This weekend the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship reaches its climax and returns to Brands Hatch back where it all started in April. Although, this time around the world famous Grand Prix loop, the championship could go any of three ways...
This weekend the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship reaches its climax and returns to Brands Hatch back where it all started in April. Although, this time around the world famous Grand Prix loop, the championship could go any of three ways in what has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in History.
Colin Turkington goes into the season finale as championship favourite leading reigning double BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi by 13points. Meanwhile 2001 champion Jason Plato is not out of the running though he needs a minor miracle to turn around the 28point difference.
Turkington goes into this weekend with the advantage and hopes to secure his maiden BTCC crown to go with the Independent crown he has already secured. Commenting on this weekend's title decider Turkington said, "The nerves haven't set in as yet, although I'm sure I'll feel slightly differently when it comes to race weekend. Having said that, a bit of pressure isn't always a bad thing."
He also admitted that the third race at Rockingham could have been one of the deciding factors in the championship but hopes for an improved qualifying position than the lonely 14th he managed there, "The last race at Rockingham could turn out to be crucial. Sometimes you need a bit of luck and it was good to out-score both Fabrizio [Giovanardi] and Jason [Plato]. I'm glad to have a lead going into the final round, but anything can happen. I should by more competitive in qualifying than I was at Rockingham. If I can get the car near the front of the grid I think I'll have a great chance. The Team have been brilliant all year, and hopefully I can win it for them."
One crucial factor if Turkington is to win the championship could be Stephen Jelley. Jelley has hit form at exactly the right time and after two fantastic wins at Rockingham goes into the series finale on a high and said, "I've had two very strong meetings at Silverstone and Rockingham, and it feels great to be on a bit of a roll. Brands is a circuit I enjoy, and hopefully I can be at the sharp end again.
"The Team RAC BMW is always quick round Brands, and the medium to high-speed corners should suit us. Although I've never driven the full circuit in anger, I'm confident I can be up there challenging. My aim is to finish in the top five in the Driver's Championship, although the main priority for the team is to ensure Colin comes away with the title."
Turkington's main title threat will surely come from Giovanardi who hopes to become the first driver since Andy Rouse back in the mid-eighties to secure a Hat trick of titles. Although he admitted that he would need to be daring, "I think I have to take some big risks at Brands Hatch. If I had been closer on points then maybe I could drive tactically but this is not the case now. I am in for a really hard life on Sunday."
In 2007 Giovanardi went into the title decider at Thruxton in a similar position chasing Plato in which he came out on top but admitted this time it will be very different and said, "In 2007 with Jason, I had to fight only one. This time it's three drivers and more types of cars and teams are also very fast. But also I think Colin has more pressure. I have nothing to lose so it could be the mind pressure that makes the difference."
He has no doubt which car will be the car to beat although he expects no driver to roll over, "The Chevrolet drivers will be in front at this event. They have so much performance and I suspect at Brands they will be in front. If it could just be a fight with Colin and me then it would be simpler.
"I expect the three races to be very tough, with some contact. Every driver wants to show his potential in the last round. The other drivers won't care about the drivers fighting for the championship..."
Giovanardi will also have extra incentive this weekend as this marks Vauxhalls end in the championship after over 20 consecutive years within the series, spending the majority of them at the top. Fellow Vauxhall drivers Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan will also hope to go out with a bang.
Neal, the early championship leader, has only scored just one point in two meetings, only had one win in the first race of the season and has not been on the podiums since round 12. Jordan is still hunting for his first victory within the series despite coming close last time out at Rockingham when he had to settle for second behind Jelley, despite leading the race for a while.
There is no doubt this weekend though that the team to beat will be Racing Silverline with Plato and Mat Jackson driving RML Chevrolet Lacettis. Plato, still in with a chance of the title though 28 points behind Turkington, has long admitted that his championship hopes ended a while ago. That has not stopped him from taking four pole positions (more than any another driver) and four victories plus a number of other podiums.
Jackson has also taken four victories and eight podiums out of the last nine races with the Racing Silverline Lacetti starting on pole in the last five races. Although at the time of writing this there will be no third Lacetti for RML as James Nash has been forced to withdraw from the final event due to focusing his budget for the 2010 season, RML are currently looking for a third driver to come in for this weekend.
One driver hoping to shake things up in the championship battle will be Johnny Herbert.
Herbert in the previous round was mixing it up with the big boys and Giovanardi was fuming with the former Formula 1 ace but has since apologized to him after the pair clashed in race 3.
Despite this Herbert has said he will not be scared to mix it up with the championship contenders again and said, "I did nothing wrong and I think Fabrizio in hindsight knows that. I'm not a dirty driver. I don't go round smashing people up the back and all we did was rub doors and wheels a bit, which is nothing new in this business.
"I was in there with all three of them and that was a good feeling. Of course I don't want to cause any problems but I'm not going to wave them past just because they're fighting for the title. I'm not going to change my ways. Motor racing has always meant to me that you have to beat everyone and that is one of the factors that will decide who wins it the title on Sunday - it will depend on who else is quick, starts getting in on the act and jumbling up the order."
This weekend will also see Herbert return to Brands Hatch for the first time since he raced there in 1988, where he had an accident that nearly ended his racing career but alleged this is not entering his mind, "What happened happened and besides that was 20-odd years ago so I'm not fazed about returning to Brands Hatch at all. In fact I'm really looking forward to it. Brands has always been a classic track for motor sport and in particular for touring cars - a lot of the BTCC's history is there and the layout always brings out the best in the championship. I was always competitive there right through my junior days in Formula Fords and Formula 3 right up to the moment I had my crash in Formula 3000. I was leading when it happened... it would be nice if on my return I could end up on the podium."
So that's how the championship and the championship contenders lay going into the final three rounds of the championship. Be sure to return to see who will take the coveted crown and become 2009 British Touring Car Champion.