Fabrizio Giovanardi stole the show at Thruxton during the first three races of the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, continuing his, and the cars, superb record at Thruxton. Giovanardi took his tally to seven victories in 15 races...
Fabrizio Giovanardi stole the show at Thruxton during the first three races of the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, continuing his, and the cars, superb record at Thruxton. Giovanardi took his tally to seven victories in 15 races with the Vectra taking another two to make its tally nine. Despite only being officially confirmed on the eve of the event, the Italian in his Uniq Racing Triple 8 prepared Vectra took two victories and a top five finish. He heads the early standings on 38 points to Jason Plato's 32 and Mat Jackson's 28.
Jackson's teammate, Steven Kane for Airwaves BMW, took the victory in the final race of the day on his return to secure his first ever BTCC victory, making an historic 1-2 for the Motorbase Team.
In front of a packed crowd and sunshine, unlike the day before, it was Honda Racing's Gordon Shedden who led away from pole. His team mate Matt Neal diced with Giovanardi in to the first series of the 's' bends, Campbell and Cobb, with Giovanardi getting the advantage around the outside.
Rob Collard, keen to impress in front of his home crowd, got a good start in his West Surrey Racing BMW after a poor qualifying position down in 12. He was fighting with Paul O'Neill but his race was short lived when, on just lap 4, he made light contact with the back of the sunshine.co.uk Integra around the second part of the 'S' bend Cobb and had to retire on the spot with a broken steering arm.
Just three laps later there was more drama at Cobb when Jackson dived down the inside of Tom Onslow-Cole, in his LPG powered Focus, who had made a great start getting up to fifth. Jackson managed to get through without contact but this slowed up the Focus and allowed Andrew Jordan around the outside in his Pirtek Racing Vectra. Through the final part of the complex Seagrave, Onslow-Cole hit Jordan half spinning Jordan around.
Meanwhile at the front the two Honda Racing Civics were running perfectly in first and 3rd with Giovanardi not putting Shedden under any pressure; this was about to change in just a couple of laps.
Both Honda's were running aggressively with car set up around Thruxton high-speed bowl, which is notorious for punctures. Sure enough first Shedden had a tyre let go on him around the fastest corner, Church, making him go off crashing at high speed and then just a lap later Neal had the same fate, although he would make it back to the pits.
It wasn't just the Honda's who had tyre issues in quick succession but also the two Aon Ford Focus' who were running a fine 4th and 5th. First, just like Shedden, Chilton suffered a puncture around the high-speed corner causing him to go up and over the tyres. Just a lap later Onslow-Cole suffered yet another puncture, which meant fans favourite Paul O'Neill inherited 4th.
There would be no such problem though for Giovanardi, who by now had a huge lead. He was able to back right off during the last part of the race to conserve his tyres and win the opening race of the season from Plato and Jackson.
A delighted Giovanardi said after the race, "Everyone has worked very hard to put this together so late - it nice to be able to repay them with maximum points." He then went on to say the following about the Honda's "I didn't expect the Hondas to be so quick but they were clearly more aggressive with their chassis set-up and paid the price for that."
Plato was another one who decided to go for a race finish more than out right pace and said, "We set the car up to finish the race rather than for ultimate pace - that's always the secret around this track which is so hard on tyres," said last year's runner-up. "Dunlop has done a fantastic job with the tyres but it's up to the teams not to take too many risks with their set-up. You can chase lap times but that's risky if you want to finish."
Behind O'Neill in 4th were a trio of debutants of Tom Boardman, finishing a fine 5th in his special Tuning Seat Leon, with last years Clio champion and vice champion, Phil Glew and Alex MacDowall, respectively in the Vectra and the Chevrolet Cruze.
Dave Pinkney took a very encouraging 8th in his brand new Turbo charged NGTC powered Vectra while John George must have been beside himself finishing in 9th, scoring two more points than he did in the whole of last season for his new team sunshine.co.uk.
Scoring the last point was Andy Neate for WSR in his first BTCC race after his life threatening crash back in 2008. He enjoyed a race long battle with Martin Johnson in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe with the pair running side by side in to the final Chicane on the final lap.
