Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
In not many disciplines can you say that the national series is more entertaining than the World Championship; however there is one exception to this rule when it comes to the British Touring Car Championship. While the World Championship produced yet another predictable Chevrolet whitewash, things couldn’t have been more different in the British series for rounds 4, 5 and 6 at Donington Park. Once again the championship provided many thrills and spills and controversy with action that goes down to the last corner, of the last lap, of the final race with at least half the field within a shout of victory.
Mat Jackson took the opening win of the day for Redstone Racing before Gordon Shedden took the final two wins for Honda Yuasa Racing, only after Jackson was disqualified from the last race with Shedden who, despite crossing the line in third, took victory after a controversial last corner contact.
MG KX Momentum driver Jason Plato was on pole but it was eBay Motors Rob Collard who led into the first corner, after he made an astonishing start in his rear wheel drive BMW going from 5th to 1st by the opening corner. Back in the pack there was contact at the first corner with Lea Wood in his Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra being sent sideways collecting the Innocent Ford Focus belonging to Liam Griffin for Redstone Racing.
Collard was able to build up quite a lead in the first couple of laps although he was quickly caught and started to go backwards. Things started to go wrong on lap 3 when Plato got down the inside of Collard going into the final chicane. Mat Jackson in third also tried to follow the MG past, but out braked himself bumping the back of Plato. Jackson took the lead but as Plato bumped across the kerbs he re-joined in front of Collard, dropping down to 6th with Plato losing places to the two Honda Yuasa Civics of Shedden and Matt Neal.
On lap 9 Collard had dropped further back and was involved in a great tussle with the ES Racing Vectra of Dave Newsham and the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic of Andrew Jordan. Newsham dived down the inside of Collard at the first corner, Redgate, allowing Jordan through as well. Jordan then got inside Newsham at the Old Hairpin allowing Collard to temporarily get back past Newsham although the positions would once again be reversed just a lap later.
Next it was Aron Smith’s turn to pass Collard in the Redstone Racing Ford Focus starting the move coming out of Coppice and completing the move at the Chicane. Frank Wrathall was the next man to attack Collard in his Dynojet Toyota Avensis as the two went half a lap changing places going side by side before Wrtahall eventually took the place.
Meanwhile at the front it was Jackson who managed to hold off Shedden to make amends for a tough opening weekend at Brands Hatch. For the second race meeting in a row arch-rivals Neal and Plato enjoyed a close but fair race with each other. On the final lap Plato thought he had passed Neal coming out of the first corner however Neal stayed alongside going down the ultra fast Crainer Kerbs holding on to third.
While one eBay Motors BMW fell back another one in the hands of Tom Onslow-Cole was having a fine race finishing 5th. Starting 12th Onslow-Cole made good progress early on before taking advantage of the hold up on lap 3 to get 5th. Jordan, Newsham, Smith and Wrathall were next up with Collard eventually finishing in 10th after his remarkable start. The third eBay Motors BMW of Nick Foster came 11th with Dan Welch in his Proton Persona in 12th.
For 13th, 14th and 15th the final 3 points positions there was a titanic battle heading into the final corner between Tony Gilham and Jeff Smith, both in Honda Civics albeit to different specifications, and Adam Morgan who was recovering from an early spin after contact with the second MG of Andy Neate. Morgan tried to go down the inside of Gilham into the final chicane but contact was made with both going across the gravel allowing Jeff Smith to take both to finish 13th.
Race 2 got under way in the finishing positions from race 1 and it was Jackson who got a fine start instantly building quite a lead during the first lap. Plato had moved up to third but Neal got past him going into the chicane with once again the fast starting Collard also trying to get past. However, Plato didn’t want to lose another place trying to close the door on Collard although the BMW was already alongside, resulting in Plato being spun into the tyre barriers and Collard spinning around.
Collard continued while Plato, although he got going back to the pits, the rest of his race turned into a test session. Unfortunately for Jackson, who had built up quite a lead by the end of lap 1, Plato didn’t get going in time for the safety car coming out.
