Neal Takes Rockingham Double, Plato takes Championship Lead Matt Neal took his Team Dynamics prepared Honda Racing Civic to a superb double victory at Rockingham Motor Speedway, but it wasn't enough to stop Silverline Chevrolet's Jason Plato ...
Neal Takes Rockingham Double, Plato takes Championship Lead
Matt Neal took his Team Dynamics prepared Honda Racing Civic to a superb double victory at Rockingham Motor Speedway, but it wasn't enough to stop Silverline Chevrolet's Jason Plato taking a 17-point lead in the championship, after he took the Chevrolet Cruze's first British Touring Car Championship victory.
Race one in Corby, England got under way in tricky conditions. Overnight and early morning rain made the track very wet but come the first race of the day the circuit was drying every minute. It was still slippery making tyre choice a real gamble with many drivers going for different options.
Neal went for slicks and instantly took the lead from the start and never looked back immediately pulling out a huge lead and simply went for a Sunday drive.
Behind Neal, going into the first corner is where the incidents were happening. Rob Collard made slight contact with Plato who tried to go around the outside of the WSR BMW, whilst further back Paul O'Neill tapped the back of James Nash spinning round the Vectra which was collected by Steven Kane. Nash would continue but his race would come to an end just a couple of laps later after Andy Neate, in the second WSR BMW, hit the Avatar Vectra at the final chicane, after brushing Matt Hamilton's Honda Civic braking the rear suspension.
With Neal streaking way in the lead on slicks, the trio fighting for second, Andrew Jordan and the pair of Team Aon Focuses of the Pole sitter Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole, all had wet rear tyres and all would fade away. Jordan would eventually pass Onslow-Cole on the last lap of the race for 7th, whereas Chilton would have to pit for slicks and finished 11th after a huge battle with another person who had to make a pit stop during the race, Collard. The pair entered the final chicane side by side but it was Collard who forced Chilton wide on the grass to take the final point.
Another driver who got the tyre choice wrong was youngster Alex MacDowall who started in 3rd but finished outside the points along with Airwaves BMW driver Mat Jackson who also started with wet rears.
The drivers on slicks quickly found their way to the front and leading the way was Gordon Shedden in the second Honda Racing Civic and he would hold off a race long battle with Plato to take a Honda Racing 1-2.
Next up was Tom Boardman who took a fantastic 4th and independent victory in his Special Tuning UK Seat Leon. It was also announced that Special Tuning has also recently acquired a new Seat Leon, which could be on the grid as soon as Brands Hatch next weekend. Behind Boardman was another couple of drivers who decided to start on slicks and Steven Kane in the second Airwaves BMW passed O'Neill on the final lap to take 5th.
Apart from the two Honda Racing Civics the happiest driver from the race must have been Martin Johnson in his 2001 Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Johnson, who passed Fabrizio Giovanardi on the run up to the line last time out at Rockingham to take 10th, went one better to take a superb 9th, even though he was spun at the first corner and later lost his cars 5th gear. Other finishes included Shaun Hollamby in his AmD VW Golf and Arthur Forster in his debut in his own prepared Forster Motorsport BMW.
Race two started in lot less tricky conditions with a perfectly dry track and saw Plato make a great start passing both Honda Civics before the first corner. While both Civics continued to battle, this enabled Kane to take advantage and move up to second.
Both Civics would continue to fall down the field with Shedden finishing out of the points in 13th, which included nudging the tyres at the final chicane after contact with Jackson. Neal would finish down in 9th after being passed by both Fords of Chilton and Onslow-Cole, and O'Neill would also get passed late on. Although this wouldn't be such a bad thing for Neal as this would be pole position for race 3 after the reverse grid was to be pulled out.
Star of the second race was Collard in the WSR BMW who started 10th on the grid and finished narrowly behind Plato. He first passed Jordan for third on lap 8 and then got past Kane for 2nd on lap 13.
Collard quickly caught up with Plato, as his car faded was right on the Chevrolets tail after Plato ran wide coming out of Tarzan Hairpin. Collard then pressured Plato going into the final chicane even nudging the Cruze but he failed to make a gap big enough and slid coming out of the final corner losing the chance of a run to the line.
Next up were yet more BMWs belonging to Airwaves BMW with Kane finishing ahead of team mate Jackson, who also got past Jordan. Jordan finished in 5th for a very promising result in his turbo powered NGTC Vectra.
The final point would go to Nash who had an eventful race. On the first lap he had to take to the grass after Hollamby collided with the back of Forster. Both spun in the track. Later on, after having a long battle with Boardman, Nash dived down the inside of the Seat. At the first corner the two cars appeared to lock wheels spearing the Seat into the barriers. Both drivers were less than impressed with each other and promptly blamed each other for the incident.
