Six Races, Six Different Winners after Thruxton Races in Hampshire, England.
After six races of the HiQ MSA British Touring Cars there has been six different winners after Fabrizio Giovanardi, Colin Turkington and Mat Jackson were all winners at the Thruxton Circuit this weekend but it was Matt Neal who came away with the points lead after two podiums.
Race one saw a historic victory for VXRacing with Giovanardi winning from pole position with his team mates Neal in second and youngster Andrew Jordan who scored his first podium for the team in third. This was the first time a team has locked out the podium since Team Dynamics at Knockhill back in 2006 and the first manufacturer to do so since Ford back in the old Super Touring days in 2000.
Both Vauxhalls got off to good starts from the front row of the grid and led into the first corner with the third of the Vauxhall's Andrew Jordan leaping ahead of Jason Plato.
Plato held onto fourth challenging Jordan until he had to make an unscheduled pit stop during a safety car period for debris on the circuit. This promoted Colin Turkington to fourth but Jordan defended his position to record this perfect result for his team. Plato caught up to the back of the field and battled through to finish in tenth.
As per normal there were fantastic battles throughout the points positions in particularly with the battling trio of BTCC returnee James Thompson, Stephen Jelley and Rob Collard. When a lap from home the inevitable happened and once again Collard and Jelley made contact when entering the chicane. With Thompson's tyres fading Collard got a run on the pair coming into the chicane around the outside. He made contact with Jelley; however, he got fired off and would not finish in the points. Jelley held onto seventh with Thompson unable to hold onto a points scoring position and finished in eleventh.
Both drivers had different opinions of the incident with a furious Collard confronting Jelley at the end of the race went onto say, "Jelley's like a bull in a china shop and is ruining my championship. I had a run on Stephen and Thompson coming up the hill and was perfectly entitled to try it on around the outside. I was side by side with Stephen coming into the chicane but he simply doesn't know how to race with other drivers around him." Jelley seemed bemused about the incident and said, "All I felt was a big boom in the side of my car and he's gone off after trying a move that wasn't on. I've nowhere else to go. Not my problem, really."
Paul O'Neill made a great return to the series finishing in fifth with Clyde Valley Racings Adam Jones finishing in sixth. Behind Jelley in seventh were the trio of Chevrolets of Jackson, Harry Vaulkhard and Plato but the race definitely belonged to Vauxhall and Triple Eight racing scoring their 101st victory in the series and the manufacturers first ever 1,2,3.
With the results from the first race deciding the grid for the second, both Vauxhalls lead the way but Turkington made advantage of his rear wheel drive and managed to get ahead of the third Vauxhall of Jordan. The safety car was deployed on the first lap of the race when Dan Eaves was touched into a heavy spin at the first corner after contact with Nick Leason. After the safety car went in Turkington was on a mission by first passing Neal before getting past Giovanardi on the last lap; having led the whole race when he ran wide at the first series of 'S' bends at the complex Campbell, Cobb and Segrave and despite a final lunge into the final chicane Club the Northern Irishman would not be denied his first win of the season.
Neal would finish in third for his fifth podium in a row but the third Vauxhall would not be so lucky after the lightest of contact with Jordan forced him into a spin and finished a lonely 18th with Jelley finishing in 4th. Behind Jelley was Collard, who battled up to fifth after his misfortune in race 1 with Plato, then Thompson, Jones, Jackson and Paul O'Neill who had a spin after Plato nudged him wide right into the path of Jones when the trio ran three wide into complex. O'Neill would have the last laugh though when 10 was drawn out of the lottery system to determine the grid for the third race.
O'Neill couldn't hold the lead off the line though with both Jackson and Adam Jones getting ahead of the tech-speed driver. After Jones initially pressured Jackson, O'Neill would get ahead of the CVR driver just before a lengthy safety car period after a heavy crash from John George. When the safety car went in O'Neill's dream weekend came to an end when he cruelly suffered a puncture and had to retire. He wasn't the only one who suffered a puncture as Jordan also suffered the same fate trying to battle through the grid.
