Rockingham stage is set, but no Giovanardi

Rockingham stage is set, but no Giovanardi

BTCC Heads to Rockingham This weekend sees the BTCC head to Rockingham in Corby for rounds 4,5 and 6 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. In the past Vauxhall, Honda, BMW, and Chevrolet have all taken wins at the UK's only oval ...


BTCC Heads to Rockingham

This weekend sees the BTCC head to Rockingham in Corby for rounds 4,5 and 6 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. In the past Vauxhall, Honda, BMW, and Chevrolet have all taken wins at the UK's only oval circuit making choosing a winner a difficult task.

Thruxton double race winner Fabrizio Giovanardi.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

One driver that will not be adding to his Rockingham win tally, or indeed BTCC win tally this season, is Thruxton double race winner, Italian megastar, Fabrizio Giovanardi. Uniq decided not to extend their single race sponsorship from Thruxton and despite leading the championship after the first rounds the double BTCC champion now looks certain to miss the rest of the season.

Replacing Giovanardi for Rockingham and for the remainder of the season at Triple Eight will be youngster James Nash.

Nash drove in five meetings last year for RML in a Chevrolet Lacetti and impressed by taking a podium finish at Silverstone. He even won a race on the road at Snetterton until the stewards took it away from him after he made contact with Rob Collard when taking the lead. Nash said, "Missing the first races whilst we sorted the deal out obviously means that I will be playing catch-up, but I'm looking forward to racing at the front and making a fight of the championship."

Phil Glew will partner Nash at Triple Eight. His deal was already confirmed for the season and last season's Clio Cup champion impressed at Thruxton but, sadly, mechanical failure whilst in sixth in the third race of the day, denied him three good race results.

The demise of Giovanardi surely means that Jason Plato is clear favourite for the title for Silverline Chevrolet. Thruxton saw the debut in the championship of the Cruze, which took part in last years WTCC, and Plato said after Thruxton that, "We targeted 30 points here and our game plan was to adopt a very conservative approach with the car. It's very easy to be over-aggressive with the chassis set-up and suffer punctures. It's not worth taking any risks at this stage - come Rockingham we'll be on maximum attack!"

Many people feel that Plato and the Cruze will be the combination to beat, including fans favourite and Thruxton podium finisher Paul O'Neill, who said, "I think the Cruze will be in a class of its own around Rockingham - that car should suit that circuit brilliantly. I'd put money on him winning at least two of the three races..."

O'Neill shocked everyone at Thruxton, including himself, with a podium and ending the day fourth in the points. O'Neill who drives the aging Honda Integra still aims for more and said, "Thruxton was fantastic and I'm certainly not going to be 'namby pambying' around at Rockingham just trying to take some safe points finishes in seventh or whatever. I'm after as many points as possible and going for the podium again. But I've got to be realistic but last year and we had our best qualifying result of the season at Rockingham with fifth on the grid."

Alex MacDowall Silverline Chevrolet Cruze at Thruxton.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

In the other Chevrolet Cruze will be Alex MacDowall. The last season's Clio Cup runner up made his BTCC debut at Thruxton scoring points in all three races but targets more at Rockingham and said, "The aim for my debut at Thruxton was to get three points finishes from the three races. We did that, so now I'm aiming higher. I really do think a podium is realistic, and it is the team's local track, so that's what I'll be pushing for. I'm getting more and more comfortable with the car and learning with every lap. If I can improve on my Thruxton results I'll be really happy."

Chevrolet's biggest threat will come from the two Honda Racing Civics of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden. The Civic has always gone well at Rockingham dating as far back as 2003 and the older specification of touring cars when Honda Racing, run by Arena Motorsport, scored a Honda1-2-4 led by Neal. 2008 saw Shedden take a win from Pole position in 2 and last year James Thompson took fastest lap in an official test there. Other commitments meant he didn't take part in the race yet the car still ran well in the hands of Former Formula 1 racer Johnny Herbert.

The Team Dynamics prepared Civic has completely been transformed over the winter and at Thruxton was the fastest car but bad luck prevented them taking victory.

Shedden scored a superb pole in the opening round and was leading Giovanardi comfortably until a puncture forced him to crash. Neal started from third and kept his position but just like Shedden he suffered a puncture just a lap after Shedden.

