As predicted the racing was close and physical at the tight and twisty Knockhill circuit for rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Cars, which saw three different drivers take the top step of the podium. Ultimately though Jason ...
As predicted the racing was close and physical at the tight and twisty Knockhill circuit for rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Cars, which saw three different drivers take the top step of the podium. Ultimately though Jason Plato would have to be the happiest driver from the weekend after extending his lead to 20 points in the championship.
Plato earned victory in the third race of the day; his 58th career victory to take him two race wins away from equalling the all time record held by Andy Rouse.
Matt Neal took the second win and a podium in race 3 to leap frog Tom Onslow-Cole into second in the points standings, but clearly the most popular victor of the day was Neal's Honda Racing Team mate Gordon Shedden who won the first race in front of his home crowd.
It was Alex MacDowall in the Chevrolet who snagged pole but Shedden beat him off the line into the first corner.
Shedden was just ahead but reaching the corner he received a slight nudge, which sent the Honda in to a huge slide that the home favourite somehow corrected and carried on in the lead.
Behind, the normal carnage happened in the midfield with Tom Boardman clipping John George's Honda Integra into the advertising boards next to the circuit while Andy Neate, who was already going through the gravel, had to take avoiding action.
This brought out the first safety car period of the day, even though no cars needed recovering the Dunlop boards needed to be recovered; one had even manage to attach to the rear spoiler of BTCC debutant Jeff Smith in the Triple 8 Vectra which sent him into the pits whilst George had to retire as a result of the incident.
Places were swapped regularly after the safety car came in and due to the nature of the circuit once you lost one place you would normally lose two or three positions.
First of all Paul O'Neill got past Onslow-Cole on lap 5 which also let Rob Collard past before Onslow-Cole got revenge on lap 11 allowing Andrew Jordan to take advantage on the same lap.
Most on the move was the Airwaves BMW driver of Steven Kane who had earlier past Onslow-Cole and then Plato on lap 9 which let the Ford of Tom Chilton past.
On lap 11 Kane's team mate Mat Jackson was involved in an incident when he pushed in front of the other Triple 8 Vectra of James Nash in between the first and second corners from 11th place, which resulted in the Vectra getting stuck in the gravel and Jackson being penalised with a fine and penalty points.
The various Dunlop signs around the circuit were taking a real battering as the safety car had to be deployed again on lap 15 to remove one from the middle of the circuit at the chicane with Boardman also becoming attached to one, which resulted in his engine overheating and retiring with a rather smoky engine.
With the safety car coming in on lap 17, following his earlier pit stop to remove his advertising boarding Smith then saw himself out of position in the snake behind the safety car 4th in queue.
Predictably most drivers were keen to quickly get past the Clio racer with O'Neill barging past at Scotsman sending both through the gravel with just behind them a battle between Onslow-Cole, Collard and Jordan saw the Vectra belonging to Jordan fire off the BMW of Collard on the approach to the chicane.
In the closing stages of the race there was an almighty battle for the lower positions of the top 10 involving Onslow-Cole, O'Neill, Jackson and Jordan.
Onslow-Cole made the first move past O'Neill but the Tech-speed driver quickly tried to retake the place but this only allowed Jackson to get past O'Neill.
Now it was Jackson trying to get past the Ford which he attempted to do into Clark's corner but with all 3 cars running into the turn it was Jackson who ran through the gravel with Jordan all over the grass coming out of the corner.
This briefly allowed Dave Pinkney past the pair although both Jordan and Jackson would repass to take 9th and 10th with Onslow-Cole winning the drag race to take 7th.
For third on the penultimate lap Kane would overtake Neal but at the front it was the local hero who took the flag after shaking off the original threat from MacDowall who would have to settle for his best ever BTCC result.
MacDowall's chances of going one better in race 2 soon vanished off the start with the Chevrolet getting bogged down and being swamped by the field. Shedden led away from Neal but once again the first lap wouldn't go without incident when Pinkney lost control through the first series of corners coming back onto the track to collide heavily with Collard.
Collard was clearly not having a good day and this was only confirmed further when the tow truck recovering the BMW pulled the car too quickly over the grass sending it backwards into the tyre barrier further.
MacDowall's race 2 was to get worse when O'Neill barged his way past at the hairpin also allowing both Jordan and Jackson past. Meanwhile at the front there were no such team orders at Honda with Neal making a great late dive up the inside of Shedden into the hairpin to take a lead which he would not lose.
After struggling with full ballast in race 1 Plato, now much lighter, was on the move first passing Chilton on lap 23 before nudging the back of Kane at the hairpin to get through a couple of laps later.
