BTCC stars roar into the popular East Midlands circuit as local champion passes 500 race milestone
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship arrives in the East Midlands this weekend (20/21 April) with the UK’s top race series making its annual visit to the picturesque Donington Park circuit.
The historic venue recently marked 20 years since the late Ayrton Senna produced one of the most memorable performances in Grand Prix racing when winning the European GP at the venue in 1993. The BTCC also raced at Donington on that famous weekend and now it’s time for Britain’s latest crop of tin-top stars to do battle in what are sure to be three fiercely fought showdowns in front of the live ITV cameras.
And battle they shall as a huge grid – including four champions – will take to the 1.96-mile circuit on Sunday afternoon in front of a bumper crowd, as fans from nearby Birmingham, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and beyond descend on Donington Park.
Season so far: Jason Plato leads after season opener
The man they are all chasing this weekend is MG’s Jason Plato who enjoyed a stellar opening event of the season at Brands Hatch last month. The double BTCC champion won the opening two races despite being pushed all the way by the Honda Civic of 23-year-old Andrew Jordan. In fact, the pair had a lively clash on the final lap of the opening contest as a closing Jordan made one final attempt to claim victory. The rather optimistic move ended in contact and high drama with both cars sliding off the track, but incredibly both scrabbled their way back onto the circuit and Plato hung on to win.
The champion Honda Yuasa Racing squad then claimed a fantastic one-two in race three to end its own challenging weekend on a high. It was Matt Neal that secured the victory by just 0.083s – with team-mate and reigning BTCC Champion Gordon Shedden having charged through the field from the back of the grid to claim second. Sam Tordoff rounded off an impressive day by scoring his maiden BTCC podium for the MG KX Momentum team, which along with Plato’s substantial points haul means the squad leads the current Manufacturers’ standings.
Plato also leads the Drivers’ standings and has his own milestone to celebrate this weekend as he contests his 400th BTCC race. Plato has an incredible affiliation with the Leicestershire circuit having made his BTCC debut at Donington back in 1997. He took an eye-catching pole position back then and has since gone on to claim an unrivalled 76 race victories.
Jordan and Tordoff are second and third respectively in the current 2013 standings, ahead of Jordan’s Pirtek Racing team-mate Jeff Smith. Neal rounds out the top five in the championship.
The return of 2009 champion Colin Turkington arguably created the biggest interest of pre-season – making it four champions on the 2013 grid alongside Shedden, Neal and Plato – and the introduction of eBay Motors' new BMW 125i M Sport added even more excitement. The car showed great promise on its debut weekend at Brands, but now Turkington and his stable mates Rob Collard and Nick Foster will expect to be running at the sharp end this weekend.
Fans attending Donington Park will be treated to one of the most diverse and talented grids in motor sport with some 11 marques and 13 models represented in Britain’s biggest and best motor sport series.
Talking point: Matt Neal to reach 500 race milestone
Three-time champion Matt Neal will be celebrating a huge milestone this weekend. Already the most experienced BTCC driver of all-time, Neal will be contesting his 500th race in the series this weekend.
The Honda Yuasa Racing driver is also just one victory away from a half century of BTCC wins with Donington Park the scene of his first back in 1999. That victory secured Neal an unprecedented £250,000 in prize money, as it was the first win from a Privateer team in the modern BTCC era, and was arguably the launch pad for the hugely successful career that followed. Neal claimed his 49th BTCC win last time out at Brands Hatch.
“It’s my home circuit and it’s where I got my first win so I’m looking forward to it,” said Neal. “I stopped counting the number of races I’d competed in a while ago! Hearing that it’ll be my 500th race at Donington means it’s going to be a special moment for me and I hope we can get some good results.”
Local heroes: Drivers and teams target home wins
The record breaking Matt Neal from Droitwich Spa is just one of many local drivers gunning for home success at Donington Park on Sunday – other notables include Staffordshire’s Andrew Jordan (Honda Civic), Warwickshire’s Mat Jackson (Ford Focus) and Worcestershire’s Rob Austin (Audi A4).
Pershore’s Austin and Henley-in-Arden’s Jackson will also be gunning for glory this weekend. Jackson won at Donington last year and he’ll be hoping his Airwaves Focus is back on the pace after a tough opening event of 2013, whilst Austin is fortunate just to be making the grid. A fantastic podium in race one at Brands Hatch was followed by a huge shunt in the final contest, and his WIX Racing team has worked tirelessly ever since in order to repair the car in time for Donington Park.
This weekend is also a ‘home event’ for three Toyota teams, Ciceley Racing, Dynojet and Speedworks Motorsport – all are racing Toyota Avensis models, which began their lives just 10-miles away at Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Burnaston.
Ciceley Racing were among the pacesetters in pre-season testing at Donington and driver Adam Morgan scored a career-best fourth place at Brands.
Frank Wrathall also showed why he could be a contender in his Dynojet Avensis after two drives through the field to finish sixth and eighth in the opening and final races respectively. Speedworks will be hoping for a better weekend, however, after a frustrating time in Kent.