Shedden leads team mate Neal in championship fight after Rockingham

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Following rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, held at a very wet Rockingham circuit, we now have Gordon Shedden back in the lead of the championship. We will now take a look back at the main stories from the weekend with some of the main contenders reactions.

Race 1 took part in dry conditions and, like in qualifying, was dominated by the MG of Jason Plato as he strolled away with victory. In between the first and second races though, the rain came and made the following two races very tricky indeed with heavy rain in race 2, while for race 3 the rain wasn’t as bad but that made the circuit even greasier as a result.

I’m just pleased to get through the weekend.

Matt Neal

After 3rd in the dry race 1, once the rain came down Shedden then was in a class of his own as he went on to take the next two wins to take the lead of the championship over from his Honda Yuasa Racing team mate, Matt Neal.

After taking victory in race 2, Shedden went into the final race of the day 1 point behind Neal but managed to get past his team mate mid race to leave Rockingham with a 3 point lead. Following the weekend Shedden admitted the rain certainly had helped his cause but expects Plato to have the better of him at Silverstone and said, “I’m delighted – it seems ages since we won a race so to score a pair of 1-2s is just great for everyone in our team. The rain certainly helped us today, as Jason had been looking very strong if it had stayed dry. Importantly we’ve maintained a decent gap to him as we’re expecting him to have the upper hand at Silverstone.”

Things could have been quite different though for Shedden as things almost went very wrong in the final race of the day. On lap 2 Shedden slid practically broad sideways through the banked oval of turn 1. Somehow Shedden managed to correct the slide at 130mph to produce one of the best saves in recent years; while Jeff Smith wasn’t so lucky a couple of laps later.

Round 24 Podium: 1st Gordon Shedden, 2nd Matt Neal, 3rd Jason Plato, Independent Winner Andrew Jordan
Round 24 Podium: 1st Gordon Shedden, 2nd Matt Neal, 3rd Jason Plato, Independent Winner Andrew Jordan

Photo by: Pat Cranham

Speaking of that save Shedden said, “That is a proper big place to having a moment like that and if I had nine lives before then I’ve only got eight left now. We’re flat in sixth gear there and my day could have so easily ended up like Jeff Smith’s did later on when he ended up hitting the wall very hard. All I remember is knocking it down into fifth gear and flooring the accelerator and it not coming round so then popping it into fourth and keeping my right foot buried to the floor and then it came back into line.”

Neal now narrowly trails his team mate but fought hard all weekend whilst being seriously hampered by a severely broken hand, which included a dislocated thumb that prevented him from griping the wheel with it.

Despite this Neal managed to hold onto several sideways moments as he collected a pair of seconds in races 2 and 3. The reigning champion was however just delighted to get the weekend over with and said, “I’m just pleased to get through the weekend. Gordon was unstoppable in those conditions but a pair of seconds and a sixth are probably better than I thought was possible. We’re expecting Silverstone to be tough but this really helps thinking ahead to Brands Hatch.”

After dominating qualifying and race 1, the rain probably didn’t help Plato as he tried to make some ground up on the Hondas as he tried to decrease the 36 points in which he trailed them heading into the event. Although he was no match for the Hondas in the wet Plato, made a slight gain on the pair and now trails Shedden by 32 points.

Jason Plato, MG KX Momentum Racing
Jason Plato, MG KX Momentum Racing

Photo by: Pat Cranham

The MG KX Momentum driver was pleased however with his trio of podiums and expects good things next time out at Silverstone and said, “We’ve managed to hold the gap to the Honda drivers, even take a little nibble out of them, at what is one of the strongest circuits for their car so I’m satisfied with that. Silverstone is going to be all-important, though – ultimately I want us to go to the final round so there’s a proper showdown for the people watching.”

In the Independent trophy it was a good weekend for Pirtek Racing driver Andrew Jordan as he built up a commanding 58 point lead from the BMW of Rob Collard. Jordan took two Independent victories and an outright second, while Collard struggled in the wet with his rear wheel drive and had a couple of spins dropping him down the field. Things could have been even better for Jordan when in race 2 he led early on but went straight on at the hairpin in the wet following a safety car period.

Meanwhile things were certainly not as good for Jordan’s Pirtek Racing team mate Jeff Smith. Jeff Smith warmed up for his big crash in race 3, when in race 1 he first lost the backend hitting and sending the Redstone Racing Ford Focus of innocent Aron Smith into the gravel.

Jeff Smith was fined and endorsed for the incident but continued before crashing heavily towards the end of the race coming out of Gracelands. This turned out to be a small crash compared to what was to happen in race 3. In a near identical moment to Shedden, Jeff Smith wasn’t so lucky and crashed heavily into the barriers writing off his Honda Civic.

Following the crash the former Clio racer said, “I put one wheel below the white line on the inside and it simply swapped ends. Initially it was going towards the infield but then it gripped and went the other way. I thought ‘this is going to be a big one’ and just before the impact deliberately let go of the steering wheel. The next big scare was ‘who’s going to hit me?’ But luckily nobody did. I'm a very lucky boy. I was a bit dazed and have some bruising and my shoulder’s probably going to be a nice colour in the morning but otherwise all OK. All the safety structures did their job. It’s a touch and go whether we can do Silverstone in two weeks – the car is a write-off. We should know in the next few days…”

One of the drivers to reveal in the rain was Ollie Jackson in the little AmD Tuning.com VW Golf. The team decided to miss Knockhill instead chosing to test the Golf and the team were rewarded with their best finish of 2012.

We’ve had a lot of bad luck this season so to get two strong results is really pleasing.

Ollie Jackson

Race 1 didn’t go well with mechanical failure preventing the Golf from finishing. Ollie Jackson then drove superbly to claim 8th and was rewarded with a front row start for race 3. After losing time on lap 1 taking to the grass to avoid a spinning BMW, Ollie Jackson again showed great pace to match his race 2 result of 8th. After his pair of 8th’s Ollie Jackson described his weekend as “very pleasing” and said, “The car performed really well in the wet conditions and now we need to try and get into a position where it is just as strong in the dry. We’ve had a lot of bad luck this season so to get two strong results is really pleasing. To come from the back to eighth in race two was great but then I got murdered at the start of race three – everyone was bumping off me and pushing me about. However, we showed good pace and were lapping strongly right to the finish, which allowed me to make up positions. After a difficult start, it was a very rewarding way for the weekend to finish.”

Other notable performances included Aron Smith and Howard Fuller who made his debut in the S2000 Honda Civic belonging to Tony Gilham’s Team HARD squad. After being hit out of race 1 by name sake Jeff, Aron Smith drove brilliantly from the back of the grid to 6th in the rain in race 2; while in race 3 he led for much of the race before losing out to the NGTC cars while his tyres went off but still finished a good 5th.

As for 20 year old Fuller he finished all 3 races scoring points in two of them, finishing a best of 12th in race 2 in very difficult conditions, making a fine account of himself during his debut meeting after qualifying 14th.

Elsewhere Honda/Dynamics continue to have massive leads in both the manufactures/constructers championship and HiQ teams trophy, with Pirtek Racing leading eBay Motors by just 8 points in the Independent teams championship as the series heads to Silverstone in 2 weeks.

Story by: Pat Cranham

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About this article
Series BTCC
Article type Race reports
Tags btcc, cranham, featured, honda, neal, plato, rockingham, shedden