Race 2 saw the Italian superstar take a lights to flag victory, equalling Yvan Muller's seven victories at the Hampshire Circuit. Giovanardi got a fine start and, after an aggressive first couple of laps, never looked in any danger of his second win of the day.
There was more disappointment for Arena Motorsport in their Ford Focus' with Onslow-Cole having to miss the start of the race and starting in the pits. He had to be pushed off of the grid while Chilton retired on lap 10. Jordan would also have further heartache after a stunning drive from the back of the field up to 5th. A tyre would go down on him denying him a good finish although great promise was shown for the NGTC engine like Pinkney's.
The race was reasonably quiet by Touring Car standards. This was until the penultimate lap of the race. After his puncture in race one, Neal was flying from the back of the grid and was chasing down archrival Plato for 2nd in his fading Chevrolet.
As per normal it was the usual fireworks between the pair, with Plato getting sideways coming out of Church. This allowed Neal to run around the outside of him on the run down to the Chicane. Neither was prepared to give way and Plato got sideways sending Neal spinning around Plato and half spinning the Civic of Neal.
Neal went on to take second and Plato recovered to 4th. For once both Plato and Neal both had the same view of the incident and Plato held his hands up admitting, "Matt was faster than me. I tried to hold him off by forcing him to go around the outside but that didn't work. I lost the rear of the car and we were so close some contact was inevitable."
Neal, understandably pleased with the result after the bad luck from race one said, "The car was fantastic from start to finish and I just got stronger and stronger as other faded. I got a good run on Jason and just managed to squeeze around the outside. I'm over the moon for the team as they worked so hard after the opening race."
This allowed fans favourite O'Neill to take an overjoyed and hugely popular podium for sunshine.co.uk in the Honda Integra and he said, "What can I say - it's unbelievable, We know the Integra is fast around here and expected good things... but not this good!"
Next up were Mat Jackson, who recovered to 5th after a poor start, finishing ahead of the pair of battling ex Clio racers, MacDowall and Glew. Stephen Kane, who had a drive shaft failure in race one, finished 8th ahead of Collard who was similarly recovering from his problems in the earlier race. This would form the front row for race three after WTCC front Runner Rob Huff pulled out the reverse grid. He was there as guest driver in the supporting Ginetta G50 race taking a hat trick of wins along the way.
Like Huff, Giovanardi was hoping to secure a hat trick for the day and said, after winning race two, "It was easy because of the fight behind me. The car was brilliant. It would be good to make it three in the final race but the Honda is really fast." Meanwhile it was Pinkney just missing out on the front row scoring the final point in tenth meaning that's where he will start for race three.
Further down the field way out of the points there was a fantastic battle for last place between George, who had an earlier spin, and Shaun Hollamby in his VW Golf. He was driving a VW for the first time since 1989 in the BTCC. George won the battle between the pair but Hollamby must have been delighted just to finish the race after the team's hard work just to get them on the grid. Though this would be the only race of the 3 he would finish, suffering mechanical failure in the other 2 races, completely cutting out over the start finish line and in race 3 retiring on the spot.
Both BMW's got away well in race three with Collard staying ahead of Kane. Briefly making it a BMW 1-2-3 was Jackson in the second Airwaves BMW but the fast starting Neal quickly passed him.
Kane was putting Collard under plenty of pressure which allowed Neal to catch the pair then came the controversial moment of the weekend. With Kane on the boot lid of the rival teamed BMW, Neal got a massive slip stream of the pair up Woodham Hill on the approach to the chicane and attempted to go around the outside.
Having already got past Kane, Collard defending from Kane maybe broke slightly earlier and Neal then tried to go around the outside of him. As the Chicane tightened contact was inevitable with Neal leaping over the kerbs onto Collard. As Neal's car landed it locked the locked Civic pushing around the BMW, eliminating Collard into the barrier with Neal limping round to the pits to retire with broken suspension.
