Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
- Jackson takes over the points lead
- Plato & Neal exchange words
- Wrathall makes history
Snetterton’s new circuit layout brought three different race winners during rounds 16, 17 and 18 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship; however despite a poor qualifying it was Mat Jackson’s day as he ended as the championship points leader after taking his 4th victory of the season in race 3. Matt Neal, in contrast, had a terrible day while Jason Plato also took himself back into the championship battle after three podium finishes including a win in the first race of the day. Gordon Shedden temporary took the points lead with his win in race 2 while Paul O’Neill took a hugely popular second place in race 3 in his Go Mobile with Tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze.
To top off the day, there was history made in race 1 when Frank Wrathall took to the podium for the first time in a New Generation Touring Car with the win in the Independent class; finishing 4th overall.
I’m delighted but it’s way too early to think about titles.
The first lap of race 1 proved bruising, to say the least, and without doubt the most controversial of the day. Although Lea Wood didn’t even take to the grid when his Central Group Racing Honda Integra lost a wheel on the formation lap whereas Tony Gilham although started didn’t even make the first corner after contact on the grid with BTCC debutant Martin Byford and retired just past the pit exit with broken rear suspension.
Jason Plato led into the first corner but the quickest starter was Neal from 4th on the grid as he attempted to go around the outside through the first corner. As the two arch rivals went side by side down the straight ending down to the hairpin the pair made contact with Neal spinning right down the field and would not score points as a result.
Unsurprisingly the pair had different views on the incident with Plato saying, “I think Matt was probably being a bit too brave. He was out on the grass trying to get back on the track but, I’m sorry, that’s my bit of track.”
Meanwhile Neal said, “I’d had a great start and I don’t know if Jason knew just how quickly I was coming up around the outside of him. It was pretty scary – we’re doing 120mph there and going backwards down the straight with cars coming at you… maybe it was a bit of a cheeky move on Jason’s part. I’d like to hear his take on it but he hasn’t been round here yet.”
However the stewards went with Neal’s side and endorsed and fined Plato. Two other fancied drivers also suffered incidents on the first lap from their mid field grid positions with Andrew Jordan taking to the infield as a result only finishing in 12th with Rob Collard also suffering damage and having to pit losing a lap in the process.
After the first lap Plato then went the entire race unchallenged to lead a Chevrolet 1-2 home with Alex MacDowall picking up second with Gordon Shedden in third. In an incredible 4th place and leading Independent driver was Wrathall in his DynoJet Toyota Avensis. Wrathall managed to pass Tom Chilton after he ran wide on lap 6 and as a result would be the first ever driver in an New Generation Touring Car to take the podium. An overjoyed Wrathall at the end said, "It's been an incredible journey since we first rolled the car out at Brands Hatch back at the start of April. It’s impossible to get over to people just how much work has been put in. I feel a bit dizzy to be honest."
Chilton had been on course to take 5th until he slowed on the final lap promoting James Nash, Jackson who had started down in 13th who just managed to hold off the feisty O’Neill and team mate Tom Onslow-Cole. Chilton eventually finished in 9th position to take what was his only points of the day as he struggled round in races 2 and 3 and finished outside the points on both occasions with Dave Newsham for Special Tuning Racing finishing in 10th. But there was disappointment for team mate Tom Boardman who had battled his way from last on the grid to inside the top 10 before having to start from the back of the grid was forced to pull off on lap 5 with mechanical issues and would not be seen for the rest of the day. Daniel Welch also put in a great display on his and the teams debut race in the Proton Gen-2 leading several more fancied runners although unsurprisingly with so few laps done prior to the race had some mechanical issues and eventually limped round with a rather sick sounding car to take 22nd pulling off straight after the finishing line.
Race 2 got under way with Plato taking the lead but this was to be short lived when Shedden would take the lead at a busy second corner the Montreal hairpin as he explained, “It got pretty crowded into the hairpin on lap one – I got shoved from behind which pushed me into Jason and he went wide just enough for me to sneak through.”
This also allowed the black Vectra through to second and Wrathall through to third. This time it was Shedden who was able to pull away with Nash coming under great pressure from the inspired Wrathall.
Indeed Nash eventually pulled away from the Toyota as it fell into the clutches of the Chevrolet’s. Although Wrathall was able to hold the Chevrolets at bay for a couple of laps, Plato found his way past as did MacDowall when disaster struck and Wrathall had to pull out with a damaged radiator after hitting the back of Shedden at the busy hairpin and his day was done. O’Neill made it a trio of Chevrolet’s finishing in 5th with Jackson and Newsham finishing 6th and 7th. This proved to be the starting grid for race 3 after veteran Touring Car racer Dave Pinkney, who should have spent the season driving the Audi A4 from Rob Austin racing, picked out number 7 in the reverse grid. There was also some encouraging news for Austin himself during race 2 when he set the fastest lap of the race before sadly having to retire. Once again having a race to forget was series leader Neal after he battled his way up to 7th before having to pit on lap 6 to change a left front tyre which meant another lonely finish outside the points.
