Jason Plato has slashed Honda Yuasa Racing’s Gordon Shedden’s lead at the top of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship to 15 points following the penultimate 3 races at Silverstone.
In front of a massive 30,000 strong crowd the MG man took a superb double victory in races 1 and 3, although it would have been 3 if it wasn’t for a mechanical failure whilst in the lead of race 2; which was won by Redstone Racing Mat Jackson the first for their new NGTC spec Ford Focus. Meanwhile Shedden, as predicted, struggled taking a best position of 6th in race 3 after qualifying 19th for race 1; but there was even bigger disappointment for his team mate and reigning champion has his championship went up in smoke literally as he clocked up 3 non finishes.
Plato had qualified on pole for race 1 and led early on but he was no match for the un-ballasted Mat Jackson, who overtook Plato and was on course for victory until late on, when he stopped coming out of the final corner with throttle failure to gift Plato his 73rd career victory.
This meant for race 3 the former champion started 20th but with the MG now carrying no ballast after his non-finish, Plato produced one of his finest BTCC drives to add to his ever increasing win tally. Despite his non finish in race 2 an ecstatic Plato said, “Despite the retirement in race two this is still one of the best days in my BTCC career. We’ve made more progress with our MG6 – in fact it’s a rocketship – and our tales are well and truly in the air. For MG to go into the final round with a chance of lifting the title in its first year back in the championship is fantastic and I really believe we’ve got the Honda boys worried.”
After his disastrous qualifying Shedden had an unspectacular day but still picked up valuable points with 3 top 10 positions, including going from 19th-7th in race 1 and achieved a best result of 6th in race 3. After the weekend Shedden admitted that just picking up 3 points scoring places was important and looks forward to the final race of the year, where he hopes to become the first Scottish driver since John Cleland in 1995 to win the crown saying, “We knew this was going to be our bogey circuit so today was about picking up what crumbs we could – I don’t think we could have wrung any more out of the car. I expect us to be fully back on song at Brands Hatch which has got lots of high-speed corners where our Civic comes into its own. I’d take points in the bag any day and I’m feeling good about our chances.”
As for team mate Neal, this must surely go down as probably his worst weekend in his long BTCC career. Starting 10th for race 1, Neal slipped back and eventually was forced to retire with turbo boost problems and again in race 2 he was forced to retire in dramatic circumstances. Early contact damaged the exhaust which eventually caught fire forcing the triple champion to retire with flames pouring from the left side of his Civic. The team did brilliantly to repair the car for race 3, but sadly things didn’t go any better for Neal as his race ended in the barriers again, in a cloud of smoke, after contact with the Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Lea Wood, meaning zero points for the weekend.
Despite this Neal, who now trails Shedden by 31 points, claims he is not out of it yet but admits Shedden is the priority and said, “Today has been a shocker but I’m not out of it yet – there are still a lot of points to be won at Brands and I’ll be going there with all guns blazing. Jason’s MG will be strong there and our priority is to get a Honda over the line in first. Gordon is obviously better placed to do that so is the p priority…”
The gap has also been halved in the Independents trophy to 28points after a double podium for eBay Motors driver Rob Collard, while, like the works Hondas, Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Civic also struggled; although his cause wasn’t helped after being hit out of race 1 by the second MG of Andy Neate.
Without doubt other than Plato one of the starts was Mat Jackson as he followed up his superb drive in race 2 to win from 17th; he followed that up with a second in race 3. After race 3 Mat Jackson declared himself extremely happy with his weekend and said, “A win from 17th, a second and a new lap record in a car that is still only two months old and it could have been two wins… I couldn’t be happier for everyone in my team.”
Despite his non finish in race 1 Mat Jackson’s team did still have something to celebrate as his team mate Aron Smith, in the older spec Ford Focus, was on hand to take his maiden BTCC podium. Aron Smith has been knocking on the door for a podium after coming on leaps and bounds in the second half of the season, although he admitted he would have preferred not to have taken a podium at the expense of his team mate and said, “It’s a great shame my first podium result has come at the expense of my team-mate but it’s also overdue. It’s also a bit of a monkey off my back. It feels great.”
Another man to have a great day was Dave Newsham, who continues to impress in his outdated S2000 spec ES Racing, as he claimed a 2nd in race 1 and 3rd in race 2. With racing always so close around the short Silverstone national circuit, there was bound to be a fair amount of contact with several drivers being penalised and having a weekend to forget.
One of these was the second MG KX Momentum driver of Neate who had contact in all 3 races and failed to score a single point as a result. In race 1 he was the guilty party in ending Jordan’s race at Becketts and was fined £500 and given 3 points on his Licence as a result.
While Jordan’s car was stuck in the gravel, Tony Gilham, standing in for the ill Chris Stockton, was obviously pumped up after just serving a drive through penalty, and was keen to catch up with the pack when he spun his Thorney Motorsport Vauxhall Insignia off in the same gravel trap as Jordan’s car was; Jordan himself and various marshals were standing near where he went off earning Gilham an official reprimand and 2 penalty points in the process.
Neate’s other two non-finishes were after contact with the Audi A4 of Will Bratt in race 2 exiting Becketts and the AmD Tuning.com VW Golf of Ollie Jackson in race 3 on the entry to Luffield.
Wood had an expensive day as he was not only punished for the incident which took Neal out of race 3, but also had earlier been punished for an incident with the 3rd Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Liam Griffin; on both occasions he was fined £500 and given 3 penalty points on his licence.
The final drivers to be punished were Rob Austin in his own prepared Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 and Frank Wrathall. Austin was excluded from race 3 from 9th and given 4 penalty points on his licence for contact with the Proton Persona of Dan Welch, while Wrathall was given a £500 fine and 3 penalty points for ending Newsham’s fine day after contact at Luffield.
After qualifying 3rd Wrathall didn’t get the results he had expected after contact in race 1, with fellow Toyota driver Adam Morgan of Speedworks put him out of 6th, and his day ended in the barriers after trying to avoid the spinning Newsham who he had just hit.
Heading to Brands Hatch in two weeks, apart from the main drivers and Independent driver’s championship to be decided, there is a great battle for Independent teams trophy where Pirtek racing, eBay Motors and Redstone Racing are separated by just 10 points; although Honda/Dynamics have practically secured the Manufactures/Constructors trophy and the coveted HiQ teams Championship.