This weekend the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship visits the home of British Motorsport, Silverstone, as the series heads into the penultimate event of the year.
For the past few events it has been the Honda Yuasa Racing duo of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal that have been switching positions at the top of the standings after every race. This time it is Shedden who heads into the weekend with a narrow 3 point lead following the Scot’s fantastic double in the pouring rain at Rockingham.
Despite losing his lead at Rockingham, Neal performed miracles to come away with a double second after a motorcycle accident prior to the event left the reigning champion with a broken hand, which including a dislocated thumb preventing Neal from even gripping the wheel correctly.
The hand is still not brilliant, it’s still very painful.
Neal admits that he is still struggling with the hand but he believes the straight line speed of the Honda, due to the restrictions put on it by the organisers, will be the thing he struggles with the most this weekend and said, “The hand is still not brilliant, it’s still very painful. On paper Silverstone should make life easier as there are fewer corners but, on paper, this is our bogey circuit. We’ve just not had the straight-line speed of the others and this is a circuit full of long straights. Jason doesn’t have the quickest car in a straight line either but it is still pretty decent and if he can qualify close to or on the front two rows of the grid then he will out-drive the others. He might even be leading it on Sunday night whereas we might be struggling to get into the top ten. I could be wrong, though…”
Jason Plato had looked like he was making real ground on the two Hondas at Rockingham by walking away in the first race of the day after dominating qualifying, but ended the day 32 points behind Shedden after being no match to the Hondas in the wet.
Since then Plato has enjoyed a successful wet test at Brands Hatch and the former double champion now believes his MG 6 can win come rain or shine and said, “If you look back at Thruxton in April Honda were much more sorted than us in the wet because they knew their car better and it was the same at Rockingham last time out. They were in a different league in that second race but we took some steps forward in the third race and were quite a bit closer. The test was all about continuing that development path and learning some more about the car’s behaviour in those conditions, which we have done. We’ve definitely made progress with our wet set-ups and it’s been a good test.”
One driver very much in the wars at Rockingham was Pirtek Racing’s Jeff Smith who suffered a massive accident in race 3 of the day, writing off his NGTC Honda Civic. Since then both Team Dynamics, the men behind the works Hondas and builders of the car, and his own team have been working miracles to get the car ready.
Smith is incredibly grateful for what has been done since his huge crash less than two weeks ago and admits he should be ready come Free Practice 1 and said, “Dynamics very generously offered its spare shell which was almost complete straight after Rockingham and since then they’ve been working flat-out with Eurotech to get it built up. I’m going to have to buy a few people a few crates of beer this weekend. It’s been a massive workload for them to get through with all the internals, wiring loom and other fittings. But I’m confident it will be bang on when I drive it for the first time in Saturday’s opening practice session.”
Also making a welcome return will be Thorney Motorsport in their NGTC Vauxhall Insignia. The Insignia hasn’t run since Tony Gilham showed some encouraging pace in the car at Snetterton. Driving the car this weekend, and also at Brands Hatch, will be Chris Stockton. Stockton last drove in the series in 2006-2008 under his BTC Racing banner competing first in a Lexus IS200 before switching in 08 to a Seat Toledo.
Stockton will have had two days testing the Insignia at Pembrey prior to this weekend with the 42 year old admitting that he hopes to be out on the grid full time next year and said, “I have always loved the BTCC and racing the Insignia this weekend represents a chance for me to get a good idea about exactly what the new Next Generation Touring Cars are all about. It looks like an exciting time to join with the new regulations proving to be a great success. I am open-minded about which way to go with my plans to race in the category full time next year. I am open to discussion with teams for 2013, or we can run a car under the BTC Racing banner. It will be able to use the last two meetings to introduce the BTCC to my existing sponsor Ningbo, plus several Ningbo partners who love the idea of being involved with the BTCC.”
Also returning this weekend for his second BTCC meeting following his impressive BTCC debut at Rockingham will be Howard Fuller. Fuller once again competes for Gilham’s Team Hard squad in their S2000 Honda Civic before another youngster Aaron Williamson takes over driving duties for the final meeting of the year at Brands Hatch.