Ulster trio eager to bolster their trophy advantage
A check of the Championship tables for three of British racing's most prestigious classes shows a hat-trick of Ulster drivers in the No.1 spots as they head to Oulton Park this weekend for a meeting which will mark the halfway point in the season.
Colin Turkington, Daniel Harper and Jack Young have all shown impressive form, racking up victories in their efforts to bring British titles back to Northern Ireland.
Turkington, of course, is the most high-profile member of the trio and the three-time champion again leads the British Touring Car series in his West Surrey racing BMW. Oulton Park is one of his favourite circuits; indeed, it is the track where he scored his sole victory of 2018 en route to BTCC title No.3.
"Oulton incorporates some of the most demanding corners in British motorsport such as Cascades and Druids which require a lot of commitment, and it's narrower than most tracks, which enhances the sense of speed," he explained.
"You need to be on point if you want to be on the pace. But I thrive on this challenge in qualifying because if you do string a near perfect lap together, the feeling is so good."
As series leader, his 3 Series BMW will have the handicap of carrying maximum 'success ballast' during qualifying and the first of the three races which he says "will be difficult" but he remains confident.
"The plan is to really attack from the outset and go into the summer break with the momentum on our side," he added.
Josh Cook (Honda) and Ash Sutton (Subaru) are next in line behind Turkington in the standings but his greatest threat may come from BMW team-mate Andrew Jordan, who has won five of the 12 races so far.
Cook's BTC Racing team-mate Chris Smiley picked up his first podium of the season at the Croft meeting but it ended disappointingly for the Carrickfergus driver when he was nudged into the barriers in race two by Sutton.
"It was good to get on the podium but unfortunately what happened later has really hurt us, and the fact that the other driver was given a penalty tells the story - but it doesn't get us the points back that we lost," said Smiley.
There was disappointment, too, for Young when the second of two wins at Croft in the UK Renault Clio Cup was taken away from him for allegedly 'creeping' on the start line but the 17-year-old Methodist College student still leads the series.
He took his anger out by travelling to France and winning both races in the Clio International Open at the Paul Ricard circuit last weekend.
Young has a 12-point lead over Max Coates.
Eighteen-year-old Harper has been the dominant driver in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB series and has good memories of Oulton Park, the venue where he scored his first win in the 2018 series.
He has two victories this season but was caught out by the rain at the start of the second race at Croft, electing to continue too long on dry tyres when others went to the pits, and paid the price. Nevertheless, the Hillsborough driver has a 15-point lead over Lewis Plato and is 24 ahead of former champion Josh Webster.
Meanwhile, a fourth driver has been added to the TF Sport Aston Martin team for the 24 Hours of Spa race, Denmark's former Le Mans winner Nicki Thiim joining Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Ahmad Al Harthy in their GT3 Vantage. He will join for testing ahead of the July 27-28 race.