BTCC heads off to the UK's fastest circuit

After a thrilling opening meeting at Brands Hatch the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship heads off to the UK's fastest circuit where it will make its annual visit to Thruxton in Andover, Hampshire. Heading back to the championship for these...

After a thrilling opening meeting at Brands Hatch the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship heads off to the UK's fastest circuit where it will make its annual visit to Thruxton in Andover, Hampshire. Heading back to the championship for these races and indeed the rest of the year will be 2002 and 2004 Champion James Thompson. This will also be the first race for Vauxhall since the sad news that they will be withdrawing from the championship at the end of this season. While Mat Jackson has also struck a late deal to drive for RML and makes a welcome return to the series although its not yet confirmed if Jason Plato will return yet.

More about Thompson and Jackson later however; Vauxhall will be hoping to go out with a bang from now on to the rest of the season and where better to start it than Thruxton, a circuit where they have had considerable success in the past. They head there in justified confidence after a very strong opening round at Brands Hatch particularly with Matt Neal while they have completely dominated at Thruxton in the past with the stats to back that up. In fact since the 2.0L Touring car format was introduced or Super Touring era back in 1991, Vauxhall have won an incredible 20 times; thirteen times more than their nearest manufacturer Honda, and since the Vectra was introduced in 2007 they have had three poles out of 3 and have won six out of 9 races with Fabrizio Giovanardi winning four of them.

Neal will pay for his excellent start to the season and will carry maximum ballast. After an unfortunate weekend Giovanardi will not carry any and surely must be favorite to take pole position and to take a race win. His biggest threat may come from his younger team mate Andrew Jordan, who was another unlucky victim from Brands Hatch, despite showing great race pace and running second in the first race. He will also not carry any ballast.

Vauxhall's biggest threat will be from the usual suspects Team RAC and Airways BMW, who will be still buoyant after the teams first victory in round 2 of the championship with Rob Collard, who will have extra motivation being in front of his local crowd.

Another major threat will come from the RML Chevrolets of BTCC runner up last year Mat Jackson, despite his lack of time in the car, this was the same as Jason Plato in the previous round at Brands and he went on to superbly win race 3 and with the Lacetti having shown incredible straight line speed down the straights at Brands this could give them a big advantage at this high speed circuit, and if Plato fills the second car this could be a formidable pairing.

Jackson said, "Firstly, RML is one of the very best teams on the grid - its history and results show that. It's going to be tough to jump straight in and instantly get big results - I'll be going to Thruxton with just a quick shakedown in the car. But the Chevrolet was clearly very quick at Brands Hatch a couple of weeks ago. It's got a stonking engine and its straight-line speed was there for all to see - Thruxton is the fastest circuit on the calendar and I've won there before in the BTCC so it all points to a positive weekend."

Ray Mallock head of RML was also delighted to have secured Jackson and is very much looking forward to seeing what he can do around a circuit, which should suit the Lacetti saying, "I'm delighted to welcome Mat to the team and to confirm that we will be appearing at the next event. I know I speak for everyone at the factory when I say we cannot wait to see Mat in the car. He really proved his enviable abilities last year - ten podiums and a second place finish in the championship standings, competing against some far more experienced drivers just shows Mat really deserves to be on the grid in 2009. Combine this with the Lacetti favoring the high speed straights of Thruxton and it should prove to be an exciting pairing."

As already briefly mentioned Thruxton will mark the return of James Thompson, who will be replacing, for the rest of the year, Gordon Shedden in the Team Dynamics Honda Civic. Shedden and team principle Steve Neal, however, hope to have Shedden running in a third car by the end of the year saying, "This change in our driver line-up has come about due to contractual commitments. Gordon has been part of Dynamics since 2006 and has been a great performer for us. We are currently negotiating further sponsorship to run a third car for him alongside James and David Pinkney which is hoped will materialize sooner rather than later."

He was also clearly delighted to have finally got hold of Thompson, who he had tried to get for sometime saying, "His addition to the Dynamics line-up, meanwhile, is one I have personally hoped for since Matt Neal moved to the VX Racing team at the end of 2007. James is truly one of the world's top touring car drivers and I am absolutely confident that he can take the fight to the opposition and provide us with a further step-up in performance."

Thompson is also just as delighted to be back in the BTCC but remains realistic about his chances of instant success, although he does take confidence from Plato who arrived at the opening rounds in similar circumstances saying, "The support I've had in the UK when I've raced in the BTCC... I've missed it. There's no way, though, that I'm just going to jump in the car and win three races. I haven't raced since November last year and, even though I know the Civic has great potential having tested it during the winter, it will take time and mileage. Then again, look what Plato ended up with at Brands Hatch. Thruxton maybe makes it a bit more difficult. It's the most difficult track we come across in terms of speed. But I love a challenge and me and the team want to win races"

We have already mentioned that Thruxton is the fastest circuit in the country but that isn't all there is to Thruxton. Having taken the first corner, Allard, with only a slight lift, the cars approach a tricky complex of Corners at around 125mph, the first of which is a right hander called Campbell, which leads into an immediate left hander of Cobb before getting on the power through the final section, Segrave, another right hander. From then on it's flat out with only a slight lift off at Church; the fastest corner on the circuit and in fact the country, being careful to avoid a big bump in the middle of it to avoid unsettling the car. After this it's flat out down Woodham hill where they will approach the final corner of the circuit at almost 150mph where they will break down to just 55mph for a tight chicane called Club. They will fly into the air mastering the huge kerbs; expect much of the drama and action to happen at and on the approach to this chicane.

Another influential factor of this race will be how well the drivers and cars look after their tyres due to the unique characteristics of the circuit with the high speed left hander of Church and the huge kerbs at the club Chicane. Many drivers in the past have experienced the downside of this circuit by getting punctures at Church and heading straight onto Andover! One driver to discover this was Giovanardi when his left front tyre got a puncture on the last lap of last season, although he did keep it on the road, he lost his lead and only finished 10th.

Giovanardi isn't the only driver to have faced this problem so the biggest question for the teams and drivers is do they go for an aggressive set up and risk this problem or do they go for a more conservative approach but risk fighting down the field, which is sure to spring up many surprises. So be sure to watch all the action either at the circuit or alternatively catch all the action live on ITV4. Make sure you come back after the event for full reviews and pictures.

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , James Thompson , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Ray Mallock , Mat Jackson , Rob Collard