Rounding out the top 10 were Onslow-Cole, Jordan and Collard for all 3 drivers this would prove to be their last points of the weekend. After the latter two made contact with each other in the opening stages of race 3 finishing 12th and 14th respectively while Onslow-Cole would lose 10th on the last lap to a battered and bruised Austin as he showed great pace once again to take the Audi’s first point.
Newsham led the first lap of race 3 although it wouldn’t be long before third race specialist Jackson would take the lead on lap 2; a lead which he never looked like losing. Jackson’s team mate though would not have an enjoyable race as he was pushed into the barriers exiting turn 1 on lap 1 ending his race on the spot.
Newsham continued in second but was coming under great pressure from O’Neill and he managed to get past on lap 6 to take a hugely popular second his best place so far this season and his first podium finish since race 3 after struggling against the turbo power cars for much of the season after much expectations in Plato’s 2010 winning machinery. There was to be not as good news though for his team mate John George who retired on lap 4 after mounting the side of Jeff Smith’s Vectra at Agostini.
Newsham then somehow managed to hold onto third from Plato until the penultimate lap. He was also to lose out a handful of places on the last lap to Neal who at last got a good haul of points after the days earlier disappointments to take 4th after a great battling drive. Then with MacDowall down the inside of him heading into the last corner he ran wide also losing places to Nash and Shedden eventually finishing in 8th.
Shedden himself had been lucky to finish after suffering front left wing damage and was even black flagged but fortunately for him it fell off and the black flag was brought in although he did lose a place to Nash in the process and the championship lead which he had held going into the race. In 9th was Nick Foster who picked up his first points of the day and Austin who took a well-deserved and very popular first points of the season.
Welch finished his third race of the day as he continued to rack up more good mileage in the Proton albeit in last place although he was leading Chris James before James retired his ES Racing Lacetti and the car did go better than in race 2.
BTCC debutant Byford in the AmD Golf had also been in the thick of things all day and proved more than capable in his first BTCC meeting with a best position of 14th.
The day however clearly belonged to Jackson as he now leads the series for the first time in his BTCC career since entering the series in 2007 by 8 points and said, “I’m delighted but it’s way too early to think about titles. Just look how quickly fortunes have changed today and we’ve still got four events – that’s twelve races – to go. You have to remember we’re privateers taking on the bigger budget Honda and Chevrolet teams and maybe it’s starting to niggle them – I’m already beginning to sense a bit of mind games! Between now and Knockhill I’ll be busy renovating the house I’ve just bought with a big lump hammer to take my mind off thing. “It’s a bit surreal. Yesterday we qualified down in 13th but we’ve chipped away today with a pair of sixths and now this, another win. Our car doesn’t quite have the outright pace of the Hondas or the Chevrolets but we just keep racking up the points. With four rounds and 12 races to go we’re still the underdogs, we're a privateer team up against the bigger budget factory team, but we’re hanging in there.”
Shedden now has got in front of his team mate and is more than looking forward to the next event at his home circuit Knockhill where he has worked for a number years and taken many a good result and said, “It’s absolutely game on from here on in, isn’t it? Two more podiums have obviously kept me right in the hunt and it’s given me even more reason to look forward to racing in front of my home crowd at Knockhill.”
Once again though the start of the second half of the season has seen Neal lose the championship lead. Neal has been in this position for the last 3 seasons before hitting bad luck and seeing his championship lead slip away. He admitted he had had a day to forget despite a good 3rd race and said, “That’ll go down as one of the worst days at the office in all my years in the BTCC – a proper stinker and all the knock-on effect of what happened with Jason at the start of race one. But I enjoyed the run to fourth in race three and it’s at least good to come away with something positive.”
In contrast to Neal, Plato’s season always seems to kick start after the mid season break and once again this seems the case scoring the most points from the weekend to now trail Jackson by 20 points and said after the weekend, “To have arrived here 40 points behind Matt and to be leaving just ten behind him is mission accomplished for us today. We took some big risks in qualifying to get the pole – we had to – and it’s paid off really well.”
As already mentioned next up for the BTCC in 4 weeks is their annual trip across the border into Scotland. Following the weekend’s activities the championship is really starting to hot up. So be sure to return to Motorsport.com for all BTCC news leading up to the Knockhill event.