Speaking with Gordon Shedden after Knockhill, you could already sense a slight deflation in his hopes at retaining the BTCC crown for a third year in succession. The contraversy surrounding boost still loomed, and while the Honda may still be the best chassis on the current grid, it was evident that in comparison to other cars, it was lacking in other areas.
His fears were proven as the BTCC headed to Rockingham Motorspeedway for Round 8 of the 2017 season. The reigning champion could only muster the 8th row of the grid, while up at the sharp end a new face took their maiden BTCC pole, and then converted it to a maiden win in the opening round of the day, Team BMR’s James Cole. A driver who has had mixed fortunes so far in the BTCC, Cole has been transformed recently by the Subaru Levorg, with a string of top 5 finishes that are allowing him to support teammates Jason Plato and Ash Sutton.
Shedden on the other hand, would have a race day to forget, and it would have to go down as one of the worst performances from the Flying Scotsman in recent years, although a lot of it can be attributed to misfortune. A tangle with BMW’s Rob Collard in Race 1 saw him drop a lap down in 30th place, while in the second race of the day similar contact with the Toyota of Rob Austin saw him retire. The dejection on his face was all too apparent on the walk back to the pitlane, having looked so strong in the opening half of the season, he was witnessing his chances of a third straight title vanish before his eyes.
But while that may be a bitter blow to the Scot, the same may not be true for the championship. Take Formula 1 as an example, in the past 16 years there have only been 6 different World Champions, with 13 of those titles taken by the same 4 drivers. This has been met with increasing criticism to the sport becoming dull and predictable.
Now while the BTCC does not have the same issue, in the last two years we have seen 13 and 12 different race winners respectively, the same team and chassis has almost always taken the crown in the last 5 years, Honda. Since 2011, the Team Dynamics outfit have claimed 4 separate titles, three of which have come at the hands of Gordon Shedden. Honda has another title in the same period thanks to the independent outfit of Pirtek Racing and Andrew Jordan back in 2013.
This recent dominance has riled many fans, claiming that the once unpredictable championship has very much become a Honda affair, therefore the prospect of a season whereby they are not in the title hunt excites many.
It also makes sense from a commercial prospective too. Subaru entered the championship for the first time in 2016 looking to make the same mark it once had back in the World Rally Championship, and it is in the running for the second consecutive year. This makes an attractive proposition for other manufacturers, such as the returning Alfa Romeo brand, as the current generation of regulations ensures no one team remains on top for long, unlike other championships. Similarly, the return of BMW as a manufacturer entry has also been greeted with a chance of the title in its first season.
As a result, one man’s loss is a championships gain. While Gordon Shedden may be worthy of a record-equalling fourth title, it may be in the championship’s best interest that a different marque takes the honours in 2017, to ensure the long-term growth and commercial viability of the championship continues.