By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
- Neal’s weekend gives him 12 points lead
- Shedden scores a victory for the Honda team
- Champion Plato crashes and later wins
The Honda Racing duo of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden dominated the Thruxton weekend with the pair each taking a win and a second place also during rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with Neal now leading the championship by 12 points as a result.
We need to keep banging in the results because it isn’t going to go all our way at every event.
Current BTCC champion Jason Plato for Silverline Chevrolet won the third race of the day but once again Plato had a troubled weekend crashing heavily out of race 1 with a puncture.
After a chaotic meeting last time out things were a lot calmer and cleaner this weekend with race 1 getting under way without incident and saw pole sitter Shedden lead away followed by Andrew Jordan and team mate Neal.
Neal was quickly putting Jordan under pressure and on lap 4 he took second place away from the Pirtek Racing Vectra with a great late move into Campbell the first part of the complex.
After that the Honda pair had the race under control and could even briefly afford to let Neal pass Shedden on lap 13 to give Neal what could be a vital extra point for leading the race.
Jordan maintained 3rd and finished ahead of Tom Chilton in the global Ford Focus. Tom Boardman finished a good 5th ahead of Mat Jackson in the Airwaves Racing Ford Focus. The Seat driver had earlier got past Jackson on lap 4 after Plato passed Jackson at the final Chicane but Plato once again suffered a nasty crash this time at the Chicane after a left front blow out. Blow outs were expected at Thruxton especially with the Turbo cars however it was Plato in the normally aspirated car who suffered the misfortune a fuming Plato telling Louise Goodman from ITV after the race, “it’s a complete Joke. I’m having to drive the car outside it limits just to keep up with the Turbos and as a result I got a puncture”.
Tom Onslow-Cole in the AmD Miltek Racing.com Golf continued to show great promise and continued his good speed from Donington and from in Qualifying to take 7th just ahead of series leader coming into the event James Nash for Triple 8 who struggled carrying maximum ballast.
Meanwhile completing the top 10 was Jeff Smith in the second Pirtek Racing Vectra and Plato’s teammate Alex MacDowall who earlier had put a good move on Rob Collard after Collard twitched around Church the fastest corner in the country completing the move into the chicane on lap 7.
Race 2 got under way in the finishing positions of race 1 minus Onslow-Cole who had to unfortunately sit out the race in the ever improving Golf due to a cracked manifold preventing him from taking 7th on the grid.
This also meant that once again Plato would have to start at the back of the grid like last time out at Donington which is when he suffered his monster barrel roll however things went better this time and Plato was up to 12th by the end of lap 1. Meanwhile at the front positions stayed the same off the grid but it was clear this time Neal wasn’t going to sit behind his teammate and on lap 6 passed Shedden into “Church”.
Local hero Collard was determined to do well in his home event and things were looking good for the WSR man sitting in 7th with the prospect of the reverse grid going his way this was until lap 7 when MacDowall tapped the BMW into a spin at the chicane. As a result MacDowall got a further 2 penalty points on his competition licence taking his tally to 9 of the season already meaning if he gets a another 3 points this will result in a race ban.
Jordan was also keen on continuing his impressive form and was looking at Shedden’s second position. When for the second lap in succession at the Chicane Shedden ran slightly wide allowing Jordan through. However in doing so Jordan straight lined the Chicane and although he probably would have passed the Honda regardless he was later penalised 1.3 seconds to reverse the positions due to having all 4 wheels off of the circuit.
Chilton would also battle with Shedden but had to settle for his second consecutive 4th place with Jackson beating Nash in a drag race to the line closing the door as the pair crossed the line a forcing Nash on the grass to taking 6th.
After the earlier contact with Collard, MacDowall then went on to set fastest lap in taking 7th ahead of team mate Plato for 8th.
Boardman recovered to 9th after an incredible power slide around the ultra fast Goodwood corner on the opening lap with Tony Gilham taking the last point in the second Triple 8 Racing Vectra after he only was able to confirm his entry to this weekend on the Thursday before the event as he continues to find new sponsorship on a race to race basis.
Both Boardman and Gilham were able to pass Paul O’Neill in the last couple of laps as despite fighting hard he would seriously struggle in his normally aspirated Go Mobile with Tech-Speed Chevrolet Cruze and would fail to score a point all day.
Race 3 saw the reverse grid with the BBC’s former ‘Stig’ Ben Collins who also drove a one off meeting at the end of last season drawing out number 9 meaning that Boardman would take pole.
