Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Championship battle heats up as series heads north of the border
This weekend the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will cross the border to make its annual trip to Knockhill as it celebrates 20 consecutive years of holding the event. Heading into the event, reigning BTCC champion Matt Neal holds an 8 point lead in the championship over his Honda Yuasa Racing team mate Gordon Shedden. However it should be the other way round at the top of the standings, after Shedden was throw out of the results after securing a podium in the last race last time out for a technical infringement. Making Shedden’s job even harder is the fact that he will, despite the disqualification, be forced to carry maximum ballast as the rules state that the ballast is determined by the order in which they crossed the finishing line.
Nevertheless Shedden has a tremendous record around his home circuit winning 3 times around his office; as Shedden works at the circuit in a commercial role during the week and says this weekend is the perfect place to bounce back and said, “Snetterton was just plain unlucky. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong but it’s all about what you salvage and we did a decent salvage job. I need to bounce back immediately if I can and where better than at Knockhill? Some of the cars are quite a bit quicker than the Honda in a straight line and that told at Snetterton which has long straights, but we should be in a better place at Knockhill. At least I hope so.”
The tight and twisty Scottish circuit has given me many strong memories over the years
Just like the past few years double BTCC champion Jason Plato has got his championship challenge back on track after the summer break, after the MG KX Momentum driver scored a win and two podiums to slash the lead at the top of the standings from 29 points to just 10 after Snetterton.
Plato now heads into the weekend full of confidence and hopes to add to his ever increasing win tally and says, “Off the back of a strong weekend at Snetterton, we must go to Knockhill full of confidence. We are starting to build up the momentum needed to mount a championship challenge. The tight and twisty Scottish circuit has given me many strong memories over the years, some good, some not so. It's a circuit I really enjoy and one that I think will really suit our MG 6GT. We are certainly going north of the border looking to add to the win tally.”
Last time out at Snetterton one of the biggest surprises was Redstone Racing with Mat Jackson. Not so much on track but by unveiling and racing their all new Next Generation Ford Focus Touring Car which they have been building secretly over the summer.
This is the first time that Motorbase Performance; the men behind the Redstone Racing, have ever built a Touring Car and, despite not finishing until 7am on the Saturday, the car ran faultlessly all weekend scoring 3 top tens and even was challenging for a podium in race 3.
After running the car for the first time at Snetterton Jackson is certain the Focus has what it takes to quickly become a race winner and said, “The title might be realistically out of reach now but the other leading NGTC teams including Honda and MG should be worried. I'll have no qualms about mixing it up at the front if I sniff a win and I genuinely believe we will have the new NGTC Focus capable of challenging for race wins come Rockingham.”
Another man heading into this weekend is Dave Newsham, fresh from securing his first BTCC victory in race 3 at Snetterton for his tiny ES Racing team in their Vauxhall Vectra. After a superb start to the season scoring a pole during the opening race and podiums and Brands Hatch and Thruxton, Newsham fell off the pace at Oulton Park and Croft as the NGTC cars were far superior to Newsham’s aging S2000 Vectra.
However Newsham bounced back with his victory, the first for an S2000 car since round 7 at Thruxton, and now heads into his home event looking for more and said, “I fancy my chances of another win, although I’m told the Vauxhall Vectra isn’t the best at Knockhill. I’ve a feeling the Hondas, particularly with Gordon (Shedden), will go really well there but nobody really knows until we get out on the track.
“Just look at what happened at Snetterton. It was, of course, fantastic to finally get that first win at Snetterton although, if I’m honest, I think we should have had one at the opening round at Brands Hatch. It’s important we keep the car the way it is right now and don’t go meddling with it. I won both Renault Clio Cup races and the title at Knockhill in 2010 and I’d love to put on another good show for the fans there this weekend,” added Newsham.
As ever with the Knockhill event sadly we have a few absentees. Liam Griffin will once again sit out the event due to work commitments, while Tony Gilham has opted not continue with Thorney Motorsport and will instead oversee American Robb Holland as he takes part in Gilham’s Honda Civic for the second meeting and said, “I enjoyed really racing the Insignia at Snetterton and I felt a top ten result would have been possible. But it doesn’t make sense to spend budget when we’ve got so much going on behind the scenes for 2013 – hopefully I’ll be announcing our plans in the near future. I’ll certainly be back out before the end of the season.”
We will also be without Rob Austin in his own prepared Audi A4 and Ollie Jackson in his AmD Tuning.com Golf. Austin said, “It’s no secret our budget is tight and, as much as I love Knockhill, I’ve had to let my head rule my heart on this one. I’ll still be there as it’s an event I wouldn’t miss for the world and it’ll be interesting having time to see how some of the bigger teams operate.”
While AmD team boss and former racer Shaun Hollamby explained, “We’re giving Knockhill a miss so we can go testing for a few days – Snetterton didn’t work out how we’d envisaged and we need to understand why before Rockingham.”
In more positive news though, once again at Knockhill we will see fans favourite Paul O’Neill replace Tony Hughes in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis; as he did at Croft where he ran well although was hampered all weekend through mechanical issues.