Championship hangs in balance after Donington

Championship hangs in balance after Donington

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is still very much all in play after rounds 25, 26 and 27 which saw title contenders Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal win races along with Team Aon's Tom Onslow-Cole taking the Race 2 ...

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is still very much all in play after rounds 25, 26 and 27 which saw title contenders Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal win races along with Team Aon's Tom Onslow-Cole taking the Race 2 victory.

Photo by Pat Cranham.

Jason Plato still leads the championship by 17 points but incredibly just 24 points separate all the top four drivers.

It could have easily been a lot worse though for Plato after he ended up in the gravel in race 1 with a heavily damaged car, however the team performed miracles to get him back out for race 2. Plato repaid his team with a fine third placed finish from the back of the grid which he then repeated in race 3.

In the first race, it was Tom Chilton who started on pole but his get away was not good, which instantly let Onslow-Cole past into the lead. Shedden got a good start behind Chilton but had to take to the grass to avoid the Ford although he would get past at the first corner.

Neal has always had a good record at Donington, which included being the first independent to win the championship outright in 1999, taking home a cool ?250,000 in the process.

His favourite passing place has always been into the right-hander at McCleans and it wasn't too long until he was at it again. His first victim was Andrew Jordan pushing the Pirtek Vectra wide through the gravel, also allowing archrival Plato past. Just a lap later Neal was at it again this time on Rob Collard and once again allowing Plato past.

The first safety car of the day had to be deployed for the stranded car of Paul O'Neill.

This occurred after Tom Boardman had made contact with the Honda Integra, spinning O'Neill into Steven Kane and leaving the car stranded by the side of the circuit.

It had appeared before the safety car that Onslow-Cole was struggling in his Ford Focus with Shedden putting him under a lot of pressure. It wasn't long until Shedden got past the Ford after a small tap from the Scot.

This also allowed Onslow-Cole's team mate Chilton past, along with the second Honda of Neal as the cars approached the chicane where chaos was to happen.

Battered cars head down to the first corner after chicane carnage.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

With Plato's main rival getting past, Onslow-Cole, Plato tried the same manoeuvre but he only managed in hitting the back of Neal, sending him sideways into the blue polystyrene blocks next to the circuit.

With Neal ploughing straight through the blocks he rejoined the circuit hitting the front right of the Chevrolet, braking the wheel and sending Plato into the gravel. With the polystyrene boards flying everywhere Jordan hit Collard spinning him around with Jordan ending up in the gravel.

Onslow-Cole managed to avoid going off but couldn't avoid another block, hitting it hard. As the cars approached the first corner it looked more like a banger race with Onslow-Cole's front heavily damaged with the blue binding from the blocks wrapped around the front of Neal and James Nash in the Triple 8 Vectra.

Neal fell off but Nash was forced to pit with Onslow-Cole losing another three places on the same lap.

Unsurprisingly this brought out another safety car period with Shedden leading Chilton as the Airwaves BMW of Mat Jackson took advantage in the carnage to move up to 3rd, ahead of Alex MacDowall in the second Chevrolet and the recovering Neal.

The safety car came in with just two laps remaining and although the first five places would remain the same, the struggling Onslow-Cole would lose further places to Kane and Boardman. Kane had started 21st on the grid following his non-appearance in qualifying.

Onslow-Cole would eventually finish in 8th ahead of BTCC returnee James Kaye in his WRC developments Honda Integra, taking a very pleasing 9th ahead of Dave Pinkney.

The big news from race 1 though was the incident at the chicane, which Plato took the blame for after the race, leaving his team with a major repair job for the second race. However, he made it to the start for race 2, albeit at the back of the grid with concerns over the gearbox.

Race 2 started in the finishing positions from race 1 and it was Shedden who got the best start with Jackson moving up to second. The main incident off the grid was Neal jumping the start instantly receiving a drive through which he took at the end of the first lap.

Podium: 1st Gordon Shedden, 2nd Tom Chilton, 3rd Mat Jackson.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Neal got the break he needed when the safety car had to come out on lap 2 after Pinkney spun at the first corner, although ironically he managed to get out of the gravel before the cars picked up the safety car. This allowed Neal to catch back up with the rest of the pack.

On lap 5 Onslow-Cole managed to get past Jackson but the main man on the move was Plato from the back of the grid.

Having made many places in the opening laps Plato then made a double pass when Kane got alongside the other Chevrolet of MacDowall. Plato drew alongside the pair and took both heading into the chicane with Kane and MacDowall having to take across the gravel to avoid the blocks. This also let Nash through as well.

The race had started well for MacDowall getting up to 3rd on lap 1 but a similar incident on the first lap dropped him back 5 places. Although he gained a couple back this second trip through the gravel dropped him back further and he would eventually finish 11th.

Plato though, was clearly not feeling any effects from his race 1 incident and would pass both Chilton and Jackson on lap 10 after Chilton had tried to pass Jackson.

Chilton would eventually pass Jackson on lap 12 after he had already gotten by him only to be re-passed, but by then Chilton's team mate Onslow-Cole was already in the lead.

This time out Onslow-Cole had the pace to run at the front and after following Shedden for several laps he eventually made his move on lap 12, passing the Honda into the final chicane.

Neal, following his drive through, eventually took 8th passing Jordan on lap 15 with a great late move onto the chicane with Nash taking 10th. The big battle on the last lap though was between the two Airwaves BMWs and the WSR BMW of Collard for 5th.

Collard managed to get past Jackson but ran with too much speed, which allowed Jackson to dive back up the inside.

