BTCC heads to Rockingham in Great Britain as they continue their battle for the valuable points.
This weekend will see the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship head to Britain’s only purpose built race circuit, the oval of Rockingham, for rounds 22, 23 and 24. All eyes will be on the tight championship battle at the front of the standing, while there will also be a lot of eyes on Tom Onslow-Cole following his switch of teams for the final 3 meetings of 2013.
More on Onslow-Cole later; last time out at Knockhill in Scotland it looked like eBay Motors Colin Turkington, in his BMW 125i, and reigning BTCC champion Gordon Shedden, in his Honda Yuasa Racing Civic, were set to leave the happiest men from the event following Turkington’s opening double race victory and local man’s Shedden’s double podium had put the pair within touching distance off the top of the drivers’ standings heading into race 3.
However in true Touring Car fashion their day ended disappointingly with Turkington getting excluded from a fine 4th while Shedden ended by the side of the road with flames coming from the bottom of his Civic. Making their race 3 even worse was the fact that the two people in front of them in the championship heading into the race took first and second, extending their lead in the points to 30 and 27 points respectively.
The men in question were former triple BTCC champion Matt Neal, the second Honda Yuasa Racing Civic, who took second in the race to leave Knockhill with a narrow 6 point advantage over top Independent driver Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic who took victory in race 3.
That win was particularly sweet for the current Independent champion after he had to recover from a 6 place grid penalty for race 1 after picking up 3 strikes for driving standards. Now Jordan heads into the final 9 races admitting anything can still happen and said, “A lot can happen over the final nine races. I’m the only driver to have finished every race in the points and we’ve had a podium at every race meeting so far this year. We’ll take 36kg of success ballast to Rockingham, but that is almost our base weight these days as we’ve had that pretty much all year. I think a lot of the fast corners will really suit us, so I think we’ll go really well. I like Rockingham; it’s about finding that balance between pushing hard and scoring points all the time.”
One man surprisingly not in the championship hunt, unless his rivals all suffer a major amount of misfortune, is MG KX Momentum’s Jason Plato. After an up and down first half of the season his championship assault was really meant to get started at Snetterton, as the second half of the season got under way.
The MG was clearly the car to have at the Norfolk circuit; however after a second behind MG team mate Sam Tordoff in race 1 the former double champion then retired from the lead in race 2 before spectacularly rolling it in race 3.
Despite not suffering any problems at Knockhill, the MG was just not on the pace all weekend with a best position of 4th, to fall even further behind in the points standings ending the day 54 points off of first place Neal.
The only positive for Plato, is that he now heads into the weekend with little ballast around a circuit that is certain to suit his MG 6GT. Last time out at Rockingham Plato took a convincing pole position and race 1 win before the rain came and it will be difficult to bet against this again this weekend with Plato’s only threat likely to come from Tordoff and the weather!
Speaking after Knockhill and looking ahead to Rockingham the MG man said, “We tried so many different things with the car over the course of the weekend to get the car to react positively, but we just couldn't get it to handle the way I liked. It was very frustrating and it shows that we still have to work hard – and by that I mean myself, the team and all the engineers. We have got to completely erase the memory of this weekend and think about Rockingham because we have got a set-up that we know works there. We dominated race one at that circuit last year and we have just got to think about winning some races.”
Apart from Turkington, the star of Knockhill was without doubt Rob Austin in his own prepared Wix Racing Audi A4. Austin started the season brilliantly with a 3rd place in round 1 at Brands Hatch but was set back after his Audi, affectionately named Sherman after tanks that featured in WW2, suffered a massive impact. Since then the car has failed to show the pace from that opening meeting suffering a number of engine problems, however at Knockhill Austin powered Sherman to take his maiden BTCC pole before taking a 3rd, a career best 2nd in race 2 and 4th in race 3.
After the weekend an understandably delighted Austin, who featured in the new and exciting F1 movie “Rush” said, “We’ve come to possibly the meanest track on the calendar, given the Audi name its first pole position in the BTCC for nearly 20 years, taken the fight to teams with much more experience and much bigger budgets and really done the business. What this will do is give everyone associated with the team a huge lift for the remainder of the season. We’re back where I genuinely feel we belong, we know what is achievable and, of course, we’re pumped up for wins from here on in.”
