Watching the teams prepare their cars in the pit lane before sending them out for the Sunday morning warm-up, I was struck by the choreography that directs the relationship between the teams and their drivers. Timetables drive the series – sessions are short, meaning every second counts, so co-ordination between driver and team is vital. However, there's a problem. While the team want a well executed, effortless performance – drivers gliding round the track to elegant victory – the drivers seem set on a bar-room brawl instead.
Saturday saw just two half hour practice sessions on track before the 35 minute qualifying period; Sunday morning's 15 minutes barely gives cars time to get out on track and get anything more meaningful than finding out if the car goes in a straight line – and preferably round the corners as well. Already drivers and teams are handicapping themselves through mistakes. Jorg Muller, Robert Dahlgren, Jordi Gené and Kristian Poulsen have all lost places on the grid due to various transgressions: exiting the pits early, mechanics working on the car in parc fermé, sensors incorrectly configured and an engine change respectively mean all four will be fighting with one hand tied behind their back come race one.
Sunday, 9.56am. The race director has given the signal and all the cars have been rolled onto the apron outside the garages. Tyre warmers are left on till the last moment and engines grumble on tick-over. Drivers sit in their cars, thinking driver thoughts: bumps in the track, kerbs, braking markers, apex aiming points.
10am. As the lights go green for the start of the session, a concerto of revving engines up and down the pitlane breaks the silence. SEAT engineers conduct the pack of five Leon TDIs out of their herringbone formation in front of the garages and onto the track. Take your partner by the hand…
In the next set of garages up are the five BMWs: Augusto Farfus' engineer tries to tame his raging bull and keep him from taking off too early – with his foot apparently.
Then what happens when the conductor's baton comes down? What the team need and what the driver deliver often become different things once the cars take to the track – the rhythm and co-ordination is lost. With only a quarter of an hour on offer, what you don't want is damage to repair in the short time before the first race, but that's exactly what the Sunred, BMW Team Italy/Spain and Wiechers Sport teams are faced with.
Whilst Tom Coronel studiously keeps his eyes on the TV screen, his mechanics go to work on the car. Jacks up, front bodywork off, splitter removed, wheels thrown to one side. Gravel pours our of the front of the car and is removed with vacuum cleaners, brushes, screwdrivers, fingers… The minutes tick away. Similar work goes on for Stefano D'Asté and Kristian Poulsen's BMW 320si racers.
An hour later, and everyone is lined up on the grid. Reset. Deep breath and look ahead. For the mechanics, there's always someone to be watching, someone dictating the pace. Alessandro Zanardi's crew keep an eye on grid gantry lights, waiting until the last possible moment to remove the tyre warmers.
The safety car sits up at the front. The driver surveys the grid behind him. He'll be playing referee this afternoon more often than he imagines.
It's a rolling start for race one. Like every WTCC race, the odds of the pack getting through the first corner are pretty slim, but amazingly the 27 cars all stream down through Paddock Hill Bend and up to the hairpin at Druids. Could the race be a clean fight? Of course not.
Entering Druids fists start flying. 27 into one doesn't go and the SEAT of championship leader Yvan Muller turns Farfus' BMW around, triggering a chain reaction: The ProTeam BMW of Porteiro is launched into the air and hits Muller, forching him wide. As car's scatter, the Sunred SEAT of Norbert Michelisz is hit and its suspension broken, pitching it into Muller's already damaged car. Game over for both.
Straight away we have a safety car in to break up the opponents; Porteiro's bruised BMW gets back up to speed and continues to battle round despite front-end damage.
The next major victim is Norwegian Tommy Rustad's Volvo S30 – one of a pair of bio-ethanol Volvos normally seen in the Swedish Touring Car Series and entered for the first time this year in a WTCC event. Diving down to the third turn at Graham Hill, an over-optimistic lunge by the privateer ProTeam BMW of Vito Postiglione on Sergio Hernandez's similar car spins both cars – Rustad is made part of the accident by a push from behind by Gené SEAT Leon TDI and and wipes out the front left of his S30.
To add insult to injury the ProTeam sister car of Franz Engstler ploughs into the stationary cars. Rustad retires on the next lap; Engstler pits with his front-right wheel askew; Gené continues with the front of his car in tatters.The safety car is scrambled for the second time.
Postiglione gets going again, but is dropped to the back of the pack: plenty of clean air in front of him, but he finishes 21st and second last of those still standing at the end.
Farfus, dropped to the back of the field by the crash on the first lap, is in an aggressive mood: he forces his way to 20th by lap 5, and then benefits from the BMW/Volvo sandwich to make up another seven places. Sporting evidence of his hard race, he battles a similarly scarred Coronel for 9th on lap 13. By the end Farfus manages 8th position – and reverse-grid pole for Race Two.
