Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Interesting day as different drivers landed the victories in Sunday’s three races
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato took victory in the first race which was followed up by a first victory of the year for Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic. Dave Newsham, for ES Racing in his older spec S2000 Vauxhall Vectra, also took his maiden series win during rounds 16, 17 and 18 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Cars from Snetterton.
It was Dynojet’s Frank Wrathall in his Toyota Avensis who took his maiden pole during qualifying but it was Plato who led into the first corner with Newsham gaining a place to second ahead of Wrathall.
What is encouraging is the MG is really starting to come alive.
For the first time in 37 years there was an American that took the start of the race with Robb Holland making his debut in a S2000 spec Honda Civic for Team HARD. However his first race ended early in dramatic circumstances reversing up and over the barriers at the first corner on just lap 3.
This happened at the first corner after contact from a recovering Adam Morgan, who had started 5th for Speedworks in his Toyota Avensis. Morgan tried to go around the outside but made right front to left side contact on Holland’s rear door, which sent the pair both off at high speed into the barriers bringing out the safety car. After the race however the stewards had judged that it was Holland at fault for the incident and gave him an official reprimand and gave him two penalty points on his licence.
After the safety car eventually came in it was Newsham on the charge but a failed attempted pass on Plato at the first corner resulted in Wrathall taking second instead. Wrathall was never able to get on terms with Plato as he took his 71st career victory, while Newsham was to lose 3rd on the final lap to Jordan after the pair switched places a couple of times during that lap but eventually it was Jordan who took the final podium place with some front end damage for his troubles.
This didn’t matter however as although Jordan wasn’t to know Newsham was to be disqualified after the race after his car was adjudged to be under weight, and was disqualified as a result promoting everyone up a position as a result.
Championship leader Matt Neal was the first person to benefit from this for Honda Yuasa Racing with Dan Welch in his Welch Motorsport Proton claiming a fine 5th. Tom Onslow-Cole was the first eBay Motors BMW home in 6th ahead of the hard charging Gordon Shedden in the second Honda Yuasa Racing Civic, after he had come through from 22nd after his problems during the Saturday qualifying.
Mat Jackson brought his all new NGTC Redstone Racing Ford Focus in 8th during a positive debut race coming up from 16th, with Lea Wood in his S2000 Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra and Jeff Smith in the second Honda Civic belonging to Pirtek Racing rounding off the top 10.
Further down the field Tony Gilham, making a one off appearance for the returning Thorney Motorsport, brought his NGTC Vauxhall Insignia home in 13th while the final person to take advantage of Newsham’s disqualification was Andy Neate in the second MG KX Momentum MG 6, after he had earlier spun after contact at Palmer corner.
For race 2 Plato lead away into the first corner with Jordan and Neal getting ahead of Wrathall into 2nd and 3rd. Meanwhile further down the field Morgan made further contact, after his team worked miracles to get the car out following his race 1 collision, and was forced to retire on the first lap. The contact probably was with Welch as he was forced to pit on the opening lap with a puncture.
However there was disappointment for 5th in the championship Rob Collard in the eBay Motors BMW, as he failed to take to the grid after stopping on the last lap of race 1 with the team having to do an engine change in the short time between races 1 and 2.
On lap 5 Neal took Jordan for 2nd at Agostini and Shedden took 4th as all three Honda’s went charging after the MG of Plato. Plato had a comfortable lead but with the former double champion carrying maximum ballast following his race 1 success, by the end of the race Plato was coming under increasing pressure.
You can always expect fireworks when Plato and Neal are involved and today was no exception. On lap 11 Neal eventually made his move giving the MG a slight tap round Coram enough for Plato to slide out and take the lead. Plato retaliated instantly returning the favour at the final corner, Murrays, pushing Neal off the road with Plato also running wide, allowing Jordan to take the lead from Shedden after he had just narrowly held him off on the same lap.
After that Jordan was able to complete the last lap without incident to take his first victory of the year from Shedden. After the race Jordan admitted it had been a long time coming and said, “I’m delighted as I feel this is long overdue for everyone in the team. I was second early on until Matt got past but as it turns out I ended up in exactly the right place at the right time.”
Plato stayed in 3rd while Neal recovered to 4th with the pair receiving verbal warnings after their latest on track scuffle. After Neal went wide both Wrathall and Onslow-Cole also got past but a clash between the pair resulted in Neal retaking both and with Onslow-Cole running wide and gaining damage as a result of the contact, lost a further place to Mat Jackson whose new NGTC Ford Focus continued to run well without issues.
