The arrival of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill in Fife is always a red letter day for motorsport fans. But this year it’s all the more special with a bumper crowd of around 20,000 Saltire-waving fans expected on race day as, finally, Covid restrictions have been lifted and Scotland eases — slowly — back closer to a degree of normality.
And while defending champ Ash Sutton heads to Knockhill with a slender five-point lead in the title race over Tom Ingram, a trio of Scots — triple champ Gordon Shedden, plus race winners Rory Butcher and Aiden Moffat — are all within touching distance of the championship lead.
“This is going to be a cracking weekend,” said Shedden, the 42-year-old from Auchterarder who returned to the BTCC this season after two campaigns in the World Touring Cars.
“The championship’s really tight this year; the top eight drivers are covered by just 32 points, and we still have six rounds and 18 races in the season.”
And Shedden, who was back to his best last time out at Oulton Park, bagging two podium finishes in his Honda Civic Type R, is looking forward to racing again in front of banks of Scottish fans.
“It’s huge news for Knockhill, Scotland and for the BTCC to have fans back,” the Scot, who is also business development director for Knockhill, continued. “We need the support; it’s been far too long, going 18 months without fans.
“I really hope we can get a massive amount of support for myself, Rory, Aiden and everyone on the BTCC package as well at Knockhill. We really need that, the extra spring in our step from a Scottish crowd.”
And while Moffat, the 24-year-old from Dalkeith, will be hoping to build on his best finish of the season, fourth place at Oulton in his Infiniti Q50, Butcher is relishing the prospect of getting back on the top step of the podium at Knockhill.
The 34-year-old from Kirkcaldy, fresh from his first win of the season at Oulton, and his first as a works driver in the Corolla for Toyota Gazoo Racing, knows exactly what it’s like to win at Knockhill.
“I’ve been fortunate to win BTCC races the last two years at Knockhill, so it would be fantastic to win again this weekend. But I know it’s going to be tough,” Butcher, who is also Shedden’s brother-in-law, smiled.
“Winning at Oulton Park felt so good. The whole team has worked tirelessly to adapt the Corolla to my driving style, and everybody needed and deserved that result. It has validated all the effort put in behind-the-scenes and taken a big weight off our shoulders.”
And Butcher, eighth in the championship, but only three points behind sixth-placed Shedden, and 32 points off leader Sutton, is hoping to take full advantage of the light “penalty ballast” he has to carry in his car.
“We’ll be relatively light this weekend — a lot of the guys ahead of me in the championship will be carrying heavier success ballast — which is good because additional weight does hurt at Knockhill, especially with the heavy braking zone into the hairpin and big drag uphill to the start/finish line,” he explained.
“Last season, I was third in the standings going to Knockhill, which meant I was lugging around a fair chunk of ballast, but I was more than 40 points away from the championship lead. This year, I’m closer on points but carrying substantially less weight, which is an ideal scenario; the championship position at the moment is almost irrelevant.
“The BTCC only comes up to Scotland once a year, and the fans turn out in their thousands and really get behind us Scottish drivers. Even just walking through the paddock, everybody wishes you well — it’s the most amazing feeling — and when you get a good result, the excitement and buzz right the way around the circuit is simply incredible.
“To come away with a third win in as many years at Knockhill would just be a dream, so let’s get out there and see what we can do.”
And the man overseeing this weekend’s BTCC extravaganza at the Fife circuit, Knockhill director of events Stuart Gray, is equally keen that the trio of Scots deliver, especially with the return of the crowds.
“The return of the BTCC will see the biggest sporting crowd, not only at Knockhill but in Fife, for almost two years,” Gray explained.
“We are delighted so many BTCC fans retained their 2020 tickets when we had to run behind closed doors, so we are truly hoping for a strong crowd on Sunday, especially as there are three Scots all vying for the top step of the podium.
“With Rory winning last time out at Oulton Park, Gordon on the podium twice and Aiden on form too, the Saltires are sure to be flying high on Sunday. Let's hope the Flower of Scotland will be heard over the circuit speakers too, signifying another home win.”