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Christmas Turkington: 10 years at the top for the four-time BTCC champion

Thursday, December 26 2019

Colin Turkington claimed a record-equalling fourth Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) crown at Brands Hatch in October, almost a decade to the day that he first won the UK's biggest car racing championship. The last gasp drama of this year's deciding race surely goes down as one of the series' most heart-stopping moments, and rightly so, but cast your mind back over the last decade and you'll see that the BMW star is one of defining drivers of the modern BTCC.

Prior to 2009 Turkington had already established himself as a BTCC front-runner, largely with the West Surrey Racing (WSR) outfit which now runs the factory BMW team, albeit in MG machinery - including initially under the Team Atomic Kitten banner. Following a brief alliance with the works Vauxhall squad in 2005 Turkington returned to WSR, now branded as Team RAC, the following year ahead of the team's eventual switch to BMW machinery in 2007.

The switch to rear-wheel-drive BMW machinery paid dividends in 2009 when the Northern Irishman sailed to six victories and placed himself as the championship favourite ahead of that year's season finale. And what an extraordinary day that turned out to be.

At Brands Hatch 10 years ago, Turkington led the standing from Vauxhall ace Fabrizio Giovanardi who was in pursuit of a third straight title and Jason Plato who was remarkably right in the hunt after piecing together a last gasp deal to race an RML-prepared Chevrolet Lacetti.

BTCC_and _Support _Brands _Hatch _041009_by _Az _Edwards _147Turkington and Plato in mid-battle in 2009. Plato did the treble, Turkington got the title. Image credit Phatphoto.

Plato won the first race of the day on the full Grand Prix circuit by the smallest margin possible from Tom Chilton as he nosed ahead to win by just 0.015s on the Brabham Straight. With Giovanardi third and Turkington just eighth, it was game on for the championship. Another victory for Plato in race two then set things up for a nail-biting showdown as he shared the podium with his two title rivals, Giovanardi second ahead of Turkington.

The final race of the 2009 season had to be seen to be believed as the main contenders fought though a frenetic reverse grid pack to get to the front. Turkington was the first of the trio to make it to the front after muscling past Matt Neal, Giovanardi's team mate at the time, before Plato fought through to claim an extraordinary treble - only the second in BTCC history. Missing out on the win wasn't a disaster for Turkington though, second place was enough for him to secure a maiden BTCC crown.

Just as Turkington stock was at its highest following his first BTCC title however, his career in the UK's leading car racing championship stalled. Seldom are deals to race based solely on talent and for various reasons Turkington was unable to return to the BTCC in 2010, or indeed until 2013. During the interim he was a race-winner in the World Touring Car Championship and raced in Scandinavia, and he'd lost none of his potency behind the wheel when he returned to spearhead WSR's new BMW 1 Series Programme.

Turkington was a race-winner at just his second race meeting after returning in 2013 and was an outside bet for the title until the final round. A year later he was practically unstoppable. He won eight races in the BMW in 2014 on his way to a title that was in little doubt. Jason Plato and MG took the fight to the final round, but Turkington always had a big enough margin to make it less than a close fight.

Turkington _05Turkington was in red hot form in 2014, on his way to a second title. Image credit Jakob Ebrey

Circumstances conspired once more in the off-season to prevent Turkington from defending his crown with WSR in 2015, but this time he did manage to find a new home on the grid with Team BMR in one of its VW CCs where he lined up alongside Plato. Four wins and fourth in the standings resulted before the team became an official Subaru works entry the following year. After early teething issues for the Subaru Levorg, Turkington was rapid in the second half of the year to come close to an unexpected title.

He returned 'home' in 2017 as BMW returned as a full manufacturer with WSR and he wouldn't have to wait long for a third title as he claimed one the following season with freakishly good consistency above all else. Just one win came in 2018 but frequent second place finishes and a handful of thirds were enough to edge out Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport.

Turkington -16
The BMW man celebrates a third crown with WSR in 2018. Image credit Jakob Ebrey

This year Turkington defended his crown with WSR for the first time and armed with the new BMW 3 Series always looked favourite for overall honours. Double victories at Donington Park and Oulton Park were the backbone of an imperious campaign which set him up as the overwhelming favourite heading in to the final rounds.

It would have required a supernatural season finale for there to be any chance of him missing out and that's very nearly what happened as a comfortable lead in the opening race of the day quickly turned into a nightmare as Honda's Dan Cammish defied the odds to win in changing conditions. Things got even worse for Turkington in race two as he dropped right to the back of the pack following contact with Matt Neal as Cammish grabbed third and the championship lead.

As all seemed lost a 'never say die' drive up the order gave Turkington a chance in race three but just a few miles from home Cammish was still set to take the title. That was until he suffered the cruellest of brake failures and allowed Turkington to wrest back the championship lead by just two points. At the head of the road Plato won as Turkington claimed the title, just as was the case 10 years prior.

At 37 years of age, Turkington still has much to offer the BTCC and with it already confirmed that he'll be back on the grid in 2020 with WSR and BMW you can be sure he'll be somewhere near the sharp end.

The BTCC is back at MSV circuits for several rounds in 2020. The season starts at Donington Park on 28-29 March and then moves to the Brands Hatch Indy circuit on 11-12 April. Oulton Park is up next on 13-14 June for an early summer sizzler, before a scorcher at Snetterton on 25-26 July. The season finale will again see the champion crowned at the epic Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on 10-11 October. Tickets are on sale now for all rounds.