secured the provisional Teams’ Championship, so Donington Park was all about the battle between Dan and Ollie for the Drivers’ title. The sun had shone on the series for almost the entire year, so we were probably overdue the kind of weather Donington threw at us…
Because of an incident in one of the support races and a pause while we waited for the weather to improve, both races were delayed and shortened. Going into Redgate for the first time, Ollie Taylor fell foul of the slippery conditions and slid across the track. Dan Lloyd then delivered another determined drive to take his eighth win of the season and so secured the Drivers’ title with one race in hand.
The season’s final race then saw a couple of firsts. After returning to the championship for the first time since Brands Hands, Josh Price had been denied a podium finish in Race 1 by a fuel pressure problem, but had no such issues in Race 2 to become the fifth winner of a TCR UK race. Behind Josh, Stewart Lines also finished the year on a high note thanks to holding off Dan Lloyd to record his first podium result by finishing in second place.
So, despite the fact that the fight for the Drivers’ championship looked done and dusted by Castle Combe, it was eventually only decided at the year’s final race meeting. Congratulations to Dan Lloyd and WestCoast Racing on becoming the first winners of the two TCR UK titles and thanks to each and every one of the drivers and teams for making the series’ maiden season such a success.