Last week Onslow-Cole made the shock announcement that he was to leave Team Hard and not compete for the remainder of 2013. A joint statement from team and driver said that he was stepping aside for the final 3 races of the season in order to fully concentrate on a full winters preparation in order for a full title assault in 2014.
However in the second half of the statement the 7 time BTCC race winner went on to say “Obviously this turn of events negates our long-term deal and puts me in a position where I need to reassess my future in the BTCC.”
This gave the impression that this was likely to be the end between Onslow-Cole and Team Hard despite signing a 3 year deal at the beginning of 2013 and now this looks likely to be true after he announced that he will compete in the final 3 rounds of 2013 for Motorbase in their third NGTC Ford Focus.
Things had started well for Onslow-Cole in 2013 where, despite the car only being completed on the eve of the opening meeting of the year, Onslow-Cole was to score a double podium at Thruxton in rounds 7 and 8 with a best position of second.
Another podium was to follow at Croft but he has struggled during the last two rounds at Snetterton and Knockhill with just 1 top 10 finish in the past 6 races before the decision was taken to depart the team.
Speaking about his move last week Onslow-Cole said, “Wow, it's been an emotional week of ups and downs but this news is fantastic. I'm so happy to be back on the grid and I am ever thankful to David [Bartrum] and everyone at Airwaves that made this possible. Motorbase is a great team and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the Ford Focus NGTC. Unfortunately there isn't the chance to test before Rockingham but with the help of Mat, Aron and the team I'm sure I'll get up to speed quickly."
Team boss Dave Bartrum is also delighted to have someone of Onslow-Cole’s calibre in the third car and said, “We’ve been approached by quite a few people in regards to the third NGTC car, and I wanted to put it out for the right type of driver. To suddenly find Tom available was both quite a shock and at the same time a nice surprise as it’s the perfect fit with our team. I am over the moon that I’ve been able to put together what could be possibly be the strongest driver line ups in the BTCC.”
With his departure from Team Hard, team boss Tony Gilham has admitted that he will give new drivers a chance to get their first taste of the BTCC from within his team currently competing in other categories, the first being 32 year old Andy Wilmot who drives for Team Hard currently in the VW cup.
Warren Scott will continue to drive the other VW Passat in a joint venture between Team Hard and his regular team, Team BMR Restart Racing. However there will be another change of driver line up in Team Hard’s second BTCC outfit RCIB Insurance Racing.
Last time at Knockhill it was local driver Kieran Gallagher and fans favourite Paul O’Neill driving the two Vauxhall Insignias while American Robb Holland drove at Snetterton with James Cole completing the first half of the season.
Sadly Knockhill wasn’t a happy return for the hugely popular O’Neill after hitting his team mate in qualifying and suffering a big crash in race 1, missing race 2 and retiring in race 3. Gilham had hoped to get O’Neill back for Rockingham but TV commitments put an end to their plan, however he may get another chance at Brands Hatch this year, while to the delight of many Gilham admits he is close to securing a deal for 2014.
This means that regular 2013 driver, reigning Clio Cup champion Jack Goff returns after being forced to miss Knockhill for budget reasons and will see out the remainder of the season. The second seat goes to Howard Fuller who will return to the team after he competed in two events last year for the team, driving a S2000 Honda Civic, and it has been confirmed that he will once again drive at both Rockingham and Silverstone, the same as last year.
Fuller was provisionally pencilled in to drive in the second Passat for selected rounds. However after waiting patiently all year, Fuller, a race winner in the VW cup for the team last year, will at last get his chance driving the Insignia.
The 21 year old has already tested the car during July’s tyre test at Snetterton and can’t wait to get back out after making a good impression last year saying, “Tony has given me the opportunity and I am absolutely delighted. It has been a little tough watching the season at times but we knew the chance would come so now I just can’t wait to get out there. I think we did a pretty solid job last year and although I’m still relatively new to the BTCC, I’m not new to racing. I’ll just approach it like it’s another race and I’ll be out to do the best job I can do.”