With the top nine reversed on the grid for race three, Onslow-Cole made the best start and led into the first corner. His joy was short lived with Neal getting past the Ford by the end of the lap.
The first lap didn't pass without incident. The most high profile casualties from the opening lap were Chilton and Jackson. After Chilton tapped the BMW sideways and as Jackson tried to collect the spin, Chilton made further contact eliminating the pair, completing the Ford driver's miserable day after starting the opening race of the day from pole. Other people to retire following the first lap were MacDowall, who also had a day to forget failing to score a single point after starting race one from 3rd, and Dave Pinkney, who also had a disappointing day following his three point finishes at Thruxton and was less than complimentary after the race about his fellow competitors.
The race then settled down until the final few laps when first Jordan ran wide whilst running 4th allowing Kane past and then, just a lap later, Kane would again take advantage this time when Onslow-Cole ran wide at the first corner and slipped all the way from 3rd down to 7th, allowing past both Plato and Collard through as well as Kane.
There was yet more bad luck for Shedden whose day had gone backwards following his fine 2nd in race one. He ended up in the tyre barrier after a clash with Collard, similar to the incident in race two between Nash and Boardman.
Nash brought the sole Triple 8 Vectra home in 8th although the changing of drivers for the team will continue. Nash is believed to have a several race deal with the multiple BTCC champions but Phil Glew, who was so impressive at Thruxton, was in the Triple 8 garage all day and speaking exclusively to touringcartimes.com said that, "The Uniq deal has been postponed as of last week, and the timescale from when it happened to the next race and now obviously the third round as well it made it very difficult to put together something that worked for everybody together."
He then spoke about the Uniq deal and said, "Between the team and ourselves, it's down to trying to make the Uniq thing happen - because it's not dead in the water or there's got to be a replacement somehow, and we're working really hard. The guys from Triple Eight that are working on the commercial side, they're going out to America, they're out there now and this week we might know a bit more about Uniq - I think the feedback from their statement has made them realise that it's not good for them not to be here...they have their reasons, they're not ready to launch in the UK, which I can kind of understand - if they promote their brand and no one can find anything to do with them in the UK, it's kind of pointless."
He finished off by saying, "It becomes very complicated with somebody else being brought in to try and fill in the gaps" revering to the arrival of James Nash but "Watch this space, because I do believe it won't be long before we're back again and we're more determined than ever - even if we may have to work harder for it than first thought."
Triple 8 team boss Ian Harrison, when interviewed at Rockingham, said he was in regular contact with double BTCC champion Giovanardi and that the Italian could be back with the team as soon as Oulton Park.
Back to the racing and it was Andy Neate who finished in 9th .He had by far his most impressive BTCC drive to date while he gets to grips with the BTCC. The final point would go to the repaired Seat of Boardman.
Final word about race three must go to fan favourite O'Neill who scored a remarkable second place and independent victory that took him to the lead of the independent trophy following a superb move on Onslow-Cole on lap 12.
An ecstatic O'Neill said after the race, "To get a first Independent victory is absolutely mega and we've again shown that we can fight right at the front of the field. The result is good but it's not for me, it's for the team. People don't realise how good they are, but to be in a position where I am leading the Independents championship against the opposition there is, shows everyone what they can do."
But it was clearly Neal's day although his weekend didn't get off to the best of starts after he was fined following his collision with Collard from Thruxton. It ended perfectly and he said after his second victory of the weekend, "I am overjoyed, "I am overjoyed," said the Worcestershire driver. "In one day I've just doubled my wins tally for the last two years! Race one was just perfect as we'd gone for slick tyres all-round on a damp but drying track - I had no one in my mirrors at the end of lap one and I needed no second invitation. The Civic again was terrific in race three and helped me make the break - it was vital we capitalised in that one."
With the demise for the time being of Giovanardi, Plato after 2 podiums from the weekend has built up an early championship lead and said, "We've had a good day, but we need to sit down and do some more thinking to get just that bit more out of the car. The Cruze is still new to the BTCC so we're still finding out what makes it tick and the opposition today - not just the Hondas but the Fords and BMWs - have clearly demonstrated they are very strong. Still, we're enjoying a very good start to the season which is what we wanted."
As the dust settles from Rockingham there is no time for anyone to catch their breath as it's straight off to Brands Hatch next weekend, where they will battle around the world famous GP circuit. Last season saw Plato take an incredible Hat Trick of victories at the last race of the season but many people feel that the Fords could be the team to beat after Chilton scored pole there last season, and also scored pole this weekend although he will be hoping for change of luck during the races.
So stay tuned to Motorsport.com for any breaking news prior to the weekend and for reports during and after the weekend.