Champions homecoming, fans favourite returns and youngest ever driver in store for BTCC Knockhill
This weekend will see the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship head north of the border for its annual visit to Knockhill in Scotland for rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the campaign.
Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal will head into the event with a narrow 9 point lead as he attempts to win his 4th BTCC title to equal the record set by Andy Rouse. Second in the points is Andrew Jordan driving an identical Honda Civic for Independent team Pirtek Racing.
Jordan also holds a commanding lead in the Independent championship, although he will be at a disadvantage this weekend having reached the maximum number of strikes in the totting up procedure for on track collisions and, as a result, will have a 6 place grid penalty for race 1. Jordan will be the sole Eurotech prepared Civic as team mate Jeff Smith, who already has suffered a grid penalty earlier in the season at Croft, misses the event due to business commitments.
All eyes this weekend however will be on the homecoming champion in the second Honda Yuasa Racing Civic of Gordon Shedden. Last year Shedden became only the third Scotsman in the series history to take the title following in the footsteps of the great Jim Clark and BTCC Legend John Cleland.
So far this year has proved to be a topsy-turvy defence to Shedden’s BTCC crown, however the man who’s day job is at the circuit has clawed his way back into the championship after a win in race 3 at Snetterton and is now third in the points 22 off of team mate Neal. Shedden understandably has an excellent record around Knockhill and can’t wait to return home as BTCC champion and said, “It’s going to be a great event and I can’t wait. I love racing in front of my own fans and it’s nice to give them a Scottish champion to support.”
Traditionally Snetterton is where MG KX Momentum’s Jason Plato’s championship really gathers momentum and, following qualifying and race 1 where he followed team mate Sam Tordoff home as the youngster took his maiden victory and MG’s second 1-2 of the season, things certainly looked of course for the MG man.
The MG was clearly the class of the field at Snetterton dominating the field and Plato immediately found his way to the front in race 2 when disaster struck. First a mechanical failure in race 2 and then a dramatic rollover in race 3 meant two non-score’s for the former double champion as he left Snetterton 5th in the points and an incredible 50 points off of top spot.
The only positive for Plato heading into this weekend will be that he only has to carry 9kg of ballast at the circuit where he qualified on Pole position last year and, following his miserable weekend last time, reflecting on the Snetterton weekend by saying, “It is just frustrating. It should have been a really great weekend for us. We did our homework at the test and the guys have been working very hard back at the factory. Then lady luck comes along and dishes you out what can only be described as a crap hand. I am annoyed with the failure in race two because it was a part mandated by the championship that broke – it's nothing to do with the team or anything we can control. But this is motorsport – some you win, some you lose. C’est la vie! It is going to make things a big uphill battle in terms of the championship now, but I am not going to stop fighting. Motor racing isn't meant to be easy.”
Another man all eyes will be on this weekend is Paul O’Neill as the fans favourite makes a welcome return to the series in an all changed for this weekend line up for Team Hard, in their RCIB Insurance Racing Vauxhall Insignia.
Last time out American Robb Holland made a one off appearance for the team alongside regular driver Jack Goff who also is forced to sit out this weekend for budgetary reasons. Alongside O’Neill will be local driver 23 year old Kieran Gallagher, who regularly competes at the circuit driving in the Scottish Legends Championship, as he makes his series debut having already competed for the team in the VW Cup championship.
Understandably it is O’Neill’s return that has caused the most interest as the 2 time race winner returns to the series for the first time since last year, when he drove for Speedworks at the circuit in their Toyota Avensis and achieved the team’s best result to date of 4th as he competed in the second of two meetings for the team last year.
The drive is just a one off with regular driver Goff hoping to make a return at Rockingham but O’Neill is just grateful to get the opportunity to return to the hot seat and said, “I am delighted to be back in a Touring Car and to be invited to do so is even more flattering. It’s going to be extremely tough as I haven’t driven the car before and I haven’t had any testing this year, so it’ll be different and more challenging than say when I jumped in the Toyota last season. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself in terms of results but seeing what Robb Holland did with the car last weekend then I’d like to think I could be knocking on the door of the top ten. Obviously if I could do that in race two then I’d stand a chance of being up front for the final race, which would be absolutely fantastic.”
Team boss Tony Gilham is also delighted to have someone of O’Neill’s calibre in the car and hopes this could be the start of something long term by saying, “Hopefully it’s the start of a longer relationship. It’s great having someone like Paul in the car and we’d love to work with him in the long-term. He’s a real fans’ favourite and Team HARD has a good following too, so we believe it will be a perfect match. It’s only a one-off deal at the moment but let’s see what the future brings.”
There will be one final new driver on the grid this weekend as Aiden Moffat is set to make BTCC history by becoming the youngest ever driver to compete in the series at just 16 years, ten months and 28 days.
Moffat will drive an S2000 Chevrolet Cruze previously driven this year by Joe Girling in the Jack Sears trophy. Moffat has been confirmed in the car for the remainder of the season and will be run by Finesse Motorsport who previously co-run the car for Girling earlier in the season.
Despite his young age the Scottish driver has already proved he has the talent and has won the last four races in the Fiesta ST Cup, in which he currently competes in alongside the Mini Cooper challenge, as he will continue to do.
Speaking ahead of the weekend the record breaker who is set to break the record as youngest driver, currently held by Tom Chilton said, “I am just so excited to be on the big stage racing. I know the Knockhill circuit inside and out so that should help with my debut. I’ve always dreamed about doing the BTCC and it’s always been in the plan, but it has come around sooner than we thought. To be told I am the youngest ever driver in the BTCC just adds to the excitement to be honest. I won’t be phased by the challenge, but I’ll certainly be taking it all in and looking to learn from the experience, so I really can’t wait to get out there.”