This weekend will see the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship decided during the final 3 races of the year, which are set to be held around the world famous Brands Hatch GP Circuit.
Favourite for the championship will be Honda Yuasa Racing’s Gordon Shedden who heads into the weekend with a 15 point lead. For Shedden this would mark his first series crown and, after coming mighty close to the championship last season, he aims to become the first Scottish BTCC champion since John Cleland in 1995.
’I'm feeling relaxed and actually quietly confident.
Shedden’s season started badly at Brands Hatch back in April with electrical issues before a disqualification in race 3 for restarting after a red flag. Following Brands Hatch Shedden went on to win 4 of the next 6 races and has won more races than any other driver this season.
Shedden would be even further ahead in the Championship if it wasn’t for another disqualification, this time at Snetterton following a podium finish, and also more valuable points lost at Knockhill with a non-finish trying to avoid someone else’s accident.
After struggling at Silverstone with straight-line speed Shedden now heads into this weekend with more confidence and said, “I’m feeling relaxed and actually quietly confident. Silverstone was our car’s bogey circuit and we came out of it still ahead. I’d rather have the points in the bag any day of the week. As championship leader it means I’ll have to start the weekend (qualifying and Sunday’s first race) with maximum success ballast in my car but the Civic’s chassis around Brands’ high-speed corners should really come into its own.”
Before Silverstone the man still probably favourite for the title was Shedden’s Honda Yuasa team mate Matt Neal, who had hoped to equal Andy Rouse’s record of 4 BTCC crowns. However Neal suffered one of his worst weekends, during more than 20 years spent in the BTCC, failing to score a single point and ending race 2 in flames.
The man in form heading into the weekend, without doubt, is MG KX Momentum driver Jason Plato. This season is MG’s first in the series since 2003 and, despite not turning a wheel prior to the first round; Plato surprised the BTCC paddock by taking a debut win for the Triple 8 prepared MG.
Plato continued to lead the series up to round 10 but since then has suffered a number of mechanical issues and non-finishes. Things started to go badly for the double champion at Oulton Park when, after qualifying on pole, he failed to start due to a component failure on the way to the grid. A similar thing happened again next time out at Croft although he did bounce back from his non-start in race 1 to take race 3 victory. After getting back in the championship hunt with a win at Snetterton, Knockhill was a weekend to forget for Plato. After getting pole he got hit out of 2nd on lap 2 of race 1 and then suffered mechanical issues in races 2 and 3, managing just 11th all weekend.
Plato, who turned 45 at the weekend, has happy memories of Brands Hatch, the place where he took his two previous BTCC titles. While in 2009 he lost the title there by just 5 points, after starting the day 28 points behind, and won all 3 races around the GP circuit that day; a point in which he is quick to point out and said, “We’ve had some rotten luck along the way but our persistence eventually paid off at Silverstone when finally we split the Hondas in the points table.
“People have to remember, even with a great team like Triple Eight Race Engineering behind our car, it is still MG’s first season back in the BTCC for nine years. I believe we have an even better chassis than Honda. Fifteen points is a big ask but I missed the title by five points on the Brands GP track three years ago having gone into the day 28 behind. Hello, Gordon…”
The final man in with a chance, albeit very small, is Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan. Jordan starts the weekend 61 points behind Shedden and with only 67 points available it seems unlikely. Jordan’s main aim will be to secure the Independent drivers championship in which he leads eBay Motors driver Rob Collard by 28 points.
Elsewhere Honda Dynamics have all but wrapped up the Manufactures/constructors titles and HiQ team award but there is a big fight for the Independent teams trophy with Pirtek Racing, eBay Motors and Redstone Racing all separated by just 10 points; eBay Motors currently leading the standings.
Other things to look out for this weekend will be a new colour scheme and title sponsor for Rob Austin in his own prepared Audi A4 and another competitor sitting in Tony Gilham’s Team HARD S2000 Honda Civic; the former Ginetta racer and Clio cup competitor Aaron Williamson.
As for Gilham he has now fully acquired Thorney Motorsport’s NGTC Vauxhall Insignia, which he drove last time out at Silverstone, and will run for the first time in Team HARD colours. (See separate story)
This weekend could also be the last time that an S2000 car will reach the top step of the podium. Although competitors can run S2000 cars next year, the NGTC cars will be allowed to run with higher boost levels compared to their counterparts.
Series director Alan Gow though is keen for S2000 cars to continue and has just announced a special initiative for the cars for 2013 and said, “There has been sufficient interest from competitors who wish to compete with current S2000 cars to warrant an award for their efforts – we made a commitment over two years ago for those cars to continue in the championship, albeit not with performance parity against NGTC cars.
“Therefore we will award silverware to the top S2000 finisher in each race which will accumulate to an overall trophy at the end of the season. It means those teams, drivers and sponsors who are looking to eventually move up to NGTC machinery can still actively participate in the BTCC and benefit from its profile. It is important to stress this will not take the form of a separate points-based championship. However, we will announce the exact details and the name of the award in the near future.”