The myths and fables of times past would often see champions pitched into battle, seemingly against insuperable odds: The opening gambits setting remarkable scenes before the introduction of Act 2 and the hero’s journey towards conquest.

Be under no illusion, Ash Sutton might currently lead the 2019 British Touring Car Championship, but that doesn’t mean Colin Turkington will let him win it. What we witnessed at Donington last weekend was a true master at his art. Turkington’s drive, ambition and command all skilfully combined to put the triple champion firmly onto pole position, and supremely placed to harvest the points potential that a TOCA weekend now offers.

The BTCC isn’t just Britain’s most important race series, it’s also the most competitive, and this year’s grid simply brims with talent; champions and hopefuls all jostling for positions that will edge them closer to one of motor sport’s most sought after prizes.

Sutton has already proved himself to be one of its brightest stars; but Turkington’s class remains on a different level, as is that of his new BMW 330i M Sport that’s arrived fresh out-of-the-box and has already chalked up three wins from the first six races (a remarkable record for any car, let alone a newcomer). This doesn’t mean we should not expect individual moments of magic and glory from others; simply that with the level of competition now so high and the grids so close, I struggle to see who can divert the Northern Irishman off his course.

But the season’s just begun, so bring on the next race, which sets off in a fortnight at the fast and flowing Thruxton circuit.

Here are twenty of our favourite images from last weekend.

    From the early banker laps in qualifying to the race off the line, and each of the safety car restarts; not once did 2018 Champion Colin Turkington falter or allow Ash Sutton to even show a nose of intent. It was perhaps one of the most complete demonstrations of touring car racing I’ve seen in recent years. Turkington is in his element, and the new BMW 330i M Sport looks set to be a most capable of partners. There will be challenges ahead but I have no hesitation in predicting that this could very easily become one of the finest touring car combinations ever.

    Tom Ingram knows he has a lot to be thankful for, and at Donington he added Steve Ryder’s reverse-grid draw to the list. In front of thousands of Toyota staff and families, the Speedworks man made the most of Ryder’s gift to take the new Corolla from pole position to its maiden BTCC win in the final outing of the day.

    The biggest driver change over the winter months was the recruitment by Team BMW of former Ginetta champion, Tom Oliphant, to replace the outgoing Rob Collard. This is only Oliphant’s second season in the BTCC and despite some concerns over his pace, he drove superbly to claim his first touring car podium.

    For Collard, the move to Vauxhall and front wheel drive, partnering Jason Plato seemed more out of necessity than choice. His drive to the podium in Race 3 proves he chose well.

    Whilst the battle for honours within the works teams takes centre stage, it needs to be noted that the independent squad at BTC Racing are not only continuing to score very, very well, they’re also out-pointing and out-racing the same works Honda cars that they had to buy as customers. Josh Cook and Chris Smiley are clearly a remarkable pairing and both look set to drive Bert Taylor’s team to yet more silverware next time out at Thruxton.

    If you want to know how quick a driver is, look at how they perform compared to their teammate. I think we all know that Senna Proctor is a true star of the future, yet for all his flair and pace, the move to Subaru has seen him languish in the lower midfield. Ash Sutton, on the other hand, continues to find more speed and balance out of his car than any other teammates, past and present. Proctor will learn but Sutton remains supreme.

    There are times when you have to tell the brutal truth, and the brutal truth here is that the BTCC is not for Mark Blundell.

    When I was still racing karts, Blundell was on the podium in Formula One: Whilst I was still racing karts, he was winning in the CART World Series.

    One of the gutsiest drivers I have ever seen, Mark Blundell is worthy of all the status and respect that a man with his record deserves. Yet here he is, languishing at the back of the touring car grid and unable to find any of the speed that once thrilled millions around the world.

    It’s not an age thing, and it’s not the car. It’s the championship. The BTCC is one of the most demanding and challenging to master, but perhaps it’s not for a driver more used to downforce, precision and the power to drive around problems. For many years, I’ve watched Blundell do what he does best and this isn’t him. And I watched him testing at Thruxton the other week and I have to say to him (and to Dan Kirby of Trade Price Cars), openly and humbly, “stop now. Please, stop now.”

    You can’t learn the dynamics of a touring car and how to use the tyres by being pitched into frantic race weekends. It takes time and a clear head, and right at this moment, I don’t think that Blundell has either.

    I won’t ever forget some of the incredible drives of his early career, but neither will I forgive him if he continues to tarnish a once polished reputation.

    We all know that with cars and drivers being so closely matched, damage is an inevitable consequence of racing in the BTCC. Sunday was no different, Adam Morgan’s Mercedes being just one of several to be pitched into the turmoil of the Old Hairpin. Fortunately, though winded, Morgan walked away from the carnage, and to the credit of all within his team, his car was not only repaired but put straight back onto the pace for the Ciceley Motorsport man to claim two points finishes in the afternoon.

    The same could not be said of Kwik Fit’s track-side branding!

    Whilst damage to cars is frequent and sometimes severe, it’s a testament to BARC’s safety regulations that drivers most often walk away from the cars with the only serious injury being to their wallets. Andrew Jordan was one such casualty of the same incident that claimed Morgan, Jackson and Hill, and whilst his car was irreparable at the time, the former champion fared much better.

    One of the key safety factors that all teams have to observe is the ability of a driver to quickly exit the vehicle after any incident and this is something that the TOCA technical team regularly put to the measure. Here’s Josh Cook, undertaking his timed test in the BTC garage in-between sessions.

    It was another battered and bruised weekend for all at Team Hard. Jack Goff so clearly deserves a car that can take him away from the melee. Whilst for Carl Boardley, though his VW CC ended-up requiring more than a few dents to be ironed-out, the former hot-rodder did at least record his maiden points-score in Race 2.

    Two drivers who have set about the season with a determined approach to score well and score often are Tom Chilton and Rory Butcher. Both are proving their worth at each and every race and with just a single point separating them at the top of the Independent Drivers’ Championship, this is going to be a year where before too long, they’re going to have to go head-to-head. I’m not expecting blood, but I am expecting glory.

    As with the in-team battle between Ash Sutton and Senna Proctor, for very different reasons, right now, Matt Neal and Jake Hill are more than proving their own status as #1 drivers. What’s interesting is that on paper, each has a teammate who should be faster and scoring better results than they are, but both are showing the true depth of their ability by racing to positions that seem unattainable by the sister car. I’d never say ‘never’ about Matt Neal and now I’m beginning to think the same way about Hill.

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Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).