By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
After a chaotic last round at Donington Park the BTCC now heads off to Thruxton in Hampshire for rounds 7,8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship around the fastest circuit in the country.
Despite not having won a race yet James Nash heads into an event where he has not yet driven in the BTCC as the championship leader due to his 4 podiums and constant top 6 finishes.
Although this is Nash’s third season in the BTCC he has yet to drive at Thruxton due to joining the series in 2009 for RML for the 4th meeting of the year while last season he joined after the first race meeting at Thruxton.
It’s still very early in the season and I’ll be going to Thruxton to win. I think that’s very achievable as it will be every weekend from now on.
Less than can be said however though about his team Triple 8 Racing who have an incredible record around the Hampshire circuit with the Vectra wining 9 out of 15 races since the car was introduced in 2007, including two wins last year for Fabrizio Giovanardi in the season’s opener.
Even if he has yet to drive at Thruxton Nash remains confident heading into the weekend and does not feel he will be at a disadvantage due to competing in a Formula Ford race there and his team’s incredible record around the circuit, “I’m expecting it to be fine. I did a Formula Ford race there some years ago so at least know which way it goes. My aim is to be in the top five in qualifying and then I think it’s anyone’s race. Obviously my team, Triple Eight, really know what they are doing with a racing car and in particular their success rate around Thruxton is phenomenal so I couldn’t be in a better pair of hands. They’ve had drivers on pole and winning races with or without ballast so I’m not too worried.”
Nash then finished off by saying that he also feels at ease currently leading the Championship ahead of former double Champions, but would dearly like his first victory in the series and said, “I’m not underestimating the task – they are great drivers – but I’ve certainly not been thinking ‘wow, I’m leading the championship’. OK, we still all want that first win, but we are leading on merit. Now is not the time to start getting defensive when it comes to championship leads either. It’s still very early in the season and I’ll be going to Thruxton to win. I think that’s very achievable as it will be every weekend from now on. I’m not going to force the issue and risk throwing away points, but if the opportunity arises then I’ll certainly take it.”
Due to the Turbo powered dominance at Donington, this weekend will see all teams who use the Turbo engine series forced to slightly reduce their Turbo boost as set by the series organises TOCA.
TOCA carefully monitor the situation all season and during the races with their monitoring device and will expect all cars to run 0.1 bar less to the 1.8 bar maximum with strict punishment set to be dished out to any cars or drivers above this limit.
This however, is not the main concern for the Turbo runners with Thruxton’s tough nature on tyres now set to be more of an issue than ever. Official tyre suppliers Dunlop are forced to come up with a special set of tyres every year for the event due to Thruxton’s high speed and huge kerbs. It will be more of a problem than ever with the extra weight from the new engines pushing down on the front of the car as they fly over the kerbs. We have already seen punctures for Andrew Jordan at Brands after hitting the kerbs too much and Matt Neal believes it will be an issue facing his Honda Racing team particularly after what happened last season and told Autosport, “…we blew tyres last year on the normally aspirated car, so its going to be a race where we try and get to the end. Every circuit that we go to is a new adventure – trying to get the car not to eat its tyres. Get it wrong and we’ll get a load of non-finishes.”
This weekend there will be plenty of other drivers to look out for. First up is, Jordan for Pirtek Racing after scoring the most points at Donington last time out with a win and two second place finishes. Jason Plato will be hoping to get his BTCC title defence back on track after a disastrous weekend, suffering a puncture in race 1 which was followed up by his spectacular barrel roll. The team worked miracles to get the car ready for race 3 where he scored a 6th but now trails Nash by 16 points.
The two Fords belonging to third race winner from Donington Mat Jackson from Airwaves Racing and Tom Chilton in the Team Aon Global Ford Focus will be hoping to secure Ford’s first victory at Thruxton since 1991, while Tom Onslow-Cole will be another driver to look out for after securing his AmD Miltek Racing their first ever BTCC points at Donington in their VW Golf.
Another driver to watch will be Rob Collard, who will be hoping to be boosted by taking part at his home circuit. Collard has never won at Thruxton but looked on course last year, until being cruelly knocked out of the race by Neal. Collard has so far endured a tough start to the season with his now dated WSR BMW lacking power but proved last time out he still races as hard as ever taking 5th before suffering damage whilst in second in race 3.
Collard this weekend admits he will drive his socks off and take risks, “I will always give it 100 per cent, particularly at Thruxton. We’re having to take more risks than normal to try and bridge that gap to the turbo cars by cutting the corners and using more kerb and I’m driving every lap like a qualifying lap. I felt absolutely drained both physically and mentally for two days after Donington, but it’s just the situation we’re in. I shall drive my socks off at Thruxton – my home circuit – to try and get into the top ten. In the opening laps we expect the turbo cars to pull away – in qualifying trim they’re a second of a lap faster than us – but then they just might start coming back to us. We just have to do the best with what we’ve got and make sure if they hit problems we’re in position to take advantage, but we can’t fabricate horsepower. I got the absolute maximum out of my car at Donington and I was very pleased with my performance, but it’s going to be a massive struggle against the turbo cars at Thruxton. It’s very much a power circuit, but then it’s also an abrasive circuit for front-wheel-drive cars and we’re expecting the turbocharged cars to struggle even more.”
It has also been just stated in a slightly shock announcement that reigning Clio Cup Champion Dave Newsham will switch from Geoff Steel Racing to drive for Special Tuning Racing in a Seat for the remainder of the season, although the deal has come too late for Thruxton. Speaking about the switch Newsham said, “I am very excited about the change to STR. I have met the team at their HQ in Forton and was very impressed with their set-up and car preparation. The SEAT Leon looks quick in Tom’s hands and it has a strong turbocharged engine. All the ingredients are there for us to have a great remainder of the season. I am sorry for Geoff Steel and the guys within the team. However, circumstances made it impossible for us to continue with them. I personally enjoyed working with them and I wish them well in their future ventures.”
It is unclear whether Geoff Steel Racing will be racing but team boss and former BTCC racer Martyn Bell has been mentioned to replace Newsham. However, definitely missing out will be Tony Hughes of Speedworks in their NGTC Toyota Avensis who have opted out from this weekend to concentrate on rectifying some persistent issues.
So that’s who to look out for heading into this weekend’s event. Thruxton is always one of the most unpredictable events of the season but add the fact of the new Turbo engines and the chance of heavy rain into the mix and its anyone’s guess who will come up on top.
The only way to find out the winners and losers from the weekend is to stay logged into Motorsport.com where full qualifying reports will be posted Saturday and of course full race reports and images will follow Sunday’s races.