After 27 races so far this season the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship reaches its final meeting of the year at Brands Hatch in Kent, incredibly with the top 4 drivers separated by just 24 points. Start: Jason Plato ...
After 27 races so far this season the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship reaches its final meeting of the year at Brands Hatch in Kent, incredibly with the top 4 drivers separated by just 24 points.
None of the championship contenders have had it their own way this season but it is Jason Plato who has headed the championship since just after the half way stage of the season. He goes into the weekend as the clear championship favourite. Plato leads the Honda Racing Civic of Matt Neal by 17 points, who has his team mate Gordon Shedden just 4 points behind. The Ford of Tom Onslow-Cole is a further 3 points behind the second Honda.
Plato is just 2 wins away from becoming the most successful driver in the history of the BTCC and returns to the track where he took his previous title back in 2001.
"I think I'm old enough and wise enough to know what to expect - so long as my team and I both give everything possible then, win or lose, I'll be able to lie flat in my bed on Sunday night," said Plato. "What will be will be. But the hunger is exactly the same as it always was to win this championship. It's a super important championship. It's one that everyone wants to win and it's not easy to win - God knows I know that! It's the biggest and best championship in the UK and arguably in Europe."
Neal also took the first of his two BTCC titles at Brands Hatch back in 2005 and remains calm but determined to make it a hat-trick this weekend by saying, "I'm surprisingly relaxed about it - it may be a different story come the weekend! - But at the same time I'm very determined to give it my best shot. I don't have the same nerves as I did when I first went into it with a chance, so I sort of know what to expect but it's just as exciting as ever. I want it just as much as I did the first time. Jason's got a lead on the rest of us so it's going to need him to have a bit of a problem and it could happen - we've all had at least one bad day this year. But even if that happens we still need to score a big chunk of points."
Shedden had to wait until round 13 for his first victory of the season. He has since made up for that taking a further 4 race wins to tie with Plato on 5 victories each as the most winning driver of the season so far. Shedden was a surprise returnee to Team Dynamics after being replaced following the first race meeting of the 2009 season, but has driven brilliantly all season and remains in the hunt for his first BTCC crown.
Shedden hopes to become the first Scot to win the championship since John Cleland back in 1995 and admits the pressure his off him heading to Brands and said, "There is no pressure on me. My mindset is that I have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. Saturday's qualifying session could really have an affect on what happens in the three races on Sunday - Brands Indy is a short lap and it'll only take a tenth of a second to make the difference between starting on the front row and row five. Bear in mind Jason in particular will have a lot of success ballast in that Chevrolet. That could be those vital fractions of a second."
The final driver in with a shout of the title is the Team Aon Focus belonging to Onslow-Cole.
Onslow-Cole didn't have the best first couple of meetings of the season but has been a constant threat ever since. This is Onslow-Cole's first chance of taking the crown in only his third full season of the BTCC and the 23 year old admits like Shedden he feels no pressure saying, "I'm pretty chilled out about it all as I have nothing to lose and I certainly won't be settling for cosy points finishes. I'm in a situation where I need to take the risks and stick my nose in a bit. I've not knocked people about this year whereas maybe the others have got involved in a few tangles, so hopefully I've got a few more friends out there on the track. I think I can play with these guys and take it to them. But above all, it's just fantastic to be coming into the final round in with a shout of what is one of motor sport's most coveted titles."
All four other championships also have yet to be decided with Onslow-Cole leading Steven Kane in the Independents' trophy by 18 points, with Tom Chilton just a few points further back.
Honda Racing lead the coveted HiQ teams Championship from Team Aon by 41 points as well as leading the Manufacturers/Constructors championship from Arena Ford by just 9 points, although Team Aon do lead the Independent Teams' Championship by 25 points from Airwaves BMW.
As expected we do see a couple of new faces for the season finale with the biggest name - and sure to bring in the crowds - Ben Collins, the man who has recently been revealed as the mystery 'Stig' in the hit TV show Top Gear. Collins came up through the ranks in Formula 3 before moving to GT racing and has been running in the Le Mans Seris this season driving an LMP2 car winning at Silverstone.
