Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Gordon Shedden has taken the championship lead following rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. His Honda Yuasa Racing team took a clean sweep of victories at the Cheshire circuit with Shedden taking victory in race 2 and team mate Matt Neal taking the other two.
MG KX Momentum driver Jason Plato started the day 4 points ahead of Shedden but, after taking a last lap pole during qualifying, failed to take the start of the race following suspension failure on the out lap from the pits. This left a clear gap for the fast starting rear wheel drive BMW of Rob Collard to comfortably take the lead into the first corner. However reigning champion Neal quickly caught back up with the eBay Motors BMW and passed Collard into the final corner, Lodge, to take the lead on lap 4. Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek Racing Honda also passed Collard for 2nd on lap 7 at the Hairpin following a slight nudge upon entry to the corner which is how the positions stayed until the end.
It was an eventful race for the eBay Motors team with Tom Onslow-Cole spinning his BMW coming out of Cascades while in 4th to bring out the safety car. Onslow-Cole then was pushed back into the race albeit a lap down due to being in a dangerous position, but spun again at the same place later on in the race. This inherited Shedden into 4th with Mat Jackson taking 5th for Redstone Racing and Dan Welch scoring his best BTCC result to date in 6th in his Welch Motorsport Proton Persona.
Nick Foster in the final eBay Motors BMW was also in the thick of things hitting the back of Aron Smith’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus at the Chicane both taking to the grass and causing Smith to get a puncture. As a result Foster received two penalty points on his licence for this although this wasn’t his only incident of the race when, on the final lap, Adam Morgan, while in 8th, ran wide at the Hairpin and as he rejoined made contact with Foster sending the Speedworks Toyota Avensis into the barriers.
Benefiting from the first of Foster’s contacts was the sole MG KX Momentum in the race of Andy Neate who was to benefit further when Frank Wrathall had to pit his NGTC Dynojet Toyota Avensis after running wide at Old Hall, causing the car to overheat and forcing him to pit and finished 12th. Neate at last had something to smile about and finished 7th surprisingly his best BTCC finish to date. Also staying out of trouble was Will Bratt in the Rob Austin Racing Audi to finish a superb 8th on his BTCC debut.
There was another incident on the last lap when Chris James crashed his ES Racing Vectra heavily at Druids after brake failure. James had earlier clashed with Tony Hughes for Speedworks causing damage to his front bumper which could have contributed to his crash. The former Mini racer was to receive 2 penalty points for this collision while Hughes continued to take 13th the last classified finisher.
The race 2 grid started as race 1 finished and once again it was the fast starting Collard who took the lead by the first corner. Mat Jackson went from 5th to 3rd by the first corner which turned into 2nd by midway through the first lap passing the first race winner. Mat Jackson was soon pushing Collard until lap 7 when the pair clashed controversially.
Heading into the Hairpin Mat Jackson nudged the back of the BMW pushing Collard wide. Collard refused to give way and the pair made contact right front to left rear and both took to the grass to allow Shedden and Jordan through to take the lead, after the pair had both passed Neal who was suffering with boost issues. Both Mat Jackson and Collard continued although in the incident both suffered punctures and had to pit; eventually Collard finishing 14th and Jackson 18th.
This also promoted Welch to third and the Proton driver looked on course to take a maiden podium until the start of lap 14, when he was passed by the storming Plato from 22nd on the grid to deny the former Seat racer who had to settle for a still career best 4th.
Neal took 5th ahead of Foster and Lea Wood who scored his second top 10 finish of the day equaling his best finish in 7th, in his Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra ahead of Liam Griffin for Redstone Racing who did take his best BTCC finish in 8th.
Like race 1 a number of drivers had issues; these include Bratt going off exiting the Knickerbrook Chicane, Neate spinning in a cloud of engine smoke at the same corner, Wrathall who once again ran wide and had to pit to remove grass from the radiator while Morgan’s bad luck continued for Speedworks spinning a long way off the circuit at Cascades. Although there was better news for his Speedworks team mate Hughes who took a best finish of 12th.
Finishing in 9th was Onslow-Cole who had a further spin during the race, but he at last had something to smile about by getting drawn out of the reverse grid to start on pole for the final race of the day.
Unsurprisingly Onslow-Cole lead into the first corner with his team mate Foster making it a BMW 1-2 at the front after getting a great start both taking advantage of their rear wheel drive power. Further down the field there was contact between Bratt and Morgan which also forced Neate to spin in avoidance. Neate was to retire soon afterwards with yet more mechanical failure after his day had started so well, while Bratt and Morgan continued despite the Toyota driver losing his front windscreen.
