The 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship is very much still up for grabs after another three thrilling rounds at Knockhill, which saw 3 different winners and Fabrizio Giovanardi close the gap at the top of the standings to just nine...
The 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship is very much still up for grabs after another three thrilling rounds at Knockhill, which saw 3 different winners and Fabrizio Giovanardi close the gap at the top of the standings to just nine points with Colin Turkington still in front.
After a wet start to the day, the first touring car race of the day took part in dry conditions and saw Jason Plato at last confirm a pole position into a race victory with a superb lights to flag victory. Plato got off to a great start and with no BMW on the front row with him; he was able to lead into the first corner. Behind him was local driver Gordon Shedden, although the other local driver, Jonny Adam, surprisingly made a bad start in his Airways BMW and dropped down to sixth.
Championship leader Turkington was passed into third on lap 12 by Rob Collard but two laps later Turkington made an attempt to overtake his fellow BMW driver at the first corner. As he did, however, the pair touched lightly sending the Team RAC BMW through the gravel and dropping him a few places. Although Collard managed to continue, his race was about to be cut short. Mat Jackson was one of the drivers to gain from Turkington's off road experience and passed Collard a lap later into third. Collard continued to chase for third but he ran a bit wide running out of the chicane which allowed team mate Adam to have a look down the inside of him. Meanwhile behind Adam, Matt Neal had the same idea but he ran out of road, perhaps with the lightest of touches from Adam, and as a result Neal lost control of his Vauxhall Vectra and hit the luckless Rob Collard causing them both to go into the gravel at Carlube Corner.
Plato was unaware of what was going on behind him and took a commanding victory ahead of home favourite Shedden in only his second event for his Cartridge World Seat team. Fellow Racing Silverline driver, Jackson, finished 3rd ahead of Turkington and Adam, who overtook Giovanardi on the run up to the line. Andrew Jordan was 7th in the other Vectra ahead of Stephen Jelley, Paul O'Neill and Harry Vaulkhard who all benefited after James Thompson suffered engine failure on the last lap while running in 8th.
Plato's joy from the first race was short lived though. As the former champion was about to take up his pole position he headed straight down the pit lane with a misfire, and although he did then take to the track some laps later he failed to even manage half a lap. This left Shedden on pole and he led into the first corner with the sole remaining Silverline Racing Chevrolet of Jackson in second. Behind for third Turkington and Adam ran side by side through the first set of corners but it was Adam who won the battle forcing Turkington slightly wide and enabling Giovanardi to get past.
From then on the Italian was on a mission and quickly passed Adam into Carlube and then Jackson on the exit of Carlube, before taking the lead passing Shedden at the final corner, the hairpin. In doing so he pushed Shedden wide allowing Jackson through as well. Turkington would also get past only a few laps later. After his incident in race 1 Neal put in a strong race and took fourth from 17th on the grid after he took O'Neill into Carlube, the scene of his accident from race 1. Thompson finished an important sixth position, as this will be explained later, just behind O'Neill who, once again, put in a good drive with Adam finishing seventh. There was a big battle for eighth with the fading Shedden and Collard who was making his way up from the back of the grid. First of all it was Collard who barged his way past Shedden at the Hairpin before the Scotsman took his revenge only a few laps later pushing Collard through the gravel at Scotsman corner. This allowed Jelley past into eighth with Shedden taking ninth whilst Collard finished out of the points down in twelfth. Jordan took the final points scoring position.
Announced before the weekend was that three-time ex-Formula One winner Jonny Herbert will replace Thompson for the remaining rounds of the championship due to the former double champions other racing commitments and, conveniently, he picked out number 6 in the lottery grid for race 3. Thompson led away from pole with O'Neill and Neal having a huge battle through the first set of corners. Neither driver would give way and, with Neal being squeezed onto the grass, he ran into O'Neill into Scotsman pushing him wide and allowing Turkington past into second.
