This year there was no charge from the back of the grid as in the 2015 BTCC – having in the first two races of the Brands Hatch finale cut the 11-point advantage that BMW‘s Sam Tordoff had started the day with, Shedden’s Civic Type-R started the last 15-lap race four spots behind Tordoff, but fought past the BMW 118i to finish third and win the title by two points.
Eight contenders started the final day of the 2016 BTCC, but the first 15-lap encounter served only to tighten up the title battle, while cutting the eight to seven. Team BMR Subaru runner Jason Plato, having held third spot for most of the race and challenged Rob Austin’s Toyota Avensis for second, was demoted off the podium and out of the title chase by the MG6 of Josh Cook, which forced its way past on the last corner.
Plato’s team-mate Colin Turkington kept his faint title hopes alive by converting pole position to a dominant victory, his Levorg pulling steadily away from Austin and as a result jumping to fifth in the points, 20 behind leader Tordoff.
The leading BMW runner slipped to a 10th place finish and saw his title advantage halved by the chasing Hondas. Gordon Shedden held off Adam Morgan’s Mercedes for fifth, the second Civic of Matt Neal two further back after surviving a clash with Hunter Abbott’s Chevrolet Cruze at Druids. This led to the Cruze spinning and being hit by title contender Andrew Jordan’s Ford Focus, eliminating the Motorbase runner on the spot. The remaining two title protagonists finished together, Jordan’s team-mate Matt Jackson only managing 11th ahead of the second BMW of Rob Collard.
With 44 points still available Tordoff remained six ahead of Shedden, Neal a further four back, Collard 19 down, Turkington 20 back and the two Fords of Jackson and Jordan 22 and 37 points shy of the lead.
Four laps into race two Neal’s title hopes ended in dramatic fashion. Holding sixth place, the Honda suddenly cut out at the bottom of Paddock bend. As its driver tried to reset the engine management the car was clipped by Ashley Sutton’s MG, the MG jumping on two wheels and the Honda slamming hard into the barrier. The race was put under a safety car as Neal was gently extracted and later diagnosed with a mild concussion, his day and hopes of a fourth title over.
From pole position Turkington produced a repeat of race one, the Subaru never headed. However once Plato found a way past Austin’s Toyota, he closed up on his team-mate and to the horror of the watching Subaru team briefly looked as if he was trying to find a gap, until the closing Honda of Shedden and orders from the pits put the Subaru man on the defensive and allowed Turkington to take the flag a second clear.
Tordoff, meanwhile, was stuck behind the MG of Cook, and his eventual fifth place finish set up a grandstand finale. The BMW still held the championship lead, but by a mere two points from Shedden, with Turkington by no means out of the picture just 8 points further back.
But having seen his points lead virtually killed off, Tordoff was then handed an advantage when the reverse grid draw for the final race placed Matt Jackson’s Ford on pole and the BMW third, ahead of its Honda and Subaru rivals in fifth and seventh. And Tordoff also had the satisfaction of knowing his West Surrey team were already confirmed as manufacturer’s champions.
BMW’s big hope did what he needed to at the start of the finale, slotting into third place behind the Mercedes of Aidan Moffat as Jackson’s Focus took a lead it was not to lose.
Closest title challenger Shedden looked briefly to have lost out to the fast-starting Plato, but by the end of the lap was secure in fifth place as the third player, Turkington, slipped back out of contention to an eventual 12th place finish.
Shedden knew he had to get in front of Tordoff’s BMW and with four laps down cut the deficit by disposing of Josh Cook’s fourth-placed BMW, just as Warren Scott’s beached Subaru brought out the safety car.
On the restart two laps later the Honda immediately set about the BMW and with a swift move on the final corner snatched third place. This put the two title contenders on equal points, but with Shedden holding the advantage on race wins. And as he pulled away, Tordoff’s hopes slumped further as Adam Morgan’s Mercedes dived inside the BMW.
One final drama remained, as Dan Welch’s Proton plunged off into the Sheene Curve gravel trap, again bringing out the safety car. Frantic work by the Brands Hatch marshals cleared the obstruction in time for one final lap of racing, with Morgan on Shedden’s tail and keen to snatch the final podium place.
The Mercedes lunged but thought better of it, and as Jackson and Moffat took the flag an overjoyed Shedden came home third to take the title by two points – the first driver to successfully defend the championship since Fabrizio Giovanardi in 2008.
In the final standings, behind Shedden on 308 points and Tordoff on 306, Jackson’s final race win promoted him to third on 292, Turkington on 289 to complete an impressive first season for the Subaru team, and Collard rounding out the top five on 278.
So ended a typically frantic BTCC season – it all starts again on 2nd April 2017, back at Brands Hatch…