BTRC PREVIEW: SNETTERTON
After the emphatic success of the inaugural 'Convoy in the Park' event at Donington in July, the British Truck Racing Championship returns to action next weekend [September 9/10] at Snetterton, with five drivers still in contention for the Division 1 crown.
An action-packed nine races will foot the bill in Norfolk, with a near-capacity entry of 28 trucks expected to take to the 2.99 mile circuit across both divisions.
Ryan Smith's form in defence of his crown has been sublime, with eight race victories and a points-paying finish from each of the 22 rounds thus far giving him a 30-point advantage at the top of the standings.
The other four title protagonists are led by consistent podium finisher David Jenkins, with the MAN driver securing a popular home victory last time out in the Midlands.
Ten-time champion Stuart Oliver comes next in the Kelsa-backed American bonnetted-style Volvo VN13 and will look to add to his four race wins thus far in 2017.
He will need to be wary of the threat posed by Shane Brereton, with the latter the only other driver in the title hunt to have scored in every round so far.
Two retirements at Donington have dropped four-time series winner Mat Summerfield to the rear of the quintet, but the Summerfield Trucksport MAN is an ever-present at the front of the field and as always will pose a strong threat to his rivals.
Ray Coleman and Oly Janes have both enjoyed sporadic success in the MAN and Buggyra respectively as they duel to be 'best of the rest', but the real story from the chasing pack at Donington was a change in fortune for Michael Oliver.
In only his second season of competitive racing, the Scania driver claimed his first two podium finishes in the championship, the second after fending off a combined 15 championship titles, including father Stuart.
Terry Gibbon will be keen for a repeat of his victory at Pembrey, whilst Luke Taylor continues to chase a return to the top step in his first season with MAN machinery.
Simon Reid's IVECO took a first podium of the season at Convoy in the Park and should not be discounted, with Ricky Collett concluding the regular runners.
Mika Makinen's championship push in Division 2 has been a story of contrasts, with the Finn in devastating form at the season opener at Brands Hatch before technical maladies at Pembrey and Thruxton handed his rivals the advantage.
Four victories and a further three podiums from the contests at Nurburgring and Donington Park have, however, put the SISU SL250 driver back in pole position for a maiden class crown, with a 34-point advantage heading to Snetterton over the duo of Simon Cole and Tony Smith.
Cole himself is eyeing up a move to Division 1 next season, but in the meantime the Mercedes driver will look to repeat his race-winning form from all but two meetings in 2017 to close the gap to Makinen at the top.
Smith, meanwhile, has made five visits to the top step of the podium in his SL250, but with reigning class champion Adam Bint breathing down his neck just seven points adrift, the race is truly on to take the fight to Makinen.
Paul McCumisky, John Bowler and Luke Garrett all sit on the fringes of the title battle and will need strong weekends to stay in the hunt.
Steve Powell is undoubtedly the man 'in form', having claimed nine top four finishes in the last 12 races for TeamPower Truck Racing, and sits 22 points ahead of brother John.
Missing Nurburgring and struggling at Donington have left Trevor Martin vulnerable to consistent points-scorer Brad Smith with two markers splitting the pair, whilst Joanne Eason will look to close the gap to the pair having enjoyed her strongest result in the series with fourth at Donington last time out.
Jim Bennett will be looking for a string of strong performances at his home event, with Wayne Eason and Andrew Fulcher rounding out the usual suspects.
The on-circuit action will, as ever, be supported off-track by Truck Sport UK's popular Show Truck display and competitions, along with a whole host of entertainment for spectators.
In support of the BTRC are a host of championships from the BARC, including the inaugural round of the Renault UK Clio Cup Junior, the UK Legends, Pickups and Caterham Graduates.
It could prove a pivotal weekend in the race for both championship titles as the race to the wire at Brands Hatch in November begins in Norfolk.