By Mick Palmer
Hamilton corner at Snetterton.
BTCC Race one – Lap five.
I photographed these 21 cars pass through that turn, and of that part of the field 10 drivers placed a part of the contact patch of their right side tyres over the edge of the kerb. This is a breach of the new Motorsport UK track limits rules to be introduced at the end of this month for national racing. The rules were adopted early for TOCA meetings – from the beginning of the season at Donington Park – meaning that the headlining British Touring Car Championship is one of the competitions that has been watched carefully to see how effectively the rules can be policed.
In the gallery below you can see a series of photos taken from behind Hamilton over that period on lap five.
Below that I can share what I witnessed from trackside – and why from the point of view of officials it is already becoming a thankless and impossible task with a high profile championship like the BTCC – a task that will only increase in difficulty when it comes into force nationwide for club racing.
This past Sunday the BTCC races at Snetterton did not repeat the upfront drama of Brands Hatch where Ricky Collard was stripped of a race victory thanks to the implementation of the 2023 regulation change. During qualifying 20 individual lap times were deleted for exceeding track limits, but during the races under the totting up process there was not a single penalty dished out. There were warnings, but what I witnessed, and photographed, trackside did not tally with the Race Control messages that did pop up on the timing screens.
On lap five after I took this series of shots I checked TSL and although cars were pinged, it did not add up to the total taking this corner alone. There are 12 corners at Snetterton and the races are 12 laps long. That equates 144 opportunities to cut an apex, or run wide on exit – but, I was told by an official – only three corners were properly monitored. That leaves 96 opportunities per race (if you don’t include straights) to ‘get away’ with breaking the limit.
There are problems with adhering to track limits in British motor racing. There have been for a long time. Across the UK and Ireland there are around 200 different championships, series and one-off events for circuit racing, and time and again from competitors I’ve heard complaints about their rivals taking liberties.
I have wrote extensively about track limits in the latest issue of Motor Racing UK magazine, and have followed that up with another piece in the upcoming issue, but here, being close to the action as a photographer and journalist, I realised how difficult it really is in the moment for the people who do, and will have to, monitor and enforce the changes.
Hamilton is a fast corner, and by this time the gap from the first photo of Ricky Collard to the last of Nic Hamilton was around 15 seconds. How can you pick out those 10 cars in that time? I was within a couple of feet of the track at that point – you really don’t realise how quick the cars are until you get that close – there’s so much happening that it’s impossible to judge when a full pack goes by at speed. To monitor that corner on that lap in that 15 second period a pair of eyes would have to identify a guilty party every 1.5 seconds.
That is on average every one-and-a-half seconds where you have to 100% identify and confirm that a car has broken the rules, which car it is, and note for reporting. That task in a BTCC race is arguably easier than most other UK championships.
Most officials at a BTCC race are fans – they know who is who in a pack. They can pick out drivers easily – without picking up on car numbers. Like most race fans they will not be as well versed in being able to have instant recall of who is who during a supporting F4 race for example, and it becomes more difficult again at club races. At Croft last weekend there were 115 different Caterhams racing in five different championships. There, identifying a car is not so easy, even for the ardent club official, as we see with the current system. Miss a number of a car in the pack and they’re off scot free.
When you’re close you can be definitive in determining whether a car has transgressed, but in a pack it’s hard to work out who it is. From a distance it’s easy to see which cars might be guilty, but in many cases you can’t tell if they went wide. From my vantage point it was harder to quickly identify the cars compared to being on the spectator banking overlooking the Bentley Straight, but I had a better view of marginal calls.
Later in a race it’s easier to spot as the field spreads out, but arguably it is then not as critical to get the call right. When the cars are closer they have more chance of using a couple of transgressions to gain an advantage, with a less likely chance of being caught.
Whether or not drivers, fans or officials agree with the rules, they are what they are. The drivers are attempting to comply. In the upcoming issue of Motor Racing UK Magazine four BTCC drivers told us how they take different angles to what the implications of the track limits rules in how they are adapting mentally. It makes interesting reading where one talks of ‘unlearining’ a part of their craft, and another tells us that the new rules are ‘silly’ and are ‘making the racing boring.’
At the moment the rules are the rules in the BTCC – no matter how ridiculous they are. The issue won’t go away, and once it is implemented across the board at club level there are going to be some interesting days at the track – and evenings reading revised results. Motorsport UK are adamant that they won’t back down, and they can’t now that the ball has been rolled. Once they are in, that’s it for this year at least – otherwise we might end up with numerous championships being contested in court post-season if at any point the rules are rescinded.
At Snetterton on Sunday three parts of the track had observers to make judgement calls. Some people have stated – correctly in my opinion – that unless the entire track is policed, it is not a fair rule. They have also pointed out that it is almost an impossibility to police a particular corner with a single pair of eyes. These photos – a 15 second snapshot of one day at a high profile event – demonstrate the difficulties that a Judge of Fact faces, and that there is an incredible amount of pressure on them to get it right. It is not a position I’d like to find myself in.