Boardman’s joy would be short lived however with both Plato and Jackson passing the Seat off the line with Boardman pulling in to 3rd ahead of Nash. On lap 7 the safety car was forced to come out for the only time of the day when on lap 6 Chilton had quite a scary accident.
He was battling with Jordan out of the final Chicane and when the pair entered the first corner both were carrying far too much speed. Chilton ran the widest hitting the barrier quite heavily being spat back across the circuit luckily not being collected by anyone with Jordan also running wide losing places to the two Honda’s. This wasn’t good news for Plato who had built up quite a lead before the safety car but he managed to catch the rest of the pack asleep at the restart and instantly built up quite a lead, which he was never to lose.
Boardman was caught napping the most at the restart dropping well behind Jackson and as a result came under pressure from Nash. In turn MacDowall tried to pass Nash allowing Shedden to attempt to pass the Chevrolet but this allowed Neal instead to get past his team mate Shedden.
Neal was also quick to pass MacDowall just a lap later allowing Shedden also to get past along with Jordan who had earlier been worried about over heating from his grass cutting in the Chilton incident.
However no one came close to Plato at the front and he was able to end his day on a high after entering the 3rd race, way back in 7th position in the Championship. Speaking after the race Plato said, “This makes up for what has been a bad day. Race starts is one of our strengths. I played to that strength to get the lead and then it was a case of managing the gap to Mat. But for the second meeting in a row I have to say a big thanks to my team who did a great job to repair my car, which was badly damaged in the crash in race one – the data shows I hit the barriers at 100mph. I’m aching a bit now.”
Jackson was lucky to take second in his Airwaves Racing Focus to finish the day second in the current standings after he had to pull over on the slowing down lap with Jackson saying, “We had two tough races earlier so knew finishing on the podium in this one was really important to make up some points. Thankfully the car just made it across the line as it cut out just a few yards later and I had to stop.”
What a feeling – we’ve had some cruel luck in the past when we’ve been on course for podiums so this is a very special feeling for everyone in our small team.
In third was a hugely popular result with Boardman managing to hold off Nash to take his first ever-outright BTCC podium. An overjoyed Boardman said after, “During the safety car period my engine just cut out and I thought it was game over. But I managed to restart it and it held together fine after that. Phew! What a feeling – we’ve had some cruel luck in the past when we’ve been on course for podiums so this is a very special feeling for everyone in our small team.”
Neal was able to take 5th ahead of Shedden and Jordan with MacDowall managing to hold onto 8th with Gilham continuing to impress taking 9th. Onslow-Cole would take the final point for 10th after a great drive from the back of the grid. The Golf now looks a major force to be reckoned with and without the problem in race 2 a podium finish may well have been possible.
However it is Neal that leaves Thruxton with some daylight at the top of the standing as he continues his impressive start to the season by winning so far at every circuit. Neal was understandably delighted with his days work but knows how quickly it could change and said after Thruxton, “We’ve had a great day – a pair of 1-2 results for Honda plus a bucketful of points at what in the past has been a bit of a bogey track for me. We’re flying at the moment and we need to because it is starting to get very, very competitive at the front. We need to keep banging in the results because it isn’t going to go all our way at every event.”
Jackson has taken the lead in the Independent trophy whilst he also lies 12 points behind Neal in the outright standings and said, “Finishing on the podium in race three was vital as it had been a bit of a tough day for us up until that point. We keep picking up the points and we’re still very much in touch at the top of the table which is what it’s all about at this stage.”
Leading both the main and Independent trophy into the weekend was Nash but having never raced in the BTCC before at the Thruxton and carrying maximum ballast was always on the back foot. Despite this he managed three top 8 finishes to remain third and second in the two championships and said, “I’d never raced a car with a roof on it here before and so was playing catch-up a bit during the weekend. But we’ve still taken a healthy dose of points, including a fourth place in race three, and it’s important to keep that going. Different circuits will favour different cars and it could swing back in our favour at the next one.”
With 3 races now having past in the last 5 weekends the BTCC now has a brief respite before heading to Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10, 11 and 12 on the 5/6th June. Joining the grid for Oulton should be the returning Lea Wood in his BTCC spec Honda Integra and will also see Dave Newsham’s first event in the Special Tuning Racing Seat.
For any other news and for full preview of the event stay logged into Motorsport.com for all your BTCC news.