Matt Neal claims race 3 victory on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit for the BTCC season opening event.
Jason Plato took his 75th and 76th career victories as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship got under way for 2013. Following Plato’s wins for MG KX Momentum Racing in rounds 1 and 2, it was former triple BTCC champion Matt Neal who led home a Honda 1-2 in race 3 to end the weekend on a high for reigning champions Honda Yuasa Racing in what was a tough weekend for the team.
New for 2013, and adding extra spice to the racing, is the new tyre regulations where each driver must run a special super soft compound in one of the races which they must nominate prior to qualifying.
One of the drivers to start race 1 with the new compound was Rob Austin in his Wix Filters Racing Audi A4. After starting 7th he was 4th by the first corner which then quickly became 2nd as a slide from Gordon Shedden held up his team mate Neal and Plato. By the end of the first lap he had taken the lead at the final corner, clearways, overtaking the pole man Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic.
It wasn’t long until the first safety car of the season appeared when, at the end of lap 2, it was called to retrieve BTCC debutant James Cole after he had spun his RCIB Insurance Racing Vauxhall Insignia in the gravel at the first corner Paddock Hill.
Austin was able to continue in the lead but slowly his tyres were going off and on lap 14, Plato got overlap coming out of Paddock Hill and was able to complete the move heading into Druids. Jordan was also able to get past the Audi man making a clean move at Clearways and set down hunting the MG.
Jordan was able to gradually catch up the former double champion until a dramatic last lap final corner move at Clearways saw Jordan attempt a move that he described as “just wasn’t there” and the pair made contact both taking to the gravel. Thankfully for the pair Austin had faded away enough for them both to re-join in the same order as if nothing had happened. After the race Plato had no hard feelings towards Jordan, although he was worried he had dropped down to third and said, “I know it wasn’t intentional. He made a mistake and we all make mistakes. I initially thought I was P3 having seen the Hondas go through. I calmed down after I realised I’d still won!”
That was because the two Hondas had a nightmare opening race of the season as both Neal and current BTCC champion Gordon Shedden were a lap down after they were both forced to pit on the same lap. Neal had to pit to repair first lap damage while Shedden pitted having to empty his radiator from grass after running off track.
The Honda duo weren’t the only ones to have problems as Mat Jackson, in the Airwaves Racing Ford Focus, had to coax the car home with an intermittent issue while Dave Newsham, in his debut race for Speedworks, stopped with an alternator problem.
Two of the three eBay Motors BMW’s were also not enjoying their debut meeting with their brand new BMW 125i.Nick Foster was pulled off the grid following his fine qualifying in 9th and Rob Collard also had big mechanical problems, which were set to stay with him all day meaning he completed just a handful of racing laps during all 3 races.
Behind Austin in third was the second MG KX Momentum Racing MG 6 driven by Sam Tordoff, who was taking part in his debut race weekend in the car in only his second ever race meeting following a one off drive for the team then with a Vauxhall Vectra in 2010.
He just managed to hold off a hard charging Jeff Smith in the second Pirtek Racing Honda Civic while Frank Wrathall took a fine 6th after starting from the back of the grid following his ride height failure in qualifying.
Next up were a pair of drivers who had started on the softer tyres with Adam Morgan in his family run Cicely Racing Toyota Avensis finishing ahead of returning 2009 BTCC champion, Colin Turkington, in the third eBay Motors BMW.
Rounding off the top 10 was Aron Smith in the second Airwaves Racing Ford Focus and Ollie Jackson, who was making his debut in the second Speedworks Avensis.
Race 2 got under way in the finishing positions of race 1 where Plato was just able to hold off the fast starting Audi of Austin. Jordan was, however, able to get back into second and then Austin came under pressure a few laps later from Wrathall, where he hit the Audi at Druids forcing Austin to crawl back to the pits and into retirement.
Earlier on in the race Wrathall had already had contacted with the fast starting Turkington which sent the BMW driver spinning through the gravel, although he was able to drive through it eventually finishing in 8th. Wrathall was punished for the second incident with Austin where he received a £1000 fine and given three penalty points on his competition licence.
Wrathall was clearly in the thick of things in race 2 and he also was on the receiving end of some contact when, after a late safety car period, he and Neal made contact spinning the Toyota round in the gravel at Druids.
