The clock is ticking… there are now less than three weeks to go before the UK’s premier motor racing series, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, arrives at the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire for the next three races of its exhilarating 2011 season on Sunday 5 June.
With its undulations and blind brows, Oulton is one of the most picturesque and daunting circuits on the BTCC calendar and has a famous reputation for attracting one of the biggest trackside crowds of the season. Not only is it surrounded by major cities such as Chester, Manchester, Liverpool and Wrexham but the nearby M6 and M62 motorways also make it easily accessible from ‘neighbouring counties’ including Lancashire, Cumbria, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
Indeed the event has many appeals – Oulton’s viewing areas are among the finest of any circuit in the country, adults can purchase trackside tickets from just £24 in advance and admission for children aged 12 and under is FREE. Furthermore, there is also open access to the teams’ paddock and pit lane autograph session which enable fans to rub shoulders with and meet the BTCC’s star drivers for autographs, photos and plenty of exciting giveaways. Public can book tickets by visiting oultonpark.co.uk or calling the hot line 0843 453 9000.
The first nine races of the 2011 BTCC season have already produced five different winners in Worcestershire’s Matt Neal, Oxford’s Jason Plato, Staffs’ Andrew Jordan, Warwickshire’s Mat Jackson and Fife’s Gordon Shedden. And it is former double Champion Neal who leads the way as the title race heads to Oulton for what will be the North West’s annual BTCC fixture.
In fact this year’s visit to Oulton could prove decisive. Plato is regarded as something of a master of Oulton and it will be fascinating to see if, in his normally aspirated Silverline Chevrolet Cruze, he can overcome his turbocharged rivals such as Neal and Shedden in their Honda Civics, Jackson’s Airwaves Ford Focus and Jordan’s Pirtek Vauxhall Vectra.
Certainly defending Champion Plato needs strong results for, although he’s already achieved three wins so far in 2011 to become the most victorious driver in BTCC history, he languishes back in sixth in the outright standings after two sizeable crashes. Indeed, it is his arch rival Neal, himself with three wins to date this season, who leads the championship table from Jackson and another of the series’ young rising stars, James Nash, in his Triple 888 with Collins Contractors Vectra.
There will surely be plenty of home support at Oulton for several teams and drivers on the grid. In particular Widnes’s Paul O’Neill, forever a favourite with many fans and this year driving a Sunshine.co.uk with tech-speed Chevrolet – the very car, in fact, in which Plato won last year’s title. Notably, it was at Oulton in 2002 that a tearful O’Neill achieved his first race win in the BTCC…
Lancs duo Frank Wrathall and Tom Boardman will also be keen to repay the home support. Already being touted by some as a future champion, 24-year-old Wrathall from Preston has this year graduated to the BTCC with his own Dynojet team in a Toyota Avensis that is built to the championship’s new NGTC technical regulations. Boardman, from Forton, will arrive at Oulton on a massive confidence high after he achieved his and his family-run Special Tuning Racing team’s first outright podium finish in the most recent race at Thruxton in Hampshire. He also led the pack at Oulton last year until being cruelly forced out.
Tony Hughes – whose Hughes Safety Showers company is well known in the region – will also be hoping to make progress at his local circuit in his Toyota which is run by Stockport team Speedworks.
While the fender-bending BTCC’s latest three races of 2011 headline the bill at Oulton on 5 June, there’s also plenty of thrills and spills from an assortment of supporting categories – Ginetta Juniors, Ginetta GT Supercup, Porsche Carrera Cup, Formula Renault UK and Renault Clio Cup which offer the very best in saloon, single-seater and sportscar action – for the public to savour. One name very familiar to the locals will be Cheshire’s Daniel Buxton, once himself an aspiring BTCC star and who now manages Clio Cup team Scuderia Vittoria, among whose rivals is Nicolas Hamilton – the younger brother of Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton.