2023 British Touring Car Championship Heads North to Oulton Park

I try to get to at least two BTCC meetings a year but if I can only go to one, it’s Oulton Park. It’s a fabulous circuit, strung out around the parkland grounds of the long-since demolished Oulton Hall. Nine completely different corners, a chicane, and a lot of elevation is packed into 2.26 miles. It’s narrow and fast, a real challenge for the drivers that they all relish.

Oulton is a great place to watch racing, as well. The place is immaculately presented as MotorSport Vision circuits always are; there are spectator areas around the whole circuit, the facilities are first-rate including a very good restaurant where the food is delicious and reasonably priced (I had hoisin duck). When the BTCC is in town, there are lots of traders selling tempting wares, several of the teams bring stands for autograph sessions, you’ll find fun fair rides for the kiddies.

The paddock is completely open, where you’ll see the teams prepare their cars. Some of them are mega-money professional operations with elaborate marquees next to half-million pound transporters. Some of them are amateur enthusiasts with little more than a trailer and a motorhome.

Sadly, you can’t go into the pit garages that house the BTCC teams but you can wander along the back of the building and chat to team personnel, officials, and drivers. You may have to walk and talk but everyone is very friendly and open.

The BTCC attracts one of the biggest crowds of the season to Oulton Park, people coming from across the north-west of England and further afield; I travel the two hours or so from North Yorkshire. The spectators are passionate, knowledgeable and extremely well-prepared if the number of chairs, umbrellas, and gazebos lining the banks are anything to go by. I even saw a home-made mobile bar.

Such a crowd generates a fantastic atmosphere, which is a big reason I make the trek over there. Nostaglia is a factor, too – I grew up half an hour down the road near Crewe. Everyone arrives early and stays late. Several hundred campers are there all weekend.

This is all good stuff, but the most important thing is how close you can get to the action. And you can get very close. There are places where you can stand so close to the track that you almost feel like you could touch the cars as they pass. You can certainly feel them.

So what of the racing? Oulton Park marks the halfway point of the BTCC season. NAPA Racing UK driver Ash Sutton arrived leading the championship having won six of the previous nine races and duly put his Ford Focus ST on pole position for the first race. But the day was all about the BMWs.

Fan favourite Jake Hill leapt into the lead at the start of Race One from second on the grid and had a relatively quiet race thereafter, securing the victory by nearly two seconds. That’s a yawning chasm of time in the BTCC. He repeated the victory in Race Two having started from pole in the Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport BMW 330e M Sport.

The grid for Race Three is reversed from the results of Race Two. On this occasion, the top seven were reversed, putting Adam Morgan on pole in his BMW Motorsport-entered 330e. He led the field away at the start but was passed by four-time champion teammate Colin Turkington when the race resumed after an early safety car period.

That’s where the Northern Irishman stayed for the rest of the race, his victory a remarkable turnaround after starting Race One plum last having been disqualified from qualifying for a technical infringement. Hill followed him home to take second place.

As for championship leader Ash Sutton, he finished second to Hill in the first two races but retired a few hundred yards into Race Three with broken suspension, after attempting to post his car through a closing gap. Sutton remains at the top of the standings, but reigning champion Tom Ingram is just six points in arrears.

Oulton Park generates good, close quarters dicing among the BTCC chargers, but it’s actually quite hard for the cars to overtake these days. Perhaps their rather large size is a factor. It’s not the best day of BTCC racing you’ll see, but all the things I talked about earlier more than make up for it.

The BTCC wasn’t the only racing on the day. Support races were held for the British Formula 4 Championship, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, MINI Challenge and Radical Cup UK. That’s a varied selection of single-seaters, sports cars and saloons, all of which delivered some good battles up and down the field.

F4’s races were won by up-comers Sonny Smith and James Higgins, the Porsche race by the highly rated Adam Smalley, likely future touring car star Jamie Osborne triumphed in the MINIs, and experienced pedaller Abdelmajeed Khateeb took the Radical win.

The BTCC returns to the North for its next meeting on 29-30 July, traveling to Yorkshire and Croft Circuit, near Darlington. I’ll be there. I’ll also go to Oulton more often. It’s a bit of a trek but so worth it.