This installed Jones back in second with Thompson leading Neal into third. With Neal pressuring Thompson to try and secure his sixth podium in a row he lost out in the last lap shuffle allowing Plato, Collard and Jelley all past him. He eventually finished in seventh in front of his teammate Giovanardi and Turkington with Dave Pinkney, scoring his first points of the season, in tenth. Meanwhile Liam McMillan had a monster crash on the last lap when his rear axle broke entering the first corner, Allard, spearing him head on into the barrier at over 100mph. A shaken McMillan said afterwards, "It's clear something broke. I was starting the last lap and actually had eased off a little, so it was quite a shock when it happened. I was able to get out of the car OK but I'll admit I was a little bit shaken up."
It was a delighted Jackson who took the win saying, "It's fantastic for the team, as it was obviously a very late deal we've put together. Everybody at RML has done a fantastic job this weekend, and the Lacetti has done us proud. We got a start, and that was pretty much where the race was won."
It was not an enjoyable weekend for everyone though as Team Airways driver Jonny Adam failed to score a single point, and it was an even worse weekend for Dan Eaves, who scored a triple race win last time he visited the circuit back in 2005. Aside from his first lap accident in race 2 this was nothing compared to race 1 when he failed to start the race. Coming out of the pits he was weaving his car around to gain heat into his tyres when he lost control of the car sending him into the barriers braking his steering. While he also crashed in race 3 after making contact with Team Aon driver Tom Chilton going round one of the fastest corners, Goodwood, briefly sending the car into the air; an incident he admitted fault for. A downbeat Eaves was looking forward to the next round saying, "I'm a bit down in the dumps today, that's for sure. But the sign of a good driver is to stay strong in the head and pick himself up after a bad day. I've done it in the past and all I'm thinking about now is moving on to the next round at Donington in mid-May."
The incident with Eaves in race 3 also made it a miserable day for Arena Motorsport in their new Focus', with Chilton only managing a pair of 15th positions before this race with Alan Morrison not even finishing any of the three races. Team Boss Mike Earle admitted solutions were necessary by saying, "This has been an extremely trying weekend. We have a specific problem, which we are endeavouring to resolve and although we knew this would be a difficult venue for us, we didn't expect to end up where we did. Obviously there has been a bit of bad luck at times for both our cars and drivers, but we need to analyse what we have learnt here, come up with solutions and come up with them quickly."
Despite scoring 35 points from the weekend and putting him back into the title hunt, Giovanardi was not entirely satisfied from the weekend admitting it had not been enjoyable. He claimed, "Aside from getting the win, which is what I am here for, it has not been as enjoyable as I would have liked. We had a roll bar issue in the first race, which made it difficult to know the direction to take on set up changes. The car was definitely not right, but we need to review the data to find the solution,"
On the other hand Turkington did better than expected at a circuit where he didn't fancy his chances saying, "I'm hugely encouraged by what we've done today. This is the circuit we were looking forward to least and yet we've still been very competitive and kept up the pressure on the Vauxhalls. Now it will be important to capitalise as we move towards circuits that should be better suited to the BMW."
Neal leads the standings going into his home circuit, Donington; the place where he secured his first ever BTCC victory claiming ?250,000 in the process by becoming the first independent to win a race out right back in 1999. Although he really enjoyed the start he has made to the season and having another strong weekend, he's thinking of what could have been but for race 3 saying, "It's been another very strong day, but I'm a little disappointed to have lost points in race three - I started the last lap in fourth and was going for third, but found myself muscled down the order. The main thing is my lead is still intact and it's my home circuit next, Donington, where I've had some of my greatest races. I'm really enjoying the way my season is going."
As mentioned next up for the BTCC is Donington Park in Derby on the 16th and 17th of May so stay tuned for more updates and previews from the UK's biggest championship.