Jackson lost his big gap and it wasn’t long, once the safety car came in, before he lost the lead to Shedden who passed him getting an overlap coming out of Coppice completing the move into the chicane. Further back there was a good battle once again involving Jordan and Newsham. Jordan got alongside Onslow-Cole going through Starkeys. Heading into McClean Newsham tried to follow Jordan through but tapped Jordan into a half spin losing a couple of places promoting Newsham to third. Although Jordan would re-pass Onslow-Cole on lap 10 heading into the chicane.
In between this, positions had changed for second with Jackson losing the place to Neal coming out of McCleans in Coppice for a Honda 1-2 with Jackson finishing third. Newsham finished 4th ahead of the two Pirtek Racing Civics of Jordan and Jeff Smith. This time it was the BMW of Onslow-Cole who would drop back in the last couple of laps. Gilham passed Onslow-Cole on the penultimate lap coming out of McCleans heading in to Coppice for 7th. However, his team mate Collard after his first lap spin was storming through the field and passed Onslow-Cole on the final lap at the same place as Gilham. This also allowed Aron Smith past and he narrowly finished behind Collard at the line. Onslow-Cole eventually finished 10th one place in front of his other team mate Foster.
For 12th there had been a great battle which ended in true Touring car fashion for two of the drivers. Chris James in the second ES Racing Vectra had been holding it for a while but on lap 12 he ran wide allowing Neate past. Also in the mix were Morgan and Griffin and, as James re-joined the circuit, Morgan appeared to slightly move left trying to get past Neate, with Griffin in turn moving to the left and into James, firing the pair at high speed into the gravel. Griffin was furious with the clash letting James know his feelings whilst still in the car although clearly it wasn't James’s fault as Griffin later admitted with Neate holding 12th and Morgan finishing 13th.
Wrathall recovered from a spin after he hit the side of Aron Smith at the old Hairpin for 14th with Wood finishing 15th in his prepared Vectra.
For race 3 former USA international football (Soccer) goalkeeper and current Everton reserve keeper Marcus Hahnemann drew out the reverse grid which saw Jeff Smith line up on Pole position. It was his team mate who lined up alongside him who briefly took the lead but then Jackson went around the outside and led into the first corner. However, both Jackson and Jordan got sideways on cold tyres at the first corner with Jordan losing a number of places and Jackson losing the lead to Newsham who led the rest of the lap.
Once again Griffin and James made contact on the opening lap down the Crainer Kerbs, while Neate also made heavy contact with the wall going over the start/finish line of the opening lap forcing him to limp back to the pits with his car heavily crabbing.
There was yet more mayhem on lap 3 when Collard, who was trying to pass the car in front, ran wide at the Old Hairpin. This forced all the cars behind him to bunch up forcing his team mate Onslow-Cole to take to the grass. This also slowed up Neal and with Jordan at full speed he tried to get inside Neal who turned in on Jordan forcing both to spin. Jordan spun 360 degress and continued. However Neal, who started the race with a healthy points lead after Plato’s DNF in race 2, ended up in the gravel bringing out the safety car. Before the cars reached the line Jackson had taken the lead from Newsham.
As the race progressed Newsham seemed to develop an engine misfire and lost places to Collard on lap 7 heading into the Old Hairpin and then Shedden on lap 9 at the chicane. Eventually after dropping further down the field and a trip across the gravel at the final chicane, Newsham was forced to retire.
The man on the move though was the MG of Plato who was carving his way through the field now of course without any weight on the car. He first passed Gilham heading out of Coppice in to the Chicane before also passing ailing Newsham at the Chicane getting incredibly airborne in doing so. He then passed the person he had contact with in race 2, Collard. This time the pair did give each other room as they ran side by side down the Crainer Kerbs completing the move in to the Old Hairpin.
Collard had already lost second to Shedden after he ran wide coming out of the Old Hairpin running around the outside of him through Starkeys completing the move into McCleans. So this meant Plato who had come from 17th on the grid the last few laps was able to make yet more ground. Jackson at the front was by now struggling with gone off tyres as Shedden was trying to both battle for the lead and defend from Plato.
