This weekend sees the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship head to the home of British Motorsport, Silverstone, with Colin Turkington going for his first title. He has a narrow nine-point lead in the championship from reigning double champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.
Giovanardi has been on fantastic form lately and as closed the gap from 27 points down to just nine two race meetings ago, taking three wins and a further two podium finishes in the last six races. Despite his recent form he hasn't always shone in qualifying. He knows that this will be all important if he wants to achieve his hat-trick of titles and said, "We haven't had the best qualifying sessions recently, but we have still had some good results from the races. We will push to improve our qualifying pace and hopefully we will be able to challenge for more victories."
Matt Neal led the early championship but unfortunately the double champion's title hopes have now faded but he will now back up Giovanardi. This was obvious when he let Giovanardi through on the last lap at Knockhill and Neal now admits he will do all he can to ensure Giovanardi takes his third crown, although hopes to get some good results along the way and said, "My championship hopes were perhaps over before Knockhill, we really needed a result there, but it wasn't to be. Andrew and I really want to give it all we've got next weekend, we both want to go out there and get a victory, however we have to be mindful that Fabrizio has a shot at a third title and we will support that."
Turkington has seen his championship lead decrease and admits its getting tight at the top but hopes for a strong weekend due to past results and said, "The Championship is getting tighter at the top, but we've have had some good results here in the past and the aim is to come away with a strong points haul and hopefully extend my lead in the Driver's Championship."
The last race saw the title contenders fighting on track for only the second time this season. Turkington got the better of Giovanardi at Thruxton but this time the Italian won the on track battle. Despite this Turkington really enjoyed his on track battle and hopes for more of the same by saying, "I nearly had him on the final lap. I got fully up alongside him exiting Scotsman and stayed there down through Butcher's but I was still on the outside going up to the chicane. There's only space for one car there and I had to back out otherwise we'd have both been off. I beat him at Thruxton; he beat me here. It's good that because we are the top we do have a couple of fights on track this year and if there's more to come then I look forward to it."
Turkington then went on to say he was surprised that team tactics were employed so early in the Vauxhall camp but hopes this time his team mate Stephen Jelley will be on hand to do the same and finished off by saying, "I didn't expect to see those sort of tactics quite so soon. Maybe if Matt doesn't make much of an impression on Fabrizio at Silverstone then OK at Rockingham and Brands Hatch, but not as early Knockhill.
It was frustrating from my point of view but hopefully my teammate can start taking points out of the Vauxhall drivers or certainly causing them a nuisance. There will be times when I come up behind Matt or Andrew and those Vauxhalls will suddenly grow in width. Stephen did a great job at Croft if you remember with three podiums all in one day and it'd be grand if he can do the same again."
Turkington will be aided by the return of veteran touring car star Anthony Reid. Reid raced in the BTCC from 1997-2004 and was twice runner up in the series scoring many victories.
From 2001-2004 Reid ran with West Surrey Racing (who run the Team RAC operation) in a works MG and partnered Turkington from 2002-2004. Reid admitted it was just too good a chance to turn down particularly for a team he knows so well and said, "Driving for Team RAC is a fantastic opportunity and one I just couldn't turn down. It's great to be re-united with the crew at WSR again and I already feel right at home. It is especially good for me having Colin as a team-mate again and I will be doing all I can to help him and Team RAC win the Championship."
Team principle Dick Bennets admitted that Vauxhall's tactics at Knockhill influenced his decision to get a third car on track and said, "Our hand has been forced by Vauxhall instituting team orders at Knockhill with Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan giving points and positions to Fabrizio. There is nothing wrong in them doing that. In fact, it shows what good team players they both are. However, three against two isn't a fair fight, so that is why we have brought in Anthony to assist Colin and Stephen."
He also went on to say how delighted he was to have Reid back in the team and expects him to be straight back on the pace despite not driving the car previously and finished off by saying, "It's great to have Anthony back and with all his experience I am sure he is going to be a great help to the team. It is going to be tough for Anthony, never having driven the car before and having to carry maximum ballast (45kg), but we expect him to be quickly up to speed and right up there in the races."
This weekend will also see former Formula One race winner Jonny Herbert race in the BTCC for the first time, in a Team Dynamics Honda Civic taking the place of James Thompson for the rest of the season. Thompson has other racing commitments in the WTCC, Danish Touring cars and V8 Supercars in Australia. Herbert admits Silverstone is the perfect place to start his BTCC career, the place where he scored his maiden Formula One victory and said, "Silverstone is a fitting place for me to begin what is the start of a new chapter in my career. I've got memories of some great races here in the past, in Formula Fords and Formula 3 in the Eighties. It was always a special place for me, but then of course I got my win in the Grand Prix in '95. It's where I was able to experience something that not many British drivers have, so I suppose it makes it that bit extra special."
Despite this he is under no illusions of the task ahead particularly with the calibre of Touring Car stars that he is facing and also admits that driving a touring car will require a completely different style of driving and race craft. He said, "I'm going to be up against some of the best touring car names in the world with the likes of Matt Neal, Jason Plato and Fabrizio Giovanardi and I've seen what these boys get up to along the way... scraping panels and having a wing mirror or bumper taken off is part of the game and it's something I'm going to have to adapt to quickly. I'm going to be going three or four abreast into corners for the first time since my Formula Ford and Formula 3 days in the mid-Eighties. Obviously the power I've experienced since then in F1 and sports cars has been much higher than a BTCC car, but that takes nothing away from the challenge."
Despite this Herbert who has tested the car previously hopes to be matching it on track with the series best and hopes to add to Thompson's three victories for the team this season and finished off by saying, "But I've tested the Honda once already and got down to some good times and I've got another run in it next week. Plus it has won three races already this season so is obviously a very competitive car. I hope I can be in there somewhere near the front."
Expect, once again, the Chevrolet's to be strong due to the long straight. Jason Plato will be going for his third straight pole position and even admits winning all three races are not out of the question in what will be his 298, 299 and 300 races in the championship and said, "I'm not in a position where I have points to protect or might think twice about going for a move. I'm going to Silverstone with every intention of winning all three races. It is win or bust for me."
He then went on to say that he feels this is capable due to being in what he describes as a car capable of doing anything and finished by saying, "To do that you have to have a car that is very capable in all areas and that is how we've now got the Chevy working. I feel I can do anything in it. Silverstone should be one of its strongest circuits all season, plus the place is very flowing and wide, not twisty like Knockhill where overtaking is perhaps more difficult. An element of luck comes into it, yes, but if three wins in a day are possible then Silverstone is our most likely bet."
This weekend will see the touring cars use the national circuit, which always proves ultra close racing around the 1.64-mile circuit and, despite the short nature of the circuit, there are still overtaking opportunities around.
Qualifying is vital and last year saw the cars covered by only a few tenths of a second. Vauxhall youngster Andrew Jordan admitted qualifying will be all important but very close once again and said, "Qualifying will be interesting, due to the short length of the lap the times are always close. Last season there were only a few tenths between the top ten, so you have to get as much as you can out of the car and tyres to be up there for the race"
So be sure to return to see who will head into the final couple of rounds with the championship lead and to see if Plato can become only the second driver to win all three races in a weekend, after Dan Eaves did in 2005 at Thruxton. All eyes will be on Herbert to see if this once Formula One icon can make an impact in this ultra competitive series. Either way this weekend promises to be another exciting one and be sure not to miss any of the news and updates.