Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
A record equalling 29 car grid will line up to take part in this weekend’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship for rounds 25, 26 and 27 which will take part around the legendary Brands Hatch GP circuit.
Honda Racing duo Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden head into the weekend level on points at the top of the standing, however, following yet another Turbo reduction last time out at Rockingham, Chevrolet’s Jason Plato has also clawed his way back into the reckoning, 24 points behind the two Honda’s.
The other big battle is for Independent honours where after taking his first series victory in the last race, James Nash for Triple 8 has overtaken Airwaves Racing’s Mat Jackson, who has gone from leading the outright championship to scoring just 1 point for fastest lap in 6 races to trail Nash by 24points.
Meanwhile the pair’s teams are also locked in a battle for the Independent team’s trophy where Triple 8 took over the lead at Rockingham from Airwaves Racing to lead by 20 points despite only having one car. However for the final two meetings it has been confirmed that regular Porsche racer and current British GT4 drive Ollie Jackson will partner Nash at Triple 8.
Ollie Jackson becomes the third Porsche Cup driver to take part in the series after Michael Caine who competes in his second meeting for Airwaves Racing and Tony Gilham who takes part in his second meeting for Geoff Steel Racing, although this time he hopes to take part in a Turbo NGTC engine and in doing so will become the first BMW driver to do so.
Ollie Jackson has already had his first taste of the Triple 8 Vectra around the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch and said, “I’m thrilled to have signed for Triple Eight and can’t wait to make my BTCC debut. So far I’ve only had an afternoon in the car and Brands will be the first time I will have raced a front-wheel-drive car so clearly there’ll be lots to learn once Saturday morning practice starts. That said, I’m really looking forward to the experience, I know the track and I’m confident that I can put up a good showing.”
The story of the second half of the season no doubt has been the rise of the New Generation Touring Cars particularly that of Frank Wrathall in his Dynojet prepared Toyota Avensis and Rob Austin in his own teams prepared Audi A4. Despite Wrathall looking the most likely to take victory it was Austin who almost became the first driver to taste victory last time out coming second in race 3 narrowly missing out on victory to Nash. Wrathall also took a second at Rockingham however it is Austin who is determined to take that first NGTC victory and said, I’ll bet my house I win a race at either Brands Hatch next weekend or Silverstone. Rockingham wasn’t ideal for our car – the NGTC machines are a bit heavier than the other cars and it’s a bit of a stop-start lay-out.
The Brands Hatch GP circuit will be perfect with the fast, wide open corners there. There’s one area, Surtees, which might be a weakness for us as it’s a steep uphill climb onto the back straight into the forest and the weight could mean we’re a couple of mph down exiting it. But above all it’s a properly brave, old-fashioned Grand Prix circuit, it’s well-known I’m into my Seventies and Eighties F1 so I can’t wait to get stuck in. To win for the first time in a big championship like the BTCC on a track like Brands GP would be pretty awesome.”
Austin finished off by speaking about his rivalry with Wrathall and despite admitting that they are good pals he still owes him one from the past and said, “Frank’s probably too polite to admit it but of course we’re each other’s biggest opponent. He’s showing better than me due to keeping out of trouble whereas I’ve been driven into and either had my car damaged or knocked off the track in the first race of each of the last four events. Just for the record, I have no issues with Frank – we’re good pals and he even came to my stag do! Actually, I owe him one from back then when he fired me off on the go-karts.”
Austin won’t be the only Audi on the grid this weekend with Chris Swanwick piloting the second Rob Austin Racing A4 to make his BTCC debut. Last season Swanwick was still competing in the Ginetta Junior Championship before a half season in the Clio Cup at the start of the year; now he is making the huge step up to the Britain’s premier race series at just 17.
So entering the penultimate race meeting of the season there is no difference between the two Hondas. So to find out which Honda driver leads the series ending into the last meeting at Silverstone be sure to return to Motorsport.com for the answers. Also be sure to follow the equally exciting Independent battle throughout the weekend starting with Qualifying on Saturday while full race reports and images will be up following the weekend’s action.