Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
After a hectic start to the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car championship, two of the leading teams have taken advantage of the 5 week break before heading to Oulton Park by getting some valuable miles in their new equipment for this season.
The first being the Triple 8 prepared New Generation Touring Car spec MG 6. Despite the car not having turned a wheel in anger prior to the Saturday of the first event, and having had no testing of the car except during race weekends amazingly lead driver Jason Plato currently heads the championship, despite the team’s lack of running with the car. The multiple BTCC champions however at last got their first proper test of the car recently at Rockingham during four 30 minute sessions in which both Plato and second driver Andy Neate took part. After the test Plato admitted it was a very worthwhile day and said, “We made some very good progress in just the four half hour sessions we had. Some things we needed some specific answers on from things we’ve discovered in free practice sessions at events – we were able to validate some of the previous things that we’ve run. From a development perspective we found some very interesting things. We deliberately tried what we thought might be blind alleys to make sure they were blind alleys or in fact worth pursuing. That will really help us with strategy as we now know which avenues are worth going down.”
For Andy it was a really constructive test.
While Plato heads the championship Neate hasn’t had such a good time with his car having suffered constant component failure and as a result failed to even score a point last time out at a wet Thruxton despite now the top 15 all scoring points. However Neate also enjoyed a trouble free run which delighted his double championship winning team mate Plato and he ended by saying, “For Andy it was a really constructive test. It was just really good for him to have a clean run in the car when there’s not the pressure of a race weekend. Even though it was only four half hour sessions it was still good for him as he had an hour or more out of the car in between each run to really think about changes to the set-up, something he's not had the luxury of so far. He’s had some terribly bad luck and not yet had the opportunity to fall in love with the car.”
Although not in a new car for 2012 West Surrey Racing (eBay Motors) have had difficulties in understanding their trusty BMW following the switch to Turbo power for this season. Despite winning the first race of the season with Rob Collard the team have struggled to make the tyres last a race distance often dropping back during the races. At a separate test held at Silverstone the team called upon 2009 BTCC champion Colin Turkington to test the car due to their regular drivers having other commitments to try and find a solution to their issues. Afterwards team principle Dick Bennett’s said, “Colin’s done a storming job for us today considering the traffic on track was chaotic. We went for one race run which was red flagged but we’ve still learnt a lot. In four sessions we ran three different set-ups on the car which we might not be brave enough to do in a practice session on a race weekend. That’s given us a lot of data to study and we feel we’ve made a breakthrough on race set-up. Silverstone might not be too hard on tyres but the track temperature was 36 degrees and that’s always going to put the tyres through it. Significantly we’ve managed to get some understeer back into the car which was one of our main aims.”
As for Turkington he hasn’t been seen in the series since taking his title for WSR at the last race at Brands Hatch in 2009. After spells driving in the World and Scandinavian Touring Car championships he admits that he is desperate to return to the grid for 2013 and said, “It feels great to be back in a BTCC car and, I’ll be honest, I am working on something to hopefully return in 2013. It is for the BTCC and fingers crossed it’ll come together. I’ve raced in World and Scandinavian touring cars in the last few years and I’ve enjoyed it but the BTCC is where I want to be next season. It’s important I get my name back on people’s radars and it’s possibly more sellable to potential sponsors in terms of budgets and marketing campaigns for them.”
Also present at the same Rockingham test as MG was the Dynojet prepared NGTC Toyota Avensis of Frank Wrathall fresh from his first podium of the year last time out at Thruxton.
It is now under two weeks away until the series returns at Oulton Park, so for all build up prior to the race weekend be sure to return to Motorsport.com to find out who will be in contention during rounds 10, 11 and 12 in what has been one of the best starts to the season in recent times.