By: Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
- Wild action at Oulton Park event
- Neal keeps point lead despite incident
- Shedden, Plato & Jackson take the wins
It was a day of mixed weather at the Oulton Park Circuit with varied results and three different winners that threw the championship wide open during rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato and Mat Jackson were the three winners but the weekend gave rise to several other major talking points. The biggest one was probably Matt Neal’s contact with Shedden, knocking his Honda Racing team mate out of the lead on the final corner of race 2 and therefore gifting Plato the lead. Off track Plato was heard to be whinging, yet again, about the speed of the Hondas. The sudden and surprise departure of Tom Onslow-Cole from the AmD Miltek team was the final talking point from the weekend.
After the glorious sunshine from qualifying on Saturday, Sunday morning saw the heavens open with heavy rain greeting the teams. As the cars lined up on the grid and with rain still in the air, albeit lightly, it was a real gamble on which tyres to use with some going all wet while others went with a mixture of slicks on the front and wet rears.
Neal was one of the men who opted on full wets and took an early lead from Shedden, who had slick fronts. Both had come under pressure during the opening laps from Andy Neate after he had qualified a best of third, and he even briefly got past Shedden on lap 2 while on full wets.
However, it wasn’t long until the track was starting to dry and soon Shedden was to be on the tail of Neal and got past him on lap 4 with Plato also passing Neate for third. The two Chevrolet's were both on wets like Neal but were able to cope better with the drying track, due to the Honda using its front tyres more because of the extra weight of the Turbo engine, and both got past Neal with Plato passing on lap 5. Alex MacDowall did the same just two laps later although neither would come close to Shedden who made the correct decision with his slick fronts to take the victory.
Another driver to gamble with slick fronts was James Nash in the Triple 8 Vectra. Despite falling back outside the top 10 on the opening lap, Nash put in a superb drive on the drying track to take the Independent victory and 4th on the road. Behind Nash were the two WSR BMW's of Rob Collard and Nick Foster who had come up from 14th and 19th respectively with the rear wheel drive BMWs revealing in the difficult conditions.
Foster in particular was impressive passing both Neate and Neal in consecutive laps at Cascades. Taking an emotional 7th from 21st on the grid was BTCC returnee Lea Wood in his tiny Central Racing Group Honda Integra, which is the oldest car on the grid. This was Wood's first ever top 10 finish in the series taking advantage of Foster passes following him through on both occasions.
Neal and Neate would both eventually finish 8th and 9th on their full wets with Andrew Jordan who recovered from an opening lap spin taking the final points finish.
On the last lap however there was a very frightening accident involving Tom Boardman and Jeff Smith. Smith had originally stalled from the start while Boardman on full slicks struggled during the opening part of the race. Towards the end of the race Boardman was flying having just passed both Smith and Neate and was alongside Neal. A bit further back Neate and Smith were battling and it appeared Smith tried squeezing Neate whilst not fully in front. The result of this sent the Pirtek Vectra spinning across the grass and rejoined the circuit at high speed in reverse right into the side of Boardman’s Seat, thankfully both drivers were okay but Smith’s Vectra was now a compact with the Special Tuning Seat also very badly damaged.
Just outside the top 10 in 11th was Onslow-Cole who had come up from 20th to 7th early. Dave Newsham ended in 12th in his Special Tuning Racing debut, although he did take a point for fastest lap on his slick tyres. Thirteenth was local hero Paul O’Neill who had a drive through penalty for starting out of position and Tony Gilham was in 14th after he spun at the first corner losing a lot of time. After having to drive up a new engine from team base in Kent following his off excursion on Saturday, Liam Griffin finished in 15th even after having had a similar incident to Gilham, this time at Lodge, the last corner.
In 16th was Tony Hughes in his rather second-hand looking NGTC Toyota Avensis after contact with Chris James, who had to retire with the damage. The last finisher being classified was Tom Chilton, who started the race late instead of 6th where he qualified due to his brakes jamming open on the formation lap.
Typically, just prior to the start of race 2 the rain started again making tyre choice another gamble for the field. Shedden led the field away without any real incident. However Smith, joining the race late from the pits, after the field went by, threw away his teams miracle working to fix the car as he went spinning at Cascades on cold rear tyres and brought out the safety car.
After the safety car came in for the restart, it t was the BMW of Foster moving backwards on full wets, losing places to Jordan, Neal and MacDowall all on lap 5 before Jordan and Neal both passed Collard on lap 6.
On lap 7 the rain started full force again and this time it benefited the two Civic's with the extra front end weight giving them better traction out of the corners. Neal, who had already passed Jordan, then passed Nash on the outside into Lodge and instantly got past Plato on the inside of the first corner.
Neal was then to lose both places on lap 11 as he ran wide at the hairpin although he would retake Nash by the end of the lap and just a lap later he would re-pass Plato getting better traction off the Hairpin and overtook Plato around the outside down the straight before the chicane.
Shedden by now had built up a massive lead of over 10 seconds, however this all came to an end when John George ran straight on at Lodge causing a safety car period.
Today has been a bit of a shocker and Gordon would have been quite justified in taking a swipe at me.
The safety car came in on lap 16 meaning there was a 3 lap race to the flag with the big battle at the front of the field between the two Honda's, with Neal certainly not settling for second. The pair warmed up to what was to follow on lap 17 when Neal locked up at the Hairpin tapping the back of Shedden, who recovered brilliantly drifting around the corner. Despite the near miss Neal was not to learn from this and at the final corner of the last lap he made a lunge down the inside of Shedden, locking up in the process and sending both Honda's into the gravel. Shedden was able to drive on and take 6th while Neal was left stranded by the side of the road.