The pair were to make further contact during the race when on lap 16 they made contact at the Hairpin, which resulted in Morgan getting airborne and forcing him to retire for the third time during the day with Bratt continuing with damage to finish 11th.
Once again race 3 was full of carnage and on lap 3, following his good performance to take 8th in race 2, Griffin crashed heavily at Druids losing it on the entry to the corner smashing into the barriers causing heavy damage to his Ford Focus. This was to bring out the safety car but before it did Mat Jackson in another Redstone Racing Ford was to get involved in yet more contact, this time with Welch into Lodge pushing him off where he received yet more penalty points enduring an unhappy Birthday weekend.
The safety car eventually came in on lap 9 but had to come out instantly when at the first corner Collard dived inside Jordan, and sent the Pirtek Honda heavily into the tyre barriers in an incident that Jordan was less than impressed with.
This meant Onslow-Cole had to lead the restart from Neal and Plato who had both earlier passed Onslow-Cole’s team mate Foster on lap 2. The BMW’s had definitely improved since Thruxton with their tyre issues following a successful test at Silverstone, but sadly Onslow-Cole couldn’t hold on for the win when on lap 14 he produced a great move into the Hairpin. Plato was also to get passed on the same lap heading into Lodge, although Onslow-Cole was able to keep on their tracks as Neal was able to take his 2nd win of the day leading a 4 car train over the line with Shedden in 4th.
Continuing his excellent day against the big boys was Wood to score a best position of 5th and his third top 10 finish of the day as he lead home Collard, Mat Jackson and Foster. Understandably Wood was delighted with his day and said, “My highlight was the third race. I know there were a couple of safety car periods which helped, but to hold on to the lead bunch which included Neal, Plato, Onslow-Cole and Shedden was just great. I had Collard right behind me on that last lap and I just defended like crazy – I was wary it was him after our tangle on the last lap at Thruxton! But he was very fair and I just drove on the mirrors. Then to see the line come up and know I’d finished fifth… I’m still over the moon with it.”
Wrathall at last stayed on track to take 9th ahead of Tony Gilham and Bratt. After missing race 2 following a wild ride across the grass in race 1, Jeff Smith took 12th for Pirtek Racing ahead of James and Hughes taking his third points scoring position of the year.
The final point went to Ollie Jackson who had an eventful weekend following his Saturday crash. His race day was equally full of incident that included race 3 where he was involved in a collision with Aron Smith on lap 9 at the Hairpin, which forced Aron Smith to retire during a torrid weekend for the Redstone Racing man during a weekend that promised so much.
During that third race there were many incidents and many of them will be investigated heading to Croft and involve the following drivers: Robert Collard, Andrew Jordan, Dave Newsham, Dan Welch, Aron Smith, Ollie Jackson, Adam Morgan, Will Bratt and Mat Jackson.
However after an eventful day it is Shedden who now leads team mate Neal by 5 points after taking his 5th win of the year during the Oulton Park weekend. Shedden who has finished 3rd and 2nd in the championship over the past two seasons hopes to go one better this year. Despite having an up and down day the most successful ever Scot in the series admits he is a little surprised to be championship leader and is fully aware of the penalties that comes with being championship leader heading to Croft and said, “It’s been a very topsy-turvy day with no-one really able to put together three strong races and, if I’m honest, I’m a little surprised to be leading. I’ll take points on the board any day but it means my car will go into the Croft event with maximum ballast which will make it very tough to qualify well there.”
Current champion Neal was delighted by his two wins and said, “I never expected a win at all today – I really thought Jason was going to have it his own way – so for two to come along is a real surprise. If he can have a problem, though, it just goes to show how quickly it can turn around and there’s still a very long way to go in the season.”
After his misfortune in race 1 Plato was pleased with his recovery although he admitted his charge through the field in race 2 and said, “After the non-start in race one it was all about damage limitation after that and that meant a few risks, but the race two result from the back of the grid was very enjoyable. Second in that third race was also very important as it keeps us right in the hunt going to Croft.”
Meanwhile in the other championships Honda Racing lead both the Manufactures/constructors championship and HiQ teams trophy with Jordan taking the Independent lead although Redstone Racing hold the Independent teams lead.
So following yet another action packed incident filled weekend the BTCC now has just have a short two week break before heading to Croft in North Yorkshire. So for all your news prior to the event be sure to logon to Motorsport.com as the series reached its mid-way stage.