This weekend sees the BTCC head to Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10,11 and 12 with it all square at the top of the leader board between Jason Plato, for Silverline Chevrolet, and Matt Neal for Honda Racing. Jason Plato Silverline ...
This weekend sees the BTCC head to Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10,11 and 12 with it all square at the top of the leader board between Jason Plato, for Silverline Chevrolet, and Matt Neal for Honda Racing.
Plato started the year as clear championship favourite in the all "new to the BTCC" Chevrolet Cruze. Though he has not had it his own way by a long shot and only has the one win to show for it.
Last time out at Brands Hatch, 4 weeks ago, Plato had a disastrous weekend with only an 8th place to finish after two mechanical failures put a dent to his championship hopes.
Last year saw him take his first pole position of the season at Oulton, which was when the Chevrolet Lacetti really started showing its true pace. Plato, a five-time winner at the circuit, is expecting a large points haul by saying, "Oulton is a circuit I love and it should suit our car. In the pre-season test we did there we seemed to be quick and I think we've moved the car on a bit since then. With that in mind it should reward us with some big points."
He then went on to say that he was pleased with the progress of the car particularly following the recent official test at Rockingham, "We've definitely made progress with the car. We seem to have achieved a balance and a feel with the car that I'm happier with now. We've found more grip and a set-up that enables me to attack the corners that bit more which we've maybe not had up until now. We also collected a lot of valuable data which I hope, when we study it closely, means we can find a bit more again. That Rockingham test was crucial for us as it enabled us to do a lot of running and get a handle on the car and get it to react the way I want it to.'
Plato can now start to rely on his younger teammate Alex MacDowall to start taking points away from fellow competitors.
MacDowall has out qualified his more illustrious team mate on the last two occasions and even got past Plato at Brands Hatch to finish above him. He took a podium in the second race of the day at Brands and is looking to build upon that.
After 4 years of running the Honda Civic, Team Dynamics have now finally found the pace to mount a serious title challenge.
Neal looks more at home with his family runned team after following two tough years with the works Vauxhall team and has already taken 2 wins this year, the same as he managed in the whole of his Vauxhall career. Due to those two wins so far he goes into Oulton top of the championship.
Neal did however enjoy a fantastic start to the season last year with Vauxhall, leading the championship until after the Oulton races and is expecting a rough and tumble weekend, "It's rough to race at Oulton - just what the crowds love! There are lots of overtaking opportunities with high speed sections leading into second and third gear bits and vice-versa, plus it's also very narrow in places so the racing can and often does become quite physical there. It's something I'm always wary of arriving at Oulton, even more so this time as I've got myself into the championship lead. I'm under no illusions how tough this one is going to be."
Neal's team mate Gordon Shedden has also had a good start to the season despite not yet winning a race. The Scot hopes this will change this weekend at a place where he has won every time he has visited, even though he was not present there last season, and said, "I have won at Oulton in every season I have raced a touring car there and it has always been in a Honda! Talk about putting the pressure on. I love the place because it is a real classic circuit and it gives the driver an adrenaline rush to nail a quick lap. Unlike Matt, I don't have any extra weight on the car so I will be gunning for pole position to start the weekend off right. I want three big scores to push me to the front of the championship and given the developments we have made on the car I am confident we will be right at the front."
Heading into this weekend, Airwaves BMW leads the HiQ Teams Championship and with the BMW's having such a good record around the circuit, both drivers, Stephen Kane and Mat Jackson, are looking for good results this weekend. Particularly if the weather is the same as last year's tropical temperatures as the rear wheel drive BMW is able to look after its tyres more in hot conditions.
Currently third in the points and joint independent leader Kane said, "I always look forward to Oulton Park; it is a highlight on the BTCC calendar. If the weather is warm - and it should be in June - we should get some decent temperature in the tyres and more quickly too."
Jackson has good memories from Oulton where he scored his first victory in 2007 in his family run BMW, "Oulton Park has been good to the team over the years and I took my first win in the BTCC here and I also hold the race lap record. We're in a great position coming into this event. If it stays dry and warm then the BMW will do well, so long as we capitalise on the opportunity and bring home podiums in every race."
Surprise of the season surely has to be fans favourite Paul O'Neill in the Techspeed Sunshine.co.uk Honda Integra. O'Neill heads into his home race, the place of his first BTCC victory, fourth in the outright championship and joint in the independents with Kane and he said, "It's massive. Massive! "It's the one track where the hairs on my neck stand up when I go out of the pit lane for first practice on Saturday morning. I've taken the whole week off to prepare for this one. Oulton is where it all started for me and there are so many people who'll be at this one who've contributed to my racing. The support I get there is always phenomenal and if the going gets tough I know I can really on the crowd to stick up for me."
O'Neill, who has already had two podium finishes this year and felt it could have been more if it wasn't for mechanical trouble at Brands Hatch, finished off by saying, "My mindset now is very strong. I was gutted the car broke on the way to the grid in race three at Brands - I really felt I could have won that race - but even though I spent it watching from the sidelines I soon started thinking forward to Oulton. That's how we're thinking now. The only time I see anyone in my mirrors now is because I might glance in them whereas in the past maybe I was driving on my mirrors. Now we deserve to be in front of people on merit."
One driver still-hunting for his first victory in his third season is Andrew Jordan.
Jordan for the second year running is driving a Vauxhall Vectra but this year he has switched to the new turbo charged NGTC engine. Jordan has twice been on the podium at Oulton and despite not quite getting into the top three yet this year he did top the official BTCC test at Rockingham. He is confident of a strong weekend, "The aim for Oulton is to qualify well and focus on three strong scores in the races. I'm definitely aiming for the top three and after the development we made at the Rockingham test I'm confident we'll be able to do it. We're still working hard with the new package of the TOCA NGTC engine and the Vectra but we made huge leaps forward at the test and we're in the best shape we have been all season."
Other drivers to look out for this weekend are the pair of Team Aon Ford Focus' of Tom Onslow-Cole and Tom Chilton, who will be going for his hat- trick of Pole positions although their task will be made more difficult following a restrictor to their LPG Turbo powered Focus.
Another driver who deserves a mention is James Nash for Triple 8 racing. Nash, who joined this season after the opening race at Thruxton, so far has shown tremendous pace but qualifying 6th for Rockingham and 3rd at Brands Hatch as well as finishing 3rd in the official test at Rockingham. Despite his qualifying performances Nash as been out of luck so far this year going out twice on the opening lap of the races in each of the first races. Nash could once again spring a surprise in qualifying and if he can get through the opening laps the winner on the road last year at Snetterton could be finding his way to the top of the podium.
To date Nash will be the sole Tripe 8 runner at Oulton even though former Clio Cup racer Daniel Lloyd impressed at the recent Rockingham test, with the team also staying on an extra day to test single seater racer James Walker.
Oulton Park is a favourite with both the drivers and the fans and often attracts crowds of up to 30,000 and with good weather expected the scene is set for another cracking weekend in the BTCC. So stay tuned to Motorsport.com for all reviews and news from this weekend races.