Collard wasn't giving up and as the pair entered the final chicane Collard had no option but to run through the gravel losing time and allowing Kane to take 6th on the line.

Race 3 saw the top 9-reversed meaning Jordan was on pole from Neal and that's how they led away from the line with Collard in third.

Just like the two previous races posistions were changing regularly with a fair bit of contact. This time Plato got past Kane going down the Crainer Kerbs also allowing Chilton past. Shedden and Onslow-Cole were also swapping places and paint during the lap with Nash taking advantage getting past Shedden.

Matt Neal leads.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Jordan held his lead until lap 5 where he had a wild couple of corners letting Neal through at the first turn, after getting very sideways. The former rally cross racer Jordan was then getting even more sideways at the next corner, allowing Collard through to second.

Lap 9 saw Jackson throw away a good 4th position after it looked like he nudged the back of Jordan, sending the BMW through the gravel and promoting Plato up a place while Jackson's team mate Kane gained a spot off Chilton.

There was a lucky escape for the second Chevrolet of MacDowall on lap 10 when he was nudged off at speeds around 120mph going down the Crainer Kerbs. Thankfully the car never dug in and the gravel trap did its job stopping him from having a major accident, just nudging the barrier.

Jordan was coming under yet more pressure with Plato eventually getting past at the first corner on lap 15. The Pirtek Racing driver was not to give up though and ran side by side with Plato through the Crainer Kerbs. Yet he was never going to hang on around the Old Hairpin, taking to the grass and dropping him to 7th.

This did slow up Plato who had to defend like crazy from Kane for the next couple of corners eventually running the BMW wide to claim third.

Just like the second race the big battle was for 5th between Shedden and Chilton. Shedden had originally got past Chilton but Chilton used the advantage of the power from the LPG Turbo powered Ford Focus taking the Honda around the outside of the chicane.

The other Team Aon Focus was also involved in a big battle for 9th from Nash who had slipped back with a trip across the gravel at the chicane but, despite obviously struggling a bit from having full success ballast from race 2 and from the contact with MacDowall, Onslow-Cole was able to hold onto the place.

Neal was clearly delighted at the end of the race following his win to close the gap on Plato to 17-points but Plato was also clearly happy with the end of the weekend, especially after his race 1 result and said, "After race one it wasn't looking too rosy but my team worked miracles to repair the car in such a short timeframe and third place in race two was all down to them. I knew this would be a great circuit for the Cruze and while I'm happy with a 17-point lead it should have been 25 or so. But I'd rather have a handy cushion than be going to Brands Hatch playing catch-up. We just need to do our homework between now and then, leave no stone unturned and take nothing for granted."

Podium: 1st Matt Neal, 2nd Rob Collard, 3rd Jason Plato.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Double champion Neal, who took his first title back in 2005 at Brands Hatch, remains determined to make it a third, "Jason holds all the aces but he'll have two Hondas to worry about - there are no team orders between Gordon and I and we'll be coming at Jason from all directions. But he's been there before and so have I so we both know the score. The Honda's big strength is its handling and Brands Indy is a twisty circuit so it's game on."

Third in the championship but still only 21-points behind Plato is Shedden. This is the highest Shedden has been all season and the first time he has been in contention for the championship. Shedden remains confident but relaxed heading to Brands Hatch and said, "It's all to play for and Jason will have two Hondas to worry about. Then again, I think all three cars; the Chevrolet, the Honda and the Ford will be very evenly matched there. I'm relaxed about it, I've nothing to lose so it'll be maximum attack."

The final driver in contention and by far the youngest is 23-year-old Onslow-Cole for Team Aon. He is just a further 3 points behind Shedden although he must rue the team tactics from Silverstone as he could and probably should be in second with the points he lost that day. Onslow-Cole admits he's not the favourite but will give it his all and commented, "I'm the absolute outsider so have no other option but to go for it. We had some strong results with the Focus on the Brands GP circuit earlier this year but the Indy circuit is a very different animal. Let's just see what happens."

Onslow-Cole is however leading the Independents' Trophy by 18-points from Kane. Chilton and Jackson are also in contention with the same amount of points available for the trophy as the main championship.

Honda/Dynamics lead Arena/Ford by just 9-points in the Manufacturer/Constructors' Championship but have a bigger lead of 41-points in the HiQ Teams' Championship. However, Team Aon have now moved ahead of Airwaves BMW to lead the Independent Team Trophy award.

After 27 races the championship heads into the final meeting in three weeks at Brands Hatch with the top 4 separated by an incredible 24 points.

Tom Onslow-Cole leads Gordon Shedden.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Some of the big teams are expected to run a third car to help their respected driver win the title. In particular RML are rumoured to also run WTCC works Chevrolet driver Rob Huff in a bid to help Plato take the crown. So if it wasn't going to be exciting enough at Brands we could well in fact have the biggest grid of the year.

Brands will also see the grand unveiling of the all-new and first official NGTC car with former double BTCC champion James Thompson set to debut the Toyota Avensis during the free practice sessions.

In order not to miss any of the action return to for all news prior to the event and of course we will bring you all the news and the fallouts during and after what promises to be yet another grand stand finale.

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Tom Chilton , Paul O'Neill , James Thompson , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Rob Collard , Steven Kane , Tom Boardman , James Kaye , Rob Huff , Tom Onslow-Cole , Gordon Shedden , Andrew Jordan , Dave Pinkney , James Nash , Mat Jackson , Alex MacDowall