Meanwhile O'Neill had a first lap to forget and ended the first lap down in 14th after being pushed further wide at the hairpin. All this allowed Thompson to build a big first lap lead. Unfortunately his joy was short lived as the safety car came out because of a heavy crash for Shedden, when his rival from the previous race, Collard, went down the inside of him at the first corner and Shedden's right front hit the left rear of Collards BMW, instantly braking the Seat's steering and sending him straight on. There was further disappointment for the home crowd when, while under the safety car, Adam suffered a freak incident when his fire extinguisher went off resulting in mechanical failure.
After the safety came in Thompson continued to lead, however, it was Neal who was on the move and got passed Turkington into Carlube also allowing Jackson through. Neal was quickly on the back of Thompson and made his move on lap 18 into his favourite corner for overtaking: Carlube. He originally made it past Thompson on the exit of the corner but the pair touched and Jackson took full advantage taking the lead. Thompson stayed ahead of Neal for second. Neal would soon get past Thompson a lap later at the same corner, this time nudging the Honda Civic wide into the gravel. Meanwhile Plato, after his mechanical trouble from race 2, was putting in drive of the season and would overtake the entire field to take an outstanding second place when he got past Neal on lap 25.
Turkington had also got past Thompson and in the closing stages a frantic championship battle took place between Giovanardi and Turkington with the reigning double champion doing everything to keep Turkington behind. Giovanardi managed to somehow keep him at bay and at the final corner, Vauxhall cleverly allowed Neal to move to the inside allowing Giovanardi past around the outside before just holding off Turkington to the flag, to allow Giovanardi to take yet more vital points away from him. Thompson eventually took 6th place in what was his final appearance of the season ahead of Jordan and Tom Chilton, who managed to hold off O'Neill and Jelley, to take his Team Aon Focus to its best finish of the season.
It was a delighted Jackson who took victory and a third podium of the day at a circuit where he has not succeeded well before and said, "I came here hating Knockhill - I've never done well here. But today I love it. Third, second and then first in the three races doesn't get much better." Despite not taking victory after the race all the talk was about Plato and his incredible drive. Plato admitted afterwards he just went for it as he had nothing to lose and said, "I just had absolutely nothing to lose from back there and, apart from going absolutely suicidal, I just went for every gap possible. It's the sort of circuit where strange things happen. Yeah, I'm very happy - it's one of my best drives."
The championship now heads off to Silverstone in two weeks time with the championship very much a two horse race, with the thinnest of margins between Turkington and Giovanardi. Turkington said though afterwards how he so nearly got the advantage over Giovanardi and looks forward to more predictable circuits and commented, "It can be a rough ride at Knockhill and I very nearly got the measure of Fabrizio in race three. But even though he just kept ahead of me in that one I'm still very happy with my results here. Sure, he's closed the gap, but I've limited the damage and next come what, on paper, are slightly more predictable circuits with Silverstone, Rockingham and Brands Hatch."
Giovanardi who has put in a string of fine performances now admits it a straight fight between him and Turkington for the title and admits there is little to choose between the pair. He was full of praise for Turkington, who is looking for his first title in what promises to be an exciting end to the series for all concerned, and the multiple Touring car champion said, "I think now it is between us two. Jason I saw parked at the side of the road in race two and Matt crashed out of race one whereas Colin and I managed to get strong results in all three races. Colin, you know... he is putting up a very good fight, very mature for his age, and he is going to be very hard to beat. I think we are quite even in performance on the track and today he raced very hard but fair with me. The last three rounds are going to be very exciting but it's what I'm sure we both want and it's the same for the crowds and TV!"
So you will be a fool not to keep track of all the BTCC action, which returns in just a couple of weeks at Silverstone. So who will get the advantage heading into the last couple of rounds and how will Ex Formula 1 icon Jonny Herbert do? Be sure not to miss any of the drama that will definitely unfold and return for full reviews after Silverstone.