This also meant Chilton had a chance to get past the Airwaves BMW but he tapped the back of Kane spinning round the BMW who was collected by the unlucky O'Neill. Chilton would take 4th with Kane recovering to take 5th while O'Neill was less lucky and after a trip through the gravel would only take the final place in 10th. Both Plato and Chilton would be reprimanded and receive penalty points for these incidents.
Jackson would take 6th ahead of Onslow-Cole, Jordan and MacDowall in 9th.
In the third race the top seven would be reversed which meant Onslow-Cole would be on pole followed by the two Airwaves BMW's, but there would be only one taking the start of the race with Kane from third pulling into the pits at the end of the final warm up lap.
All chance of an Airwaves BMW win would be over by half way round the first lap when Jackson and Onslow-Cole tried to go side by side into the chicane which is only just big enough for one. Onslow-Cole would go through it sideways with Jackson into the gravel the other side. Meanwhile a bit further back the other Ford of Chilton was off spinning on the grass after contact with Neal, which allowed a pair of Vectra's somehow up to 4th and 5th with Jordan ahead of Nash.
This would quickly turn into 3rd and 4th after home hero Shedden tried just a little to hard coming out of the chicane spinning off the other side although able to continue.
After his heavy collision from race 2 Pinkney saw himself back in the same gravel after a rather optimistic move from Smith saw him hit out the Vectra. This resulted in a rather lengthy safety car period due to the tow truck getting stuck in the mud whilst Smith would become the latest driver to get a fine and penalty points.
The safety car period most affected the two Vectra's who had been running a fine and comfortable 3rd and 4th as this saw the rest of the pack now right behind them.
First Nash would make a mistake coming out of the Chicane running through the gravel losing a handful of places before being denied a single point when the recovering Chilton and Shedden passed him to take 9th and 10th.
Jordan was still running in third but a nightmare few laps saw him drop down the order. First on lap 24 he copied Nash's lap through the chicane dropping him behind Neal, as he rejoined O'Neill was already alongside him again bouncing the Vectra back into the gravel and allowing Jackson past. Jordan who was still feeling slightly unwell after food poisoning from the day before would also lose further places when Collard barged his way past at the hairpin allowing MacDowall through as well.
All eyes were at the front though with Onslow-Cole defending vigorously from the Chevrolet of Plato.
Plato would not be denied though and eventually passed the Ford at the start of lap 23 cutting back at the hairpin meaning he had the optimum line in to the first corner taking the lead. Onslow-Cole tried immediately to repass but Plato covered and held him off easily for the win meanwhile Onslow-Cole would have to defend like mad to take second from Neal.
Behind for 4th there was a great battle between O'Neill and the recovering Jackson following his first lap trip across the gravel. Jackson got past O'Neill on lap 25 but just a lap later O'Neill would retake the place at the hairpin. Even though this could be the last we see of fans favourite O'Neill who, despite being the giant-killer of the year taking 3 podiums, admitted at present he may not have the budget to compete in the final two meetings of the season.
Plato now heads to Donington with an increased 20-point lead and was delighted to take the final win of the day by saying, "We've been there or thereabouts today but it's been thirsty work and to grab a win in the final race of the day is a big bonus for our championship. Donington should suit our car better than here but I'm not counting my chickens... I've lost this thing far more times than I've won it."
Neal now has retaken second place in the championship and was also pleased with his days work in which he took the most points and said, I've taken the biggest points score of anyone here today and it was important to capitalise on what we knew would be a great circuit for the Civic. Gordon had a rough time in race three but I wouldn't rule him out at all either. I get the feeling, though, it'll be the turn of the Fords at Donington - their LPG-turbo engines might have the beating of us on the long straights and the uphill sections there."
Second place going into the event was Onslow-Cole who still at 23 is a youngster compared to the now almost veteran championship contenders the two most successful drivers currently in the championship. Although Neal has jumped ahead he still only trails him by just three points and hopes Neal's prediction at Donington comes true, "It's been a very tough weekend - I was playing catch-up after some issues in free practice yesterday and then I woke up ill this morning! But still we've picked up a healthy dose of points. I hope what Matt says comes true and it swings back our way at Donington!"
There was better news for Onslow-Cole in the independents who has now opened up a 22 point lead ahead of Kane but Honda Racing's great weekend has now seen them overtake Arena Ford at the top of the Manufacturers/Constructors championship but in the HiQ Teams Championship is where they really have pulled away leading Team Aon by 31 points.
Team Aon are though however in sight of the independent team championship increasing there points lead over Airwaves BMW from 16 to 21 points.
The BTCC is now really towards the end of the season with just 6 races remaining. The series now heads to Donington in two weeks where action is guaranteed with every point being crucial from now on to the end of the season.
So be sure to return to Motorsport.com for all the news prior to the event to see where the most coveted title in British Motorsport is likely to end up.