Neal couldn’t hide his frustration and embarrassment inside the car and said afterwards, “At the time going for it seemed the right thing to do but in hindsight it was a dumb move on my part. I am mortified for the team and have actually told Gordon if he wants to take me round the back of the truck and take a swipe at me he’s welcome – I deserve it.”
This gifted Plato the victory who should have been the happiest guy at Oulton but in a bizarre interview with Louise Goodman from ITV4 all he could do was continue to complain over the Honda power advantage and described the victory as a “crap victory”.
Behind this there was yet more drama with Collard who benefited from the rain in the second half of the race caught and passed Nash into second on the run up to the line. However, the Vectra driver was less than happy with Collards constant tapping around the final lap and final turn. The places were later reversed with Collard getting a one second penalty.
Jordan and MacDowall also benefited to finish 4th and 5th ahead of Shedden in 6th with O’Neill making good progress to 7th. Foster took 8th ahead of Jackson, who recovered from race 1 where he suffered an oil leak, with Chilton taking the final point. Wood was just to miss out in 11th while there were encouraging results for Rob Austin in 12th, Frank Wrathall in 13th and Hughes in 14th -- all in new generation Touring Cars.
Rugby Union star Andy Powell from Sale Sharks did the draw out for the reverse grid and he drew out number 9 meaning that Jackson would start on pole in race 3 alongside Foster.
Instantly Foster took the lead with him benefiting from the longer first gear the BMW's are now permitted to use and led the cars down Cascades for the first time in now fully dry conditions.
Jackson quickly took the lead, passing Foster around the outside heading into the Hairpin for the first time.
O’Neill was keen to get a good result in front of his home crowd and was also in a hurry to passed Foster. However, he got a couple of wheels on the grass and then hit a wet patch, pitching his Go Mobile with Tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze backwards at high speed into the barriers, causing a safety car period. His teammate George also ended up with a heavily damaged car late on in the race crashing at the first corner, destroying the front of his car.
Points leader heading into the final race was Nash, however he had a first lap to forget as he got slightly airborne after contact with his race 2 nemesis Collard, pitching the Triple 8 Vectra into the barriers. He would continue to the end, albeit outside the points in 13th.
In all the mayhem Austin got up to a fantastic 7th position at the end of the first lap but spun from 9th at Cascades having a bumpy ride across the grass.
As expected, Foster did drop back after the safety car, first being passed by Shedden and then by Jordan. After a good battle with Neal and his teammate Collard, he lost 4th to Neal.
Foster managed to hold Collard off for a while but let him past after Plato had caught up with the pair, although he couldn’t prevent Plato from also passing him.
However, he was to regain the places on lap 10 when Plato lunged up the inside of Collard with the pair making contact and locking wheels as Collard spun across the circuit. Both would continue but Collard would finish down in 14th with Plato finishing 11th as he let slip 10th in a damaged car to Smith, who at last gave his mechanics something to smile about after his earlier exuberance.
Later on though he was to lose 5th to Boardman, whose mechanics also worked a miracle after being the innocent victim of the Smith incident. Meanwhile Foster also lost places to the two Team Aon Fords of Neate and Chilton as well as to Newsham, who scored his first top 10 finish for Special Tuning Racing, to end up eventually in 9th
With Shedden not being able to close the gap on Jackson, the main battle was between Jordan and Neal for third. Neal drew alongside Jordan at the Chicane but slight contact was made and both were forced to cut across the grass on lap 15 and Neal was never able to make another challenge.
Other drivers to miss out on the top 10 were Austin, who at least managed another finish in his Audi A4 after his spin and MacDowall, who ripped his gear leaver off in a similar incident to Snetterton last year whilst in 4th.
Despite his race 2 incident Neal still leads the championship by just two points from Shedden although he has “no idea” how he is still his leading and said, “Today has been a bit of a shocker and Gordon would have been quite justified in taking a swipe at me after race two – it was a dumb move on my part. But everyone else has tripped up somewhere along the line today so I’m a bit lucky.”
Although surely disappointed to miss out on race 2 victory, Shedden remained philosophical about the weekend and commented, “The incident with Matt was just one of those things – there’s no way he intended for that outcome so there’s no point jumping up and down about it. I still managed to keep going and get across the line in sixth and took another good points haul in race three. I’m right back in the title hunt which is the most important thing.”
In third in the points is Jackson who ended his day on a high with victory in race 3 after two tough earlier races and he said, “Things didn’t go our way at all in races one and two but we’re a tough little team and when I was drawn on pole for race three we knew we had a chance. It’s testament to the team and the Focus that we were able to keep Gordon at bay as the Honda seems to be the car to beat at the moment.”
A point behind Jackson in 4th is Nash, although he does hold a 5 point advantage in the Independent title with Plato and Jordan both within 7 points of Nash.
Nash’s Triple 8 team also holds the lead in the Independent Teams' Championship while Honda have a healthy lead in both the Manufactures/Constructors and HiQ Teams' championship.
So that concludes all the drama from Oulton Park. We already know that Onslow-Cole has made the switch to Team Aon for Croft in two weeks time so for all other build up to the event be sure to stay logged into Motorsport.com.
See also breaking news on Onslow-Cole