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Drivers Critical Of Church Alterations At Thruxton

Thruxton's Church Corner, prior to the alterations to the run-off. Thruxton's Church Corner, prior to the alterations to the run-off.Picture: Thruxton Circuit
 Neil Tipton
 Sunday, May 7, 2017

Alterations to the barriers and run-off area at Thruxton’s Church Corner have come under fire from drivers following a crash during today’s British Touring Car Championship, which saw Dan Lloyd’s launched into the air after striking the unprotected safety barrier.  Lloyd’s MG had been sent into a backwards spin after unintentional contact as he rounded Church - one of the fastest corners in Britain.

The corner had seen extensive work carried out over the winter to level the run previously-sloping run-off and erect new earth banking and safety barriers, following several huge crashes during the 2014 BTCC event.  The scope of the work - carried out voluntarily by the circuit - meant that planning permission had to be obtained, as it also required improvements to drainage and flood defences for Thruxton village.

A huge amount of infill was required to remove the downward slope to the corner’s run-off area,  raising it by 2.5-degrees, while a new earth provided new noise shielding where trees and undergrowth had been removed.  An Armco barrier provided the final protection at the fastest point of the corner.

With permission only granted in October, the circuit faced a race-against-time to make the changes ahead of the racing season.  The work meant that the traditional February ToCA test was moved to April 20, when the touring car drivers got their first look at the alterations.

The original announcement of the changes by Thruxton talked of a belted tyre-barrier to be placed in front of the Armco, though this was absent during the test and the BTCC races - a point that drew particular ire from Lloyd after his collision.

Speaking the ITV Sport’s Louise Goodman, he did not hold back on his criticisms: “I think it’s not right that the exit of that corner doesn’t have tyre barriers.  It doesn’t have anything to soften the blow [of a crash]... But the amount of run-off there is ridiculous and the fact that it’s just an Armco and it’s just a solid hit.  Luckily I’m in a safe car, I’m in a touring car, I’ve got a roof and a roll cage.  But look at Donington, what if an F4 car went in there at that sort of speed? That’s a worrying thing.”

Former champion Matt Neal, winner of the opening race, back up Lloyd’s thoughts, saying the changes were something the drivers had discussed prior to the meeting:  “It’s been spoken about at length and we were critical of it.  It could have been any one of us [going off].”

In Thruxton’s defence, plans to extend the run-off area by another 20 metres are in place, though these require a further planning application, which the circuit hopes to have in place in order to complete the works during the 2017/18 off-season.

Speaking when the changes were first announced, Thruxton Group Managing Director Bill Coombs said: “We made it very clear when initial discussions took place that nobody had any desire to alter the corner or dilute the challenge of Church, but at the same time, it was evident that we needed to do some work on the run-off area and barriers at the critical point where those three drivers went off [in 2014].

“I must stress that all three were unusual accidents in that it is not somewhere that competitors frequently leave the track, and there has never been any issue with the licensing authorities regarding Church – the changes are entirely voluntary and we have liaised closely with the FIA, MSA, MCRCB and ACU throughout.

“It is a huge project, but the bottom line is that once the work is complete, Church will still be the same corner and the same phenomenal experience for both drivers and riders – on a personal level, I’ve driven through there in my old Tyrrell at 155mph, and I would never want to change it. Church is such an iconic name in British motor sport and that will continue to be the case.”

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