James Thompson took a fantastic double victory at a wet Donington Park with Rob Collard taking the other victory for Airways BMW. Thompson took his win in the first race of the day and in doing so became the 7th different winner in seven races; setting a new British Touring Car Championship series record and, to celebrate this, promptly became the first driver to win two races in 2009 by winning round 8.
The first race of the day was held in very wet conditions, which produced stunning racing with positions changing at every corner and with plenty of thrills and spills. The drama happened straight from the start. Harry Vaulkhard who started from a career best second got a slightly better start than pole sitter Andrew Jordan, and tried to go around the outside of him at Redgate, the first corner, allowing James Thompson to take the lead; a lead that he would never come close to losing. Jordan would carry up and end up in second as Harry Vaulkhard dropped down the pack as he enjoyed a yo-yo of a race.
Matt Neal also made life hard for himself when on the first lap in he ran wide at the old hairpin and dropped down to ninth. From there he drove superbly, eventually finishing third, passing Rob Collard on lap 12. In climbing back up the field he made contact with Team RAC driver Stephen Jelley on lap 5 smashing the BMW into the wall at Hollywood, the short straight between Redgate and the Craner Curves. Jelley's car was severely damaged in the incident and would not appear again this weekend with the rear wheel being ripped off the car. His team, West Surrey Racing, will have to put in the hours to insure he gets to the grid at Oulton.
Meanwhile to prove it was not Team RAC's race, Colin Turkington was pushed off just four laps later when Adam Jones dived up the inside of Fabrizio Giovanardi and hit Turkington off into the gravel. There were fantastic battles in the midfield particularly amongst Vaulkhard, Jason Plato, Giovanardi, Adam Jones, Paul O'Neill and Jonny Adam with positions changing at every corner and regular contact. First it was the two Chevrolets of Plato and Vaulkhard who made contact at Redgate, then with Vaulkhard having a small gap Plato then tapped Giovanardi at the same corner. This allowed O'Neill through past the pair of them. The inspired O'Neill then made it past Adam before disaster struck for the Liverpudlian as he was hit by Adam and spun into the gravel. The stewards didn't like this and later fined and endorsed Adam for this move; however, he would not be the last person to be hit by this punishment of the weekend. This didn't matter to Thompson who won from the pair of Vauxhall's of Jordan and Neal. Collard was 4th with Vaulkhard 5th ahead of the battling pack of Adam, Plato, Giovanardi, and Jones with Mat Jackson, who recovered from running wide at Redgate to pick up the final point for 10th, while he also received a point for fastest lap.
It was Thompson's race and it was clear he was delighted to have won as he said, "It's a fantastic result, considering I only came back at the previous round at Thruxton. But this vindicates what I said after, that I knew we would be much stronger here. The race was tough. You're first on the road in the wet so you find out the grip levels before everyone else, but the car felt comfortable in those conditions straight away so I was able to push and build a lead."
With the starting positions determined by the finishing places of race 1, Thompson led away this time in dry conditions with a fast starting Rob Collard getting into second, splitting the Vauxhall's off the start. Neal got ahead of Jordan whilst further back there was contact between Martin Johnson and O'Neill with Nick Leason spinning into the gravel at the back causing the safety car to come out. When the safety car came back in on lap 4 it was Neal who made a move past Collard into the old Hairpin. In doing so Jordan thought he could also move through but this only resulted in contact that spun Collard across the track with Vaulkhard having to take to the grass in avoidance. Jordan came off worse though as he went off at the next corner due to damage stained in the contact and he also had further punishment handed out by the stewards after the race. Colin Turkington was having a storming drive coming up from 19th after his problems in race 1 eventually finishing fourth passing Adam, which also allowed Mat Jackson through. It was Thompson's race again though, despite coming under constant pressure all race from Neal. Behind them were Giovanardi, who just held off Plato ahead of Turkington, Jackson, Adam and Jones, while the recovering pair of Collard and Vaulkhard rounded off the top 10.
Race 3 proved to be a real lottery. Although not raining in between the second and third races, there had been a lot of rain making tyre choice a real gamble with the circuit drying all the time. Added to this was the fact that for the third time in a row the top 10 would be reversed. Collard who started on the front row took advantage of his rear wheel drive instantly getting passed Vaulkhard while Jones clearly didn't make the right tyre choice with slicks on the front heading straight off at the first corner. By the end of the lap Jonny Adam made it an Airways BMW 1-2 but their joy was short lived as Adam was spun due to a combination of Vaulkhard and Plato at Redgate. There were fantastic battles right down the field as wet tyres were going off and drivers were fading away.
Collard had a big lead but behind him all chaos was about to unfold. Giovanardi was ahead of Vaulkhard, who was having by far his best race to date, with the pair of team Silverline Chevrolets battling behind with Jackson just having passed Plato. Vaulkhard could clearly see that the RML prepared Chevrolets were catching his tempus sport Chevrolet and made a desperate attempt to pass Giovanardi. This resulted in contact, spinning Giovanardi around; which he was also punished for. This bunched all three Chevrolets up and they all went three abreast into the next corner, which allowed the brilliant Colin Turkington to get past all three.
Turkington then saw off the battling Chevrolets of Plato, who just edged out Jackson, before slashing Collard's lead; eventually finishing just 1.2 seconds off the Airways BMW man, who would take his second victory of the season. Giovanardi would battle back past Vaulkhard to 5th with double race winner, Thompson, finishing 6th. Thompson was one who gambled on tyres using slick tyres at the start of the race and despite being 3 seconds off the pace at the start and being well down the field, by the end of the race he was the fastest car on the circuit and pipped the fading Vaulkhard across the line. Neal was eighth whilst in 9th was Tom Chilton in his heavily updated Team Aon Focus scoring the team's first points. Dave Pinkney was behind Chilton picking up the final point.
At the end it was Neal who left Donington with a 13-point advantage over Turkington. The gap was as high as 22 points at one stage but Neal knows how unpredictable the championship is saying, "I'd built myself a pretty tidy buffer over Colin by the end of race two but race three shows just how quickly it can all turn around. My car is working really well at the moment, but the next two circuits, at Oulton Park and Croft, will be strong for the BMWs so we've got a big fight ahead of us. Plus James in that Honda is looking very handy, as are the Chevrolets. Seven different winners in seven races underline just how competitive the BTCC is."
Turkington was clearly delighted to have pulled back some points in race 3 and thinks he may have the advantage at the next tracks by saying, "I said before if I could leave Donington with a hand still on Matt's back I'd be happy. It could have been a better situation if I'd not been spun out in race one, but I'm still relatively satisfied, particularly as I know Oulton and Croft will be two of our strongest circuits."
Locked in third in the championship is Giovanardi and Collard, who was delighted by his second win of the season by saying, "What a great way to finish the day. The car was tremendous all weekend; a lot of credit has to go to our engineers for doing such a superb job under difficult conditions today. Race one was good for me, race two was a bit unfortunate, but we showed the strength of this team by bouncing back and doing a great job in the last race." Vauxhall and VxRacing lead both the teams and constructors championship with Colin Turkington leading the independent championship.
Next up for the BTCC is Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10, 11 and 12 where the only thing predictable for the weekend is the unpredictability of the championship. So be sure not to miss any news.