By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
Matt Neal led home his team-mate Gordon Shedden to secure a Honda Racing Civic 1-2 for round 4 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. As expected the turbo powered cars dominated qualifying with Neal’s best lap of 1.10.129 shattering the qualifying record at Donington Park, however the session will be remembered for 3 red flags.
While we’ve clearly got great pace over a single flying lap, we know we cannot sustain that over a race distance tomorrow.
The first happened when Mat Jackson spun his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus at high speed in to the gravel at the Old Hairpin while he went around the outside of a slower Honda but ran out of road. Next up was Andy Neate who spun going down the Crainer Kerbs as he slid down on the grass towards the Old Hairpin collecting advertising hoardings in the process, sending them onto the middle of the track. Tony Hughes’ Speedworks caused the final stoppage after he and James Nash made contact, sending the Toyota Avensis into the gravel. There was also another on track collision between Tom Boardman and Chris James and although both cars made it back to the pits neither were able to complete another lap.
In all the carnage it was Neal who made it 2 out of 2 poles for the season so far with his sensational lap, although he knows that he will not be able to continue with this pace over a full race distance and said, “‘Lively’ is the best way to describe that lap – it was like riding a lap of the Grand National. But while we’ve clearly got great pace over a single flying lap, we know we cannot sustain that over a race distance tomorrow. We are going to have a real struggle on our hands to keep the tyres and brakes.”
Shedden made it an all Honda Dynamics front row but shortly after his quickest lap he had to park in the pits with a broken front suspension. Another similar problem caused him to crash at high speed during Free Practice 1 at Brands Hatch, forcing him to miss qualifying the last time out. Once again Shedden did end up in the gravel during the first session, although thankfully for him no damage was done. Speaking after qualifying, while happy with his front row start Shedden said he was disappointed not to be able to challenge his team-mate’s time, “It’s slightly frustrating I couldn’t have a crack at Matt’s time but, hey, at Brands Hatch two weeks ago I was starting from the back of the grid after a crash so I can’t complain too much. But Matt is right – we know it’s going to be marginal on tyres and brakes tomorrow. The last laps of each race could be squeaky bum time.”
Following his superb form at Brands Hatch Nash was able to continue his fantastic start to the season and qualified his Triple 8 Vectra in third position. Nash had come second in the first practice session of the day before topping the second session but after qualifying admitted that he couldn’t have gone any faster. Nash now looks ahead to tomorrow where he hopes to secure his first victory in the series and said, “I think that’s about as much as I could have got out of the car, but the Hondas were always out of reach on a flying lap. I think in race trim we should be able to hang on to them, but beating them is going to be a big ask. Won’t stop me trying, though.”
Topping the first session of the day was Andrew Jordan as he continued his pace from the first meeting at Brands. However, following the second session where he finished 4th, his Pirtek Racing team had to change a front damper. This sadly wasn’t finished quite in time for the start of qualifying yet he was able to benefit from the red flags and took part in the second part of qualifying, although with a far from perfect car.
Tom Chilton was next up for Team Aon in his Global Ford Focus and he finished just ahead of undoubtedly the star of qualifying, Jeff Smith for Pirtek Racing. The former Clio racer produced a thoroughly deserved shock in his all white Vectra in only his third ever BTCC meeting following a one-off race for Triple 8 last season at Knockhill at the opening meeting of the year.
Despite his high speed spin in the gravel early on Jackson was still able to hold onto 7th and he will start ahead of the reigning champion and double winner from Brands Hatch, Jason Palto, who has expected struggled in his normally aspirated Chevrolet Cruze with the full 45kg ballast.
Plato’s team mate Alex MacDowall will start just ahead of top BMW of Rob Collard for WSR in 10th who is in turn ahead of Paul O’Neill in the first Go-Mobile Tech-speed Cruze.
Boardman following his collision with James will start 12th although surely he would have been higher if it wasn’t for that incident, particularly as he managed 3rd in Free Practice 2.
Next up was Tony Gilham for Triple 8 and although he might be slightly disappointed to not match the other Vectra’s, just being at the event is a relief for the top rookie from Brands following his sponsorship difficulties. However after increased support from title sponsor Collins Contractors and various other new sponsorship deals, Gilham hopes to repeat his hat trick of points finishes from Brands Hatch.
Neate, despite having his spin will be 14th ahead of last year’s Team Aon Focus belonging to Liam Griffin in the Airwaves Racing car while last year’s Team Aon driver, Tom Onslow-Cole, will start 16th in his second meeting in the AmD Miltek Racing Golf.
The second WSR BMW belonging to Nick Foster will start 17th ahead of the Go-Mobile Chevrolet of John George, just ahead of Dave Newsham in his Geoff Steel Racing BMW who will be disappointed with 19th.
Winning the NGTC battle was Frank Wrathall who will start his Dynojet Toyota Avensis ahead of Rob Austin in 20th, although he was yet another driver to have a harmless spin at the Old Hairpin.
Former F3 racer Austin is deputising for Dave Pinkney this weekend and the team boss can’t be more than happy with his day’s work particularly as this was the first running of his prepared Audi A4 which completed plenty of laps throughout the day without any drama. While the final two places on the grid will be filled with James who had an interesting day visiting the Donington scenery and he will start ahead of Hughes after his trip in the gravel.
So that is how the grid will line up for round 4 of the championship. No doubt advantage after qualifying goes to Honda but to find out whether they can carry on their dominance be sure to log back onto Motrsport.com following the day’s racing.