Jackson was very slow coming out of McCleans which allowed Shedden to get right behind and in turn Plato right behind Shedden. Plato had been trying for a couple of laps to take 2nd and he was more than determined too. Heading down the final chicane Plato was literally stuck to the rear bumper of Shedden pushing him down the straight. As Shedden moved to the left to take the line for the Chicane, Plato remained glued to the rear bumper pushing the Honda across the gravel. Plato also took to the gravel passing Shedden to take second. Plato said, “Gordon… he just drove extremely defensively and was jumping on the brakes in places where you don’t brake. Into the final corner he braked incredibly early and it just caught me out.”
Shedden saw the incident very differently and furiously said, “What Jason has done is unacceptable – I don’t know how he thinks he can talk his way out of shovelling someone off the track unless it’s in the rules, which I don’t believe it is.”
Unknown to the two at the time this was actually the battle for the lead. This was because after the race Jackson got excluded for his car running above the required Turbo boost regulations. As for the Plato/Shedden incident, the stewards ruled in favour of Shedden with Plato receiving a two-second time penalty to reverse the positions. Despite crossing the line in third, Shedden took victory.
This promoted everyone up a position and the person to take the biggest advantage of this was Gilham who, as a result, took his first BTCC podium and Independent victory after he passed Collard through the final lap. Collard finished 4th ahead of the two Pirtek team mates this time with Jeff Smith finishing ahead of Jordan, who was suffering with rear end issues following his contact with Neal. Despite a moment leaving the chicane on lap 14 losing a few places, Wrathall was able to take his best BTCC finish for 2012 in 7th. Welch took a career best 8th ahead of Onslow-Cole, Wood and Aron Smith. Foster was 12th ahead of the colliding duo of James and Griffin with Tony Hughes for Speedworks being promoted to the final point for 15th.
Despite his third crash at Donington in as many years, although thankfully he remained on all 4 wheels unlike last year, Plato left the event as he started it 4 points ahead of Neal. Despite admitting it was a day of highs and lows Plato declared he was happy after race 3 and said, “It’s been a very topsy-turvy day for me. The speed of the MG was clear for all to see with that brilliant pole position lap but then things just didn’t go our way in the races. My crash was just a racing incident but then to drive through from 17th to finish on the podium in race three again underlined just how special the MG is and I believe it will fly at Thruxton.”
Neal had gone into race 3 with a decent lead but was left disappointed with his DNF in race 3 saying, “Everything was going great until race three – a third in race one and then a great result for Honda in race two. But race three showed just how quickly it can all change again in the BTCC and now I find myself chasing Jason again as we go to Thruxton. But the main thing is we’re still right in the hunt and my Honda won’t have quite so much success ballast to deal with as his MG around.”
After a nightmare opening weekend at Brands Hatch this time Shedden got the better of a disqualification and after taking a double victory said, “I feel we’ve got our just rewards today despite Jason’s best efforts! The Honda has been fantastic all weekend around Donington and that’s a great sign for Thruxton where again having a good car in high speed corners counts for a lot. It’s the perfect way to bounce back after Brands Hatch and my championship is now back on track.”
It’s shown we’re capable of taking it to factory teams and I’m going to Thruxton fully intent on rattling their cages again.
His victory in race 3 would have meant he would have been just 3 points behind Plato in second in the championship. Now after losing his victory Jackson is 24 points behind Plato but refuses to take the negatives from the day and said, “Losing the win in race three is a big blow but a win and a third in the first two races are still two very good results. It’s shown we’re capable of taking it to factory teams and I’m going to Thruxton fully intent on rattling their cages again.”
So once again the BTCC fails to disappoint during yet another action packed race weekend full of controversy. The series now has a two week break before visiting Britain’s fastest circuit, Thruxton in Hampshire. So far we have had two thrilling meetings so be sure to return to Motorsport.com for all news leading up to, and over the weekend in what is shaping up to be one of the best BTCC seasons in history.