The TCR UK Touring Car Championship heads to Donington Park this weekend (9-10 September) for what will be two crucial races in deciding the 2023 title destiny. The 22-car field includes some returning names to spice up the action even further.
Importantly, this weekend’s two races are the last chance that the drivers will have to use as dropped scores, with all points scored at the Brands Hatch finale next month unable to be dropped.
A weekend on the East Midlands venue’s 1.92-mile National circuit comes just three weeks after an action-packed event at Silverstone where Carl Boardley strengthened his grip on the championship lead.
Boardley’s Silverstone win was his fourth of the season, and he now holds a 45-point lead at the top of the standings with a maximum of 88 points available each weekend. The experienced racer’s CUPRA Leon Competición, run by his own team in conjunction with Hart GT, will carry 30kg of compensation weight this weekend. But Boardley has already proven that, with the right set-up, that’s a handicap that can be overcome.
Leading the chase of Boardley is Area Motorsport driver Bruce Winfield, who was the early-season points leader. Winfield qualified on the front row and claimed a podium finish aboard his Hyundai i30 N at Silverstone last month but, being ballast-free, would have hoped for a better return to keep the pressure on Boardley. But the fighting spirit Winfield showed to climb from the back to third in the second race was a positive. Now fully laden with 40kg additional weight, he’ll need more of that this weekend at a track where he is a past winner.
Behind the leading two, the rest of the top seven in the current championship standings are incredibly close. Just 10 points separates Jac Constable in third from his Rob Boston Racing team-mate Joe Marshall in seventh. But they’ll all need very strong weekends at Donington to remain in realistic contention heading into the Brands Hatch championship finale.
The Audi RS3 LMS Gen II cars of Constable and Marshall have proven to be extremely quick this year, the model’s first in TCR UK. Constable has a pole position, win and another two podiums to his name, while Marshall has also stood on the podium three times. The pair will expect to be strong contenders to add to that tally this weekend, especially as they are carrying very little compensation weight; Constable in particular has a liking for the Donington, having won there in each of the past two years.
Sandwiched by the RBR drivers in the points are Jenson Brickley and Area Motorsport pairing Alex Ley and Adam Shepherd. The Area duo had contrasting weekends at Silverstone. It started so well for Shepherd who scorched to pole position after discovering previously undiagnosed power-sapping problems aboard his i30. But it went rapidly downhill for the multiple one-make saloon champion with a pair of retirements, one caused by mechanical failure and the other from contact. Ley, on the other hand, had a disappointing start before ending on a high with his second win of the season.
With more luck, Shepherd – who won at Donington last year – will surely break into the winner’s circle over the season’s four remaining races. Hyundai Customer Racing Junior Driver Ley will also be focusing on race wins now that the overall title is something of a long shot. Area’s quartet is completed by Luke Sargeant in the ever-popular Hyundai Elantra N. The first-year driver has been making steady progress and secured a first top-10 finish last time out.
Brickley has had a fine first season in TCR UK, just like Boardley who is effectively the youngster’s de facto team-mate. The two single-car CUPRA Leon Competición squads share information, which made it particularly galling for Brickley when his mistake in the second Silverstone race took Boardley off and cost both points. Brickley’s resulting penalty dropped him to eighth, his joint-worst result of the season. But that itself is a demonstration of the consistency the Leicestershire driver has shown this year. Any home advantage Brickley has this weekend may be restricted by it being his first race meeting on the National layout, but the quick learner is unlikely to let that hold him back.
Currently eighth in the championship standings is Brad Hutchison. The Yorkshireman, rarely seen without a smile on his face, has been a model of consistency as he swaps the ageing Gen I-spec Audi run by family team Bond It with MPHR to a newer spec CUPRA Leon Competición for this weekend.
Reigning champion Chris Smiley lies ninth in the points after a disappointing season aboard the new Honda Civic Type R FL5. His Restart Racing crew are now focusing firmly on learning more about the car so that they can get it better dialled into the British circuits with the aim of reclaiming the title next year.
On the other side of the garage, Smiley’s young team-mate Scott Sumpton continues to stick with the older FK7 model at present. He reaped the rewards at Silverstone with his best weekend yet, highlighted by qualifying a career-best third. Filled with confidence, Sumpton will aim to continue that form this weekend.
Two more drivers buoyed by very strong performances last time out are Matthew Wilson (JWB Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición) and Oliver Cottam (Paul Shearing Racing Gen II Audi). Wilson was delighted to score a maiden podium, a result that lifted him to 10th in the standings. Cottam meanwhile impressed many with a step forward in pace although he was denied a podium by driveshaft failure. Sheard will be running two cars again this weekend, with Jonathan Beeson returning in a second Audi.
A familiar theme of TCR UK’s 2023 season has been the wretched luck of Bradley Kent (Essex & Kent Motorsport Hyundai Veloster N) and Callum Newsham (JH Racing Hyundai i30 N). Amazingly, both reside outside the top 10 in the points with just one podium between them, despite clear frontrunning pace. Each must be due a change of fortune soon.
After returning to TCR UK at Silverstone, Jeff Alden continues his programme in an Opel Astra. Entered by Matrix Motorsport, the car will run alongside the sister Vauxhall-badged version of Darelle Wilson and his DW Racing crew.
Mark Smith and Alistair Camp are two more drivers making returns this weekend. Experienced tin-top racer Smith appears for the first time in over twelve months with his CUPRA TCR. For Civic Cup title contender Camp, it’s a case of making the most of there being no Civic Cup action this weekend to have a second outing in the Pro Alloys Racing Hyundai i30 N ahead of what he hopes to make a full season next year.
TCR UK also features two sub-categories: the Tom Walker Memorial Trophy for rookies and those without podium finishes in previous years and the Goodyear Diamond Award for drivers aged over 40. In an outstanding debut season, overall championship leader Carl Boardley currently leads both.
In the Goodyear Diamond Award, Boardley has a big margin over his pursuers Garry Townsend (Audi RS3 LMS Gen II), Andy Wilmot (who is set to miss this weekend) and Rick Kerry (Team AFM Racing CUPRA TCR). He could clinch the title this weekend. The Tom Walker Memorial Trophy is closer, with Jenson Brickley and Joe Marshall keeping up the pressure on Boardley.
The TCR UK cars will be on track twice each day at Donington, the venue that has held more championship races than any other. A Free Practice session at 0910hrs on Saturday morning (9 September) kicks things off, before Qualifying takes place at 1155hrs.
Both races will be on Sunday (10 September). Round 12 is scheduled to start at 1045hrs while lights out for Round 13, the revered-grid finale, is at 1530hrs.
Qualifying and both races will be streamed live and can be accessed via TCR UK’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@tcrukseries
To find out more about the TCR UK Touring Car Championship visit https://www.tcr-uk.co.uk/ for more info and how to get involved.