That late safety car was brought out because Jack Sears Trophy competitors David Nye, in the Welch Motorsport Ford Focus, and Warren Scott, in his Team BMR Restart Racing Seat Leon, had made contact at Druids pitching the Ford into the air and into the gravel. Plato had had it easy all race but had to redo all his hard work in a 2 lap dash to the line; although the MG man was comfortably able to hold off Jordan to take his second win of the day.
Shedden finished 3rd on the road but was disqualified from the race following the podium celebrations for failing the ride height. This promoted Jeff Smith, in the second Pirtek Racing Honda, to join his team mate Jordan on the podium to take his second career podium. Neal took 4th ahead of the second MG of Tordoff who had earlier had a spin at Surtees who was using the softer tyres. Morgan finished 6th ahead of Mat Jackson in 7th with Newsham, who also spun earlier at the same corner as Tordoff, and Foster, recovering after not starting the opening race in the BMW, taking 9th and 10th respectively. Turkington finished in 8th.
For race 3 the top 8 were reversed, after TV/Radio personality Chris Evans drew out number 7 which saw Mat Jackson on pole for race 3.
Mat Jackson led away but was to lose the lead early on to Neal after the Ford driver slid wide at Druids. This preceded a lengthy safety car period for a huge accident involving Austin in the Audi and Newsham in the Speedworks Toyota.
It happened as Newsham lost the back end and spun across the track where he was collected by the innocent Austin who had gone from 20th to 10th on the opening lap. This sent the Audi off at high speed into the barriers, practically ripping off the whole left hand side of the car.
Thankfully Austin was unhurt and, after experiencing the highs and lows of Motorsport in one day, said, “Damage is nowhere near as bad as it looked. The cage and sub frames are ok and the only thing that hurts is my wallet and we are looking forward to Donington, we are going to be strong...”
Following the restart Jackson was to drop further down the field after making another mistake where he would eventually finish in 10th.
Morgan was running fantastically in 2nd in his family run Cicely Racing Avensis, who were taking part in their debut BTCC race after running last year with Speedworks following the Cicely running him to Ginetta glory in 2011. Last year Morgan proved to be quick but inconsistent; however this year he seems to have learnt his lesson although he wasn’t quite able to hang on to the place when he lost 2nd with just a couple of laps to go, after Tordoff, who had earlier past his more illustrious team mate Plato in the sister MG, got past at Clearways/Clark curve.
The MG driver, in getting past, made slight contact with Morgan which also allowed Shedden up into 2nd following his drive from the back of the grid. The current champion then set off in search of his team mate Neal, and eventually finished less than a second behind as Honda ended the day 1-2 after a difficult day.
After the race Neal admitted that it was nice to end the day on a high and said, “I’m really chuffed with the one-two after what’s been a tough weekend, but they always say to finish on a high. It was a nice way to finish the race as well – it reminded me of the last race of last season.”
Tordoff claimed his maiden BTCC podium as he thoroughly impressed during his debut meeting as a full time BTCC driver. He ended the day 3rd while Morgan was able to get on the podium for the first time taking the Independent victory in 4th.
Plato had to settle for 5th ahead of the two Pirtek Honda drivers of Jordan and Jeff Smith. Smith was having his by far most competitive outing in the series to date ending the day an incredible 4th in the standings.
Wrathall was 8th ahead of Turkington who, once again, had to make a recovery drive after going through the gravel at the first corner.
Following the first 3 races of the season Plato leads Jordan, who also holds the Independent drivers points as he aims to defend his 2012 Independents crown, by 10points and after a superb start to the season said, “I am delighted with the first two wins. Last year was a sign of what might have come for us at MG – but we’ve changed the balance considerably now so it’s much easier to drive. It has been a good weekend.”
Meanwhile in the Jack Sears Trophy for the S2000 spec cars, Liam Griffin, in the Addison Lee Motorbase Ford Focus, took a double victory after Lea Wood was disqualified in race 3 due to a ride height infringement in his wheel heaven/houseman Vauxhall Vectra. The win in the first race went to the returning James Kaye, who had got past Wood to take a hugely popular win in the AmD tuning.com VW Golf, as the team collected the first silverware in the series since entering the championship with the Golf in 2010.