Newsham came through from the back following his race 1 exclusion to take 8th with Wood finishing 9th. This in fact was to be the front row of the grid for race 3 after ball number 9 was picked out for the reverse grid.
Further down the field Holland had something to smile about after race 1, as he gave a good account of himself and came out on top of a duel involving the AmD tuning.com VW Golf of Ollie Jackson to claim 2 points for 14th.
Race 3 got under way with the two Vauxhall Vectras on the front row of the grid and it was Wood who wasn’t fazed by his maiden pole and led the opening lap. After his good work in race 2, American Holland found the gravel at the hairpin, but continued albeit a long way behind the rest of the field, but more importantly Wrathall made contact with Neal spinning the Civic right to the tail end of the pack.
Onslow-Cole had got into second on the opening lap but Newsham was quickly able to pass the BMW on lap 2. He then also lost a place to Mat Jackson at Coram on lap 2 as well as a place to Shedden, but was able to get back in front on lap 4 but with this big battle for third amazingly the two Vectras were able to break clear at the front.
It was clear though that Newsham was the quicker of the two and got past Wood by mid race. Newsham from there was able to simply drive away from the field and, although he backed off on the last lap, was unchallenged to take his maiden series win.
After the race an overjoyed Newsham said, “It’s fantastic for this little team particularly with Knockhill coming up which is going to be very special. And what a way to finish the day after what happened in race 1.”
Wood had looked on course to take a superb maiden BTCC podium but then on lap 9 disaster struck and Wood was forced to retire with gearbox issues. Jackson had been running behind Wood but had earlier lost 3 places to Onslow-Cole, Shedden and Plato after he ran wide which is how the positions stayed with Jordan finishing in 6th. However Mat Jackson and the rest of his Redstone Racing team should be hugely encouraged and proud of what they have achieved with 3 top 10 finishes in a brand new car, which wasn’t even finished until 7am on the Saturday of the event.
Aron Smith in the second Redstone Racing Ford Focus, albeit the S2000 spec, put in his best run of the weekend to claim 7th with Wrathall finishing 8th. After their various troubles Neal and Collard put on a great dice to finish 9th and 10th. The pair had earlier been in a battle with the Audi of Rob Austin which resulted in contact between Collard and Austin, breaking the left front steering arm of Austin who was having a weekend to forget following his superb podium last time out at Croft.
For Neal race 3 looked to be a disaster in terms of the championship with him and his team mate Shedden heading into the race level on points and with Shedden finishing third had taken a healthy lead in the points. However for the second time today there was exclusion after the race; this time for Shedden after it was ruled that his car had been running with too much boost and lost his third place finish promoting every one up a place.
As a result it is Neal who emerges with an 8 point lead over Shedden despite not having a weekend to remember. For Neal though it is now all about Knockhill after a challenging weekend although he is under no illusions there is a lot of work to be done and said, “We knew we were on the back foot after qualifying and so it proved to be. It’s been a case of damaged limitations today and the spin in race 3 after contact with Wrathall did me no favour. Knockhill, which has shorter straights, is next so should be better for us but it is clear we have a lot of work to do.”
Shedden should have gone away from Snetterton with a clear championship lead but instead goes away thinking what might have been and reflected upon his troubled weekend by saying, “I’ve clearly done something to someone, what with the fire and then the exclusion, without that I would have been leading the table and it was also very cruel on the team who had performed miracles to give me a race-ready car today after the fire. Knockhill is, of course next and I am determined to fight back for the fans there. I won’t be short of adrenaline.”
By far the happiest man of the day should be Plato. Coming into the weekend Plato trailed the two Honda’s by 29 points but leaves just 10 behind Neal and 2 behind Shedden after his exclusion. Following his win and pair of third’s Plato said, “I couldn’t have asked for much more, although it was a shame about the incident in race 2 with Matt after I had led all the way up until that point. What is encouraging is the MG is really starting to come alive at a crucial stage of the season. In fact I think it’s going to be strong at all four remaining rounds so it is game on.”
Meanwhile in the various other championships Honda/Dynamics still comfortably lead both the Manufacturers/constructors championship and the HiQ team’s award with Andrew Jordan and his Pirtek Racing team leading the two Independent standings.