The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship enters its penultimate event of the season at the home of British motor sport – Silverstone – this coming weekend (28-29 September), and it's 24-year-old Andrew Jordan who is leading the title charge.
Records have tumbled in the BTCC so far this year ever since a capacity grid was announced on the eve of the season. Huge crowds have flocked to see the eight events so far and TV figures continue to rise, with each and every race of the championship being broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4.
Further successes have included new multi-year deals with ITV and Dunlop, taking live television coverage up to the end of 2016 and the official tyre supply also being extended recently.
Now the BTCC visits Silverstone with the championship race reaching fever pitch, before the bumper grid does battle in the grand finale at Brands Hatch in October.
Season so far: Air Jordan
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship may have four former champions on its hugely impressive grid, but it’s Andrew Jordan who is targeting a maiden title after recently putting some air between himself and his main rivals.
The Pirtek Racing driver had occupied second position in the standings for much of the season, but when championship leader Matt Neal endured his worst weekend of 2013 at Rockingham, Jordan took maximum advantage by claiming two impressive wins.
Jordan now incredibly holds a 30-point advantage with just six races remaining, whilst Neal slipped from first to fourth in just one extremely challenging afternoon for the Honda Yuasa Racing pilot. Jordan’s closest challenger is reigning champion Gordon Shedden, who has gradually edged his way up the standings after a difficult opening round at Brands Hatch back in March.
Even by the high standards of 2009 champion Colin Turkington, his return to the BTCC this season has been nothing short of a revelation. His eBay Motors squad built an all-new BMW 125i M Sport ahead of the season and despite taking an early win at Donington Park, the Ulsterman found himself down in eighth and nearly 60-points off the championship summit following the first three events. Over the next five weekends Turkington outscored every other driver and his total of five wins and ten podiums overall have thrust him into championship contention.
Incredibly Shedden, Turkington and Neal are separated by just four points after 24 intense contests, but Honda racer Shedden is clear on what they need to do:
“I’ve certainly not given up hope on retaining my championship that’s for sure – the key is getting to Brands Hatch still in with a chance, which has been my aim all year,” he said.
Two-time champion Jason Plato has written off his chances of securing a third title after a few challenging events recently, although pole position and a podium at Rockingham proved the pace of the MG in clear conditions. Whilst Plato is fairly dismissive of his chances, his rivals are refusing to rule him out.
“Realistically we’re too far away from the top to be thinking about the championship,” said Plato. “It would require everyone ahead of us to have a disaster and that simply isn’t going to happen. The most important thing for us is to keep learning about the car, and hopefully get some more wins before the end of the year.”
Reigning champ Shedden disagrees, and said, “You definitely can’t write Jason Plato off – he’ll be there or thereabouts come the end. He is a way off, but if someone at the front has a bad race and doesn’t score any points then someone like Jason will capitalise and make massive inroads – it can all change so quickly.”
Talking Point: Rocket Rob romps to hugely popular win
There was little doubting the most popular moment of the Rockingham weekend, and that was a maiden win for fans’ favourite Rob Austin.
He blasted by Mat Jackson and pole-sitter Andrew Jordan off the line in race two and by the time the Honda of Gordon Shedden had made his way into second, Austin had pulled out an unassailable lead. The main grandstand rose as one when Austin crossed the line to take the win ahead of the Scotsman and the BMW of championship challenger Colin Turkington.
It had been a long-time coming for Austin, who after scoring a podium in the opening race of the season at Brands Hatch was then nearly forced out of the championship after a huge accident at the Kent circuit almost destroyed his Audi A4. Struggling to raise the funds to repair the car, Austin’s sponsors, partners and fans all played their part to get him back on the grid for the remainder of the season.
“What a feeling!" beamed Rob after scoring Audi’s first BTCC win since 1997. "It has been three years of blood, sweat and tears – for the team, for my family, for everyone.
"We’re up against teams with four times our budget and to beat guys like that is just incredible – I’m so proud of the whole team. The BTCC crowd is amazing too and I love them all! They’ve got me out of trouble already this season when we had our big shunt on the first weekend. We wouldn’t be here without them so I can’t thank the fans enough.”
Local Talent: Silverstone’s Silicon Valley
Silverstone has long been regarded as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of world motor sport with hundreds of racing teams and drivers being based close by to the British Grand Prix venue.
A number of BTCC squads and competitors regard this weekend’s event as their home race with double champ Jason Plato arguably the most famous of them all. The Oxford-based racer and TV star is looking to go well at Silverstone, as he did in 2012 when he scored a double win, which included an incredible surge from 20th on the grid to take victory in the final race.
The high-speed nature of the Silverstone National circuit should again suit Plato’s MG well and with it being last chance saloon for his championship chances the tin-top legend will need to produce a similar performance this time around.
One of the local BTCC teams includes Team Club 44 which is based in nearby Woodford Halse. The new-for-2013 squad – led by Aylesbury-based driver Andy Neate - has completed the huge undertaking of building a brand new NGTC-spec Chevrolet Cruze now ready to take on Britain’s best tin-top tourers.