Unlike the earlier incident with Plato both driver's had different views on the incident with Neal saying, "I got a good run on them in to the chicane and Collard seemed to brake early. The thing is I got nowhere to go. We went side by side and I had to use a bit of kerb. Whether Collard didn't see me I don't know, I've done this move several times. It was too bad as the car was on fire today,"
Collard was less than impressed with Neal's driving and didn't hold back talking to Louise Goodman on ITV and said, "The BTCC is a very professional championship but then you got Neal. It was dirty tactics, disgusting,"
No action was taken against the pair but the stewards have announced they will look at the incident before the next round at Rockingham.
On the track after a brief safety car period it was the pair of Airwaves BMW's having a fantastic battle for the win, both clearly wanting victory. This was not more evident when on lap 15 both skipped part of the chicane, battling for the lead.
After this sense must have prevailed as Jackson then seemed to have settled for second behind Kane, who secured his first ever BTCC victory following his year out. Airwaves BMW take an early lead in the HiQ team championship leading Uniq Racing with Triple 8 by just one point
Afterwards a clearly delighted Kane said, "The team have been amazing and I want to thank them, my first win in the BTCC means the world. After the first race and the drive-shaft issue I wasn't sure today would be my day, but during the second race the car felt great and I made up a great deal of places. In the last race I was starting in second, and I felt confident I could do well, but, I pushed so hard chasing and trying to pass Collard my tyres were gone. Once he went out I knew I could do it, but Mat was on my tail and it was tough."
Behind the pair of Airwaves BMW's was Plato scoring his second podium of the day. He was very pleased with his days work and even at this stage of the season clearly has his mind on the bigger picture and said, "We targeted 30 points here and our game plan was to adopt a very conservative approach with the car. It's very easy to be over-aggressive with the chassis set-up and suffer punctures. It's not worth taking any risks at this stage - come Rockingham we'll be on maximum attack!"
Fourth was pole sitter for the opening race of the day, Shedden, scoring some well deserved points from the day, passing Giovanardi who finished 5th.
Next up in 6th was O'Neill who enjoyed one of his best ever race weekends, leaving Thruxton in an incredible 4th in the points and said afterwards, "Everything I said was possible before the weekend has come true, but I didn't imagine I'd be leaving Thruxton so high up in the standings. The results in all three races were gained on merit, we weren't handed anything, and it shows that the car is still more than capable of being in the top six with good preparation - and the team has done a fantastic job with them."
Team Aon at last got some points on the board after the disappointment and misfortunes from the two previous races. Onslow-Cole and Chilton both had a fantastic battle between each other throughout the race with Onslow-Cole finishing ahead of Chilton for 7th. Despite not scoring the points they had hoped for the pair must be greatly encouraged by the Ford's pace.
Rounding out the points were MacDowall, who dropped from 4th to 14th at the start, and Pinkney ensuring he scored points in all three races.
The unlucky man in race three was Glew who put in a great and encouraging performance on his debut weekend. After scoring points in the earlier two races, last years Clio champion, who only had half a days test in the car before Thruxton, was denied another good top 10 finish on the penultimate lap suffering mechanical failure whilst in 6th.
Nevertheless the star of the weekend had to be Giovanardi. Just a week before the race he was still without a drive and had given up all hope of competing this year having not even renewed his race licence. When he got the call to return to Triple 8 with sponsorship from Uniq, he has promptly, without any testing, gone on to win two races and to lead after the opening rounds.
Giovanardi who has only to date signed to do this one race weekend said afterwards, "I was retired, now I'm leading the championship and, perhaps, I'm retired again!" shrugged Giovanardi. "The team has worked very hard to put this together so late and it's great that I've been able to repay them with these results... but the future is still unclear." Although surely after this race everyone concerned will be doing all they can to insure that the Italian Superstar will remain with the team for the remainder of the year.
So that's how the BTCC has burst back into action and we are in for a cracker. Next up for the BTCC is Rockingham in 3 weeks time. Stay tuned for a preview to the race with all the news regarding the next rounds where hopefully we will see Giovanardi where he belongs!