By: Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
- Croft marks halfway mark for 2011
- Tight points battle continues
- Honda Racing is the team to beat
This weekend sees the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship reach its half way stage as the Championship visits Croft in North Yorkshire.
Honda Racing have been the team to beat so far this year with Matt Neal heading into the event as championship leader from his team mate Gordon Shedden with a slender lead of just two points. So far this season the Honda Racing duo have taken every pole position however the pair aren’t as clear in the championship battle partly due to the pairs coming together last time out on the last lap at Oulton Park from 1st and 2nd eliminating Neal and sending Shedden down to 6th.
Croft has got a good mixture of all sorts of corners – fast, medium and slow speed -...
This has allowed the pack to close in with the top 6 all separated by just 15 points the same amount as a race victory.
Neal has led at this stage for the past two seasons however he has faded away as the season has progressed. Neal goes into the weekend full of confidence however weary particularly over the weather and his form there last season where he suffered a puncture and said, “Croft has got a good mixture of all sorts of corners – fast, medium and slow speed – and the Civic has always had a great chassis so has always gone well around there. But we’ve never been there with the turbo engine before and the teams who did run turbos last year have told us that Croft was a bit of a bogey circuit for them so we have to be wary of that. I have looked at the forecast for the weekend and it looks unpredictable. I just hope we can have three dry races to get the most out of the car. I guess we’ll find out in just over a week.”
Last season Shedden took two victories at Croft and goes into this weekend as the man in form but knows exactly what it takes to stay in the championship hunt through out the season by saying, “Our rivals don’t stand still though so we will have to push hard to stay on top. For each weekend, I need to take away 30 points to remain in the title hunt – that is the target. That means three solid top three finishes and if you can get any more than that, then it is a bonus.”
The surprise driver so far this season has to be James Nash for Triple 8 Racing. Nash led the series after the second meeting of the year and after two strong results in the first two races at Oulton again briefly led the series after the Honda pair collision. However after a non points score in race 3 after a first lap clash now trails Neal by 7 points although he does lead the Independent category and Nash admitted that he should have been more patient at Oulton and said, “I was a bit too rash trying to pass Collard up Clay Hill, clipped a kerb and that spun me round into the barrier. I was a bit annoyed with myself because if we’d got through the first five rounds having scored points in all races, we’d have done an amazing job.”
However Nash admits he has to go back to basics for this weekend by saying, “We had a really good first test on Media Day at Silverstone and were able to quickly find a good set-up on the car for qualifying at the first two rounds but then we’ve struggled at the next two. We’ve been chasing too much time into corners, which is hurting us on the way out and not making the best use of the extra torque from the turbo engine. For Croft we’re going back to how we did it at Brands and Donington. We need to get back to where we were at those circuits in terms of taking it to the Hondas and the others.”
Finally Nash went on to say that he goes into this weekend full of confidence and knows what he wants from the weekend, “I’m feeling confident. I have a really competitive package and, while that brings extra pressures to deliver, it’s a much better situation and means I’m enjoying my racing. I really need to come out of Croft still in the top six and as one of the top four points scorers from the weekend. I’d love three podiums again like I had at Donington.”
Despite winning the most races this year things haven’t gone all to plan this season for defending champion Jason Plato that have included two punctures and a spectacular roll. Plato has also been far from complimentary about the speed of the Honda’s but took full advantage of the pair’s coming together at Oulton to take what he called a “crap win” but admits he found the incident highly amusing by saying, “I have to be honest here. I nearly wet myself with laughter as I headed for the chequered flag.”
Plato now finds himself back up to 5th in the driver’s standings only 12 points behind Neal. He now heads into his home event in a much happier mood not only about returning home but also the fact that all turbo cars will receive another small boost reduction and said, “I absolutely love going to the North East. I'll see some family, a few pals will come along to the race and some friends of my mum and dad will pitch up, so from that perspective it's great. Also, I get a terrific reception from the northern crowd, so it's a great place to go win, lose or draw.”
This weekend will also see the return of Tom Onslow-Cole to Team Aon and he will pilot their ‘Global’ Ford Focus with number 4 on the door the championship finishing position where he came last season for the Team. Meanwhile at AmD Miltek where he has departed as expected 2010 driver Shaun Hollamby will return to the drivers seat despite the level of interest from other drivers regarding the drive by saying, “We must have had at least 45 serious individual enquiries – I have been quite astonished. However, we want to get this right so instead of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire we’ve decided on a known quantity for Croft – me! We will see how I get on at Croft and then decide on the next course of action during the lengthy mid-season break.”
Sadly though for this weekend we will once again be without the Speedworks NGTC Toyota Avensis. The team opted to miss Thruxton earlier in the year but returned to Oulton last time out however the team still struggled with mechanical issues and will once again sit out this weekend.
So that concludes all the news heading into this weekend’s event. So be sure to log onto Motorsport.com over the weekend for all qualifying news and race-by-race coverage, as it happens to find out who will head into the summer break as championship leader.