Neal proved the speed of the Honda in race 2 coming from the back of the grid to second but in the final race a collision with Rob Collard at the Chicane eliminated the 2005/06 champion from the race. Shedden did give the team something to smile about by taking fourth.

2nd place Matt Neal Honda Racing celebration at Thruxton.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Last season at Rockingham saw WSR's Stephen Jelley take a pair of victories. This season now sees Jelley competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup and it also now looks like that Airwaves BMW run by Motorbase are the BMW team to beat.

Motorbase shocked WSR at Media day by turning up with the latest WTCC Aero package and Mat Jackson took a podium finish during the opening round. The team had even more to celebrate in race 3 when Motorbase took their first ever 1-2 finish. Motorbase returnee Steven Kane led home team mate Mat Jackson to take his first ever BTCC victory, even though WSR's Rob Collard had been leading until Neal's intervention at the chicane.

Kane, although originally from Northern Ireland, now only lives a few miles away from the circuit and he goes into what he calls his home race full of confidence and said, "I'm certainly not getting carried away by that win, although of course it does give you a renewed confidence."

Airwaves BMW also lead the HiQ teams championship and Kane feels that Rockingham could be even better than Thruxton and said, "Provided we start off with a good base set-up on the BMW, then Rockingham should suit the car a lot better than Thruxton. Actually, on paper Thruxton is perhaps the worst circuit for the BMW so for us to win there and so early in the season is above expectations. Plus I've always felt confident driving around Rockingham. It's all there for the taking. Though at this level it is very, very tough and the lay-out of the Rockingham circuit means different cars - BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Vauxhall - will come into their own at different sections."

There will also be a third BMW team on the grid this weekend of Forster Motorsport. The multiple John Cooper Challenge winners were forced to miss the opening race of the season after both drivers, Arthur Forster and Martin Depper, had engine failures during pre-season testingt and had to send their engine back to Schnitzer in Germany for repairs. With the engines back they will finally make their debut this weekend at Rockingham.

Another team to look out for this weekend will be the pair of Ford Focus' of Team Aon. Last season Rockingham was the penultimate meeting of the year and after a year of struggle, the third race of the day saw the coming of age of the Focus. With the help of the reverse grid Tom Chilton saw himself sitting on Pole although little was expected of the Focus. Chilton did not get gobbled by the rest of the field and finished on the podium. Chilton then took another two podiums and the final race at Brands Hatch and now the team is at the sharp end of the grid.

Tom Onslow-Cole and Tom Chilton Team AON at Thruxton.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

At Thruxton the team proved they belonged at the front but like Honda Racing, both Chilton and team mate Tom Onslow-Cole suffered punctures a lap apart of each other in race 1 whilst running 4th and 5th. Both were hampered with mechanical issues in race 2 with Chilton retiring and Onslow-Cole finishing outside the points after starting the race from the pitlane. In race 3 both Tom's did score points after a race long battle with each. The Arena Motorsport Focus' finished 7th and 8th.

Moving to the back of the field, Thruxton saw the debut of the VW Golf driven by Shaun Hollamby run by AmD Miltek racing. The team worked miracles just to get the car on the grid completely re-stripping the car after purchasing it in January to ensure a VW was on the grid for the first time since 1989.

Since Thruxton the team has done yet more work on the Golf and Hollamby said, "We had two retirements in the three races, both caused by CV joint failure. To combat that we've re-positioned the engine a lot higher and changed the rotation of the gearbox so the driveshafts have an easier time, while still allowing us to run the same ride height. There's also an improved aero' package to aid straightline speed performance. The Golf's handling is its strength and that's why I think we'll be in better shape at Rockingham which is much twistier than Thruxton - I think the car was one of the slowest through the speed traps there in the last five years! Through the chicanes we didn't lose much time at all, if any, plus it seems to ride the kerbs really well. If it rains this weekend the car could really come into its own"

That's who to look out for this weekend at Rockingham. With Brands Hatch taking place just a week after Rockingham, the 22 car strong grid will have to be careful to not damage their machinery for the following weeks meeting. Follow all the weekends' activities on Motorsport.com and please return for full reviews and images following the weekend's action.

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Fabrizio Giovanardi , Tom Chilton , Paul O'Neill , Arthur Forster , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Steven Kane , John Cooper , Tom Onslow-Cole , Gordon Shedden , James Nash , Mat Jackson , Martin Depper , Shaun Hollamby , Alex MacDowall , Rob Collard , Stephen Jelley