ProTeam fix up Engstler's 320si in time for some final laps at the end of the race, to make sure everything is bolted together for the second race. On his rear bumper is a new sticker: safety-car-hunter.com. Some irony there from the German after the safety car farce at Pau.
Priaulx and Huff have a titanic struggle all through the race, but demonstrate that it is possible to race in the WTCC without taking your opponent off. Occasionally.
A few seconds back, BMW factory driver Muller is pulling every move to keep the TDI of Tiago Monteiro at bay and retain sixth place.
But it's a clear victory for the Chevy of Alain Menu, with Priaulx and Huff climbing all over each other for second and third – they cross the line with less than two tenths separating them.
RACE ONE RESULT
1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze) 28m25.945s
2: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze) +1.051
3: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) +1.240
4: Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT Leon TDI) +2.024
5: Rickard Rydell (SEAT Leon TDI) +2.420
6: Jorg Muller (BMW 320si) +5.815
7: Tiago Monteiro (SEAT Leon TDI) +6.300
8: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320si) +8.307
9: Stefano D'Asté (BMW 320si) +9.225
10: Tom Coronel (SEAT Leon TSFI) +10.884
With their big brothers in the Touring Car race leading by example, it's no surprise that the SEAT Leon Eurocup drivers feel no reason to pull their punches. Paint is swapped, body panels are bashed.
The worst and mostly pointless example of over-aggressive driving is at the end of the Eurocup race. Four cars enter the final corner at Clark line-abreast, which only ever has one result. Santiago Navarro tries to cut off Aldo Ponti but ends up turning himself around and firing them both off the track at top speed into the barriers. Navarro's car comes off much worse, in a pretty frightening crash that unfolded right in front of the crowd, who could see it coming.
The Lotus Cup cars also joined in the efforts to remove as much of the Brands Hatch's gravel from the traps. It's obviously highly sought after.
Come Race Two, the bandaging of wounds on the Touring Cars is obvious. Racers that rolled out of their trailers on Friday in pristine condition have been subjected to the usual level of WTCC abuse and new body panels and tank tape grace most cars.
This time good manners don't last past the first corner. Zanardi and the Chevrolet of Race One winner Alain Menu come together on the drop downhill through Paddock, and Menu is fired off the track – somehow the following cars all manage to avoid him; Menu scrabbles for grip on the grass, rejoins in last and is forced to pit. Michelisz, the first lap victim from Race One, once again doesn't make it through the first lap and trails Menu into the pits with a broken front right wheel.
Farfus sprints away, taking advantage of the dust-up behind, with team-mate Jorg Muller on his tail, but the safety car is already out – though it's to evacuate the mortally injured Henry Surtees.. Farfus' car is another one sporting repairs from the first race: a dented right side and white tank tape keeping it all together.
The race gets going again: lap five and Kristian Poulsen's BMW is in the gravel at Sheene Curve. Alessandro Zanardi had been gamely keeping on the back of the leading half dozen cars, but after trying to take advantage of a mistake by Monteiro at Graham Hill was caught between the recovering SEAT and a charging Huff. All the way down the straight he battled to keep the car straight, but then the cars either side braked for the next corner, unbalancing his car and spitting the BMW off. Out of luck and out of the points.
After duffing up the front of the car an hour earlier, Gené decides to even it up by removing part of the rear. An attempted move on Hernandez around the fast Westfield corner goes wrong: he goes wide, grazes the barrier and is rallying down the grass all the way up through Sheene.
Bumping with big boys helps young Brit SEAT privateer Tom Boardman to his first class victory – he and his team are ecstatic with the result, a home win.
But Farfus strolls to an easy overall victory, with team-mate Jorg Muller playing tailgunner.
RACE TWO RESULT
1: Augusto Farfus (BMW 320si) 28m09.979s
2: Jorg Muller (BMW 320si) +2.061
3: Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT Leon TDI) +7.030
4: Rickard Rydell (SEAT Leon TDI) +7.398
5: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) +7.749
6: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze) +8.427
7: Yvan Muller (SEAT Leon TDI) +16.651
8: Tiago Monteiro (SEAT Leon TDI) +17.444
9: Sergio Hernandez (BMW 320si) +18.191
10: Tom Boardman (SEAT Leon TSFI) +19.523
As the second race is ending, the teams are already beginning to break down their pit garages and pack up the trucks. Bits of car, shattered bodywork and discarded tyres litter the rear of the pits. This big bit of carbon used to be Tom Coronel's front radiator intake and splitter.
It's been a tough debut for the Swedish Volvos, particularly Rustad's car. Luckily there's a handy bin right by the back of their pits for all the destroyed bodywork. The team contemplate their weekend's work, at least knowing they'll be a lighter load going back across the North Sea.
Who's been doing what to who is usually pretty obvious in touring car racing. It's like when you find a scrape on your car in the car park: check the paint that's been ground into the damaged area, go down the row of cars and find the perpetrator. In the WTCC there's always the next round to get your own back. The fight never ends.