By Mick Palmer
Here we are again. For a fifth season in a row the TCR UK (or for a couple of years the TCT,) crown comes down to the final meeting of the season. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended three of the previous four (accreditation for the 2020 Covid limited season was knocked back unfortunately) and will be trackside again for the upcoming championship showdown on Sunday. And yes, I’m a little bit excited.
For the first time the dishing out of title silverware won’t happen at what was becoming a traditional season closer at Donington Park. For 2022 the driver who finishes the year at the top of the table will collect their wares at Snetterton in Norfolk as the series visits the track for the first time. Not only is it a debut at the classic circuit, it’s a bit Touring Car old school with the 200 layout being used. That configuration being the closest to the classic setup used in the Class A and Super Touring eras.
The current forecast is for rain, and a fair bit of it – but hopefully not to the levels that hit, and considerably delayed, the end to the inaugural TCR UK season in 2018. That meeting was really just a confirmation event for Dan Lloyd claiming the championship, but the heavens opened and the circuit simply became undriveable for a couple of hours.
Between 2019 and 2021 it was a multi-faceted affair with TCR and other two litre Touring Cars running in two classes. The Touring Car Trophy encompassed the entire field and the TCR machines ran in a TCR UK sub-class. The 2019 season finale was really between three drivers for TCT honours with Henry Neal, James Turkington and Lewis Kent in contention – the latter two were also duking it out for the TCR crown. Neal – racing a Dynamics run 2012 BTCC Honda Civic – took the TCT title with a stylish win in the last race of the year. Ciceley racer Turkington – whose elder brother Colin had just grabbed a fourth BTCC crown – was supported by Adam Morgan in his quest to bring two Touring Car titles to the family in the space of a couple of weeks. Seventh overall in the final encounter was enough to seal the deal. Neal retained the TCT title in 2020, with Kent – an ever present Hyundai campaigner in the series – taking the TCR UK spoils.
In 2021 the battle for both the TCT and TCR was a five way affair as the year ended (for the second consecutive season) with a triple header. Bradley Kent was eliminated early on on the last day of the season and Max Hart found himself edged out, but Dan Kirby kept just in touch, but wasn’t quite close enough when the final flag dropped on the year. The real fight was between Bruce Winfield – who’d put in an impressive set of performances across the two final rounds and Lewis Kent – who had been stripped of all his qualifying times on race day and had to kick off race one from the back of the grid. Playing the points well in a field that featured 16 TCR cars (the biggest TCR grid prior to 2022) Kent wrapped up the title in the third race. Going into the final round this year Kent – now racing a Velostar in place of the i30 examples he has raced over the last four years – the Essex & Kent Motorsport racer is an outside chance at taking a third successive TCR UK title trophy.
At the front of the field Issac Smith and Chris Smiley head the pack. With dropped scores disposed of it’s a straight fight between the contenders. Golf racer Smith has headed the field throughout most of the year – achieved by delivering measured and consistent drives. He has grabbed five podiums, and has never finished below seventh in the 13 races to this point. It has meant that a choice cut of points have had to be slashed. Such has been the metronomic performance of the Race Car Consultants driver that 36 points have had to be cast aside – with no other driver being in a position to have the need to drop any points. The other contenders have a mixture of two races either out of the points, ending in retirement, or in the case of Alex Ley, two races not entered. It will be interesting to see how Smith and his team approach the final two races. Go for broke and that elusive first win of 2022? Or continue with the form of the year – balancing the books and grabbing the points?
Smiley landed in the newly reborn TCR UK with a bang. As a BTCC race winner, racing a JAS Motorsport Honda Civic run by Restart Racing and his old BTC Racing gaffer Bert Taylor, he won the opening race of the year. Naturally it put a target on his back, and had others looking in his direction expecting simple domination. That didn’t happen. Some tech trouble and BoP changes hampered him across the year, and surprisingly the Oulton opener has so far been the only win of the 2022 season. Expect to see a real push for the front of the field here – while trying to keep his challengers behind.
At first glance it looks like it would be a tough ask for the rest of the title chasers to even have their hat in the ring, but if both of the title favourites have one poor race – and remember, there is a 22 car entry for the meeting – then four drivers could come into contention. The points for qualifying are six for pole down to one for sixth, and a fastest lap is worth a point, so two of those are up for grabs. For each race 40 points are dished out for a win, with 35 and 30 for the other podium positions. That runs down to a point for 15th place. Theoretically a driver could notch up 88 points. The table currently stands with Smiley at the top on account of having a win under his belt.
Adam Shepherd has hit a rich vein of form. The i30N racer took a debut win at Donington and has been building a decent points haul with podiums to support his tilt at glory. He could be the one to capitalise if either of the lead two trip up, and with the weather that looks likely to affect qualifying, and at least one race, already predicted – that could level the field. Winfield is switching from a Cupra León to an i30N, which could hamper him if he doesn’t adapt quickly. It’s one thing to test a new car, quite another to race one, but his advantage is that he was in a similar position last season being in with an outside chance, so he has experience in a similar situation in the championship.
For Kent and Ley it is a long shot. The defending champ is 60 points behind the leaders, and his TCR crown could be removed before the final race. Even a dominant qualifying and race one win might not be enough to keep him in there, but he will push on until the end of the day. Alex Ley has been the revelation of the season. The 17 year old has the most wins in TCR UK this year, even without running the two opening races. Three visits to the top of the podium have marked him out as something really special, but realistically he’d need at least a couple of the front runners to surrender before the weekend begins to have any shot at the title. The pair though will likely influence the destination of the 2022 crown. They will be at the front no matter what and in aiming for wins they’ll give no quarter to the championship favourites.
Streaming on YouTube via the TCR UK channel, qualifying begins on Sunday morning at 10:30am. The two races are scheduled for 1:30pm and 3:30pm – both with a 20 minute build up and post race coverage of championship celebrations.