This will be Collins first taste of BTCC racing and he will be in a 3rd Airwaves BMW hoping to give the team the Independents' Team trophy. The Stig tested the car at Brands Htach shortly before Christmas last year, while he also enjoyed a successful test in the car just last week at Snetterton. After the test Collins said he is out there to win and hopes that this is not just a one off event, "I'm racing to win and for me that's the only way to enter any race. This is the top race series in the UK so I want to make as good an impression as possible for Airwaves and Addison Lee who are sponsoring me, as it's something I'd dearly love to be part of next season."
Collins has recently become a household name since his showbiz revelation but doesn't think he will become a target and said, "To be honest they should be aiming to beat every other driver with the same hunger so I'd be surprised if I'm treated any differently. The nature of the BTCC means every position is fought for tooth and nail down the field and as this event is on the short Brands Hatch Indy track it makes the racing even closer for the fans. But I've raced in many professional race series down the years and can give as good as I get."
The second new face for this weekend will be youngster Sam Tordoff who becomes the latest driver to taste the second Vauxhall Vectra belonging to Triple 8.
Tordoff has been a regular top finisher in the Clio Cup for the past two season's and recently got his first taste of the Vectra in the same test as Collins and said after, "We got through a really big test programme and I was able to try all sorts of different set-ups on the car, work with the tyres over simulated race and qualifying runs and even tried a few practice starts."
Tordoff clearly has some points finishes as his target for the weekend and hopes to be the lastest Clio driver to make a good impression of himself, "Alex MacDowall has had a couple of good results in his first season in the BTCC since moving up from Clios and Daniel Lloyd made an impact in the one-off he did in the Vectra at Croft so obviously I'm hoping to put in a similar sort of performance. Finishing in the top ten in a couple of the races will be my target."
He then finished off by saying, "I know I'm with a phenomenal team with all their history and winning record. The experience among the people there was obvious as soon as I turned up today and there's all the data from the previous drivers such as Fabrizio Giovanardi to work off. It's a mega place to be."
One trophy that has already been decided is the Fans Trophy, run by the supporters of the official BTCC site. Shaun Hollamby beat last season's winner Paul O'Neil by incredibly just 1 vote. Hollamby has been a true underdog this season in his AmD Miltek.com Racing VW Golf and has won over the fans particularly with his insights into the team where he regularly blogs on the official BTCC site's forum, showing the hard work put in by his team and explaining new developments and improvements that the team is making.
The car was first displayed at the Autosport Show back in January after which the team worked miracles, completely stripping and rebuilding the car from the shell up to ensure that a VW has been represented for the first time since 1989. Hollamby said upon being notified of his award, "The BTCC is all about getting the fans involved - they are among the most passionate you'll find in any sport so to win their approval is a real privilege. Wow - our first trophy in the BTCC and to win by just one vote, or point, is pretty typical of the battles you get in the BTCC! Thanks to everybody who voted for me... it means a huge amount and I look forward to seeing all the fans down at Brands this weekend."
There also has been further good news for Hollamby this week with the news that he will be teaming up with Your Racing Car (YRC) to compete in the 2011 BTCC season in the Golf sporting an NGTC engine. YRC was set up for the Supporters to get involved with Motorsport for which they will be rewarded with a small image of themselves somewhere on the car, usually the roof, as well as other benefits.
YRC have previously been running within the BTCC support package for a couple of years. They also tied up with Phil Glew to run a Special Tuning Seat Leon at Silverstone before Hollamby first appeared with YRC support for Donington last time out.
Head of YRC Hannah James said, "After our outing at Silverstone, one thing was crystal clear when we spoke to our members - the BTCC is where they wanted to be. We've been hard at work since Silverstone to look at the options available to us for 2011 but when Shaun and AmD Milltek Racing made the approach, it was a no-brainer for us. YourRacingCar and AmD Milltek Racing share similar goals and aims, so it made perfect sense for us to build a partnership for 2011. We're all looking forward to cheering on Shaun on track next season and are confident that he will do the YRC members proud."
This weekend we are also set to see more of what we are to expect in 2011 with the official unavailing of the first complete NGTC car. Former double BTCC champion James Thompson hopes to give the first NGTC car, which will be a Toyota Avensis, a run during Saturday's Free Practice session's as well as doing a few demo laps during Sunday's lunch hour.
So the stage is set for the final BTCC meeting of the year and what a meeting it promises to be. So be sure to return to Motorsport.com for full qualifying reports Saturday, to see who will be in the best place to take the crown and of course after the race weekend for full images and reviews in what promises to be yet another nail biting end to the season.