By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
- A run down of the main contenders heading to Donington
- Top rookie from Brands may be forced to miss rest of season
- New team to enter later in the year
After a thrilling first race meeting to the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this weekend sees the series return for rounds 4, 5, and 6 where it will visit the Donington Park circuit.
Reigning champion Jason Plato got off to a dream start taking two victories last time out at Brands Hatch, becoming the most successful driver in the BTCC history in the process by overtaking Andy Rouse’s all time win record.
Despite this, it was the Turbo cars who without doubt had the advantage. The Honda Racing Civic looks like it has the best package and was a staggering 6mph faster than the Chevrolet down the short straight at Brands Hatch, although things didn’t go the team’s way.
Gordon Shedden’s season got off to the worse possible start after a heavy crash in Free Practice 1 due to a puncture, which forced him to sit out qualifying. Regardless of this setback his Team Dynamics outfit worked miracles to repair the battered Civic and Shedden fought his way through the field to 6th in race 1 before taking a fine 2nd in race 2, which was followed up by a 4th in the final race of the day.
Matt Neal got off to the best possible start by taking pole but his joy was also short lived as he was punted off at the second corner by Plato’s Silverline Chevrolet team-mate Alex MacDowall. Like Shedden, Neal fought his way through the field in race 2 taking 7th for which he was rewarded for pole in race 3, where he took advantage with a lights-to-flag victory. Although they didn’t end up losing too much ground, how different it could have been without these incidents.
Now heading to Donington, Plato once again thinks that the turbo cars will have the advantage and that he will be in for a tough weekend and said, “I suspect I’m in for more than just a tough time at Donington. At Brands Hatch I was able to get in front, then stick out my elbows a bit and hold them back – it’s that kind of circuit. But Donington is very different. It’s wider and there are longer straights and several uphill sections where the turbos will really stretch their legs. It’s not a whinge, it’s just fact – Donington along with Silverstone are the two places we’re going to be most up against it compared to the turbo cars, so our strategy is simply to wring the car’s neck and take the most that is possible from each race.”
Neal agrees partly with Plato although feels it might even itself out over a full race distance, “I see where Jason’s coming from when he talks of the turbos having an advantage on raw pace at Donington. Certainly up the hills we’ll be looking good, but over a race distance he will be somewhere in the mix – he always is. These turbo engines are still new to a lot of the teams so we’re all still figuring out how to keep down the extra tyre wear they bring. Also we don’t have the engine braking that he has with a normally aspirated engine and Donington is a very hard place on brakes – in a pre-season test we did there we were cooking our brakes within three laps, so we might have to play it a bit conservatively whereas Jason and the other Chevrolets will be able to push from start to finish.”
Most unlucky man from Brands was Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Vectra. Jordan went into the season in the best possible place, having won the final race of the season last year and then raking up the most testing miles over the winter, which included being quickest driver at the official BTCC test at Silverstone. Things looked like it would continue at Brands twice being quickest in the mornings Free Practice sessions before having to settle for second on the grid.
After losing out at the start of race 1 in the carnage Jordan battled his way through to 5th before suffering a puncture as a result of earlier contact. In race 2 saw Jordan battle up to 6th where he was rewarded with a front row start for race 3. Jordan looked comfortable in second before disaster struck again suffering another puncture.
Brands Hatch certainly whet the appetite because we now know for certain that we’re one of the quickest teams out there.
Even though things didn’t go his way Jordan now heads into his home event full of confidence and said, “It was very disappointing to score only one points finish at Brands because we’d quietly got on with our work during testing and our pace in the second race at was good, as we went from 17th to sixth place. “Brands Hatch certainly whet the appetite because we now know for certain that we’re one of the quickest teams out there. We’ll be going to Donington to win or at least reach the podium and I want to leave the circuit on the Sunday as one of the top three points scorers.”
One of the major stars from the opening round was James Nash driving a similar Vectra powered for the first time by the same Turbo engine as Jordan. As a result the Triple 8 Vectra looked like a new car and Nash took full advantage of this scoring his best ever BTCC finish, 2nd, as well as taking two further top 6 finishes for 4th and 6th. Nash will certainly be in the hunt again for Donington.
Meanwhile there is less good news for his teammate, Tony Gilham, despite taking 3 top 10 finishes and without doubt being top rookie from the opening round. However, since then Gilham as lost his main sponsor and his season now looks in doubt. Speaking to his local paper the Kent times Gilham said, "We need something to happen before Donington so we can even be there. We've had lots of good feedback from last weekend, I've been speaking to 100 companies a day, but it doesn't mean anything until the money's in the bank,"
Also in with a good chance of victories this weekend are the two Ford Focuses belonging to two different teams with Mat Jackson for Airwaves Racing and Tom Chilton for Team Aon.
Jackson drove superbly at Brands taking two podium finishes in last season’s Team Aon Focus ending the day second in the points.
For Chilton who debuted his all new global Ford Focus he got onto the podium in race 1 although things didn’t go his way after.
Chilton however remains more positive for this weekend despite going backwards in races 2 and 3 and is now particularly happy because he will now have a handbrake, saying, “The reason Brands didn’t go our way was due to the fact that the circuit was much slower than before, just because it was so greasy. As the weekend went on the track conditions worsened with the cars from the support races kicking off a load of rubber. As a result, we were generating less and less load through the car. That’s why we went backwards. I was also without a handbrake and that’s why all three of my starts were useless – it was difficult to judge. But we’re going to get a handbrake on the car in time for Donington so that’s all good. We did some running at Donington in pre-season testing which I think will help us this weekend, but the car is still so new that we’re learning more about it with every session. We have much more experience and knowledge of the car now, though, so I think we should be on the pace from the start at Donington.”
Also hoping to make their full debut this weekend will be Rob Austin Racing in their NGTC Audi A4. The team worked without sleep leading up to Brands to get the car ready although sadly they just ran out of time. They hoped to put in some demo laps on Sunday but driver Dave Pinkney managed just half a lap out of the pits.
For this weekend Pinkney is away on business commitment meaning former Formula 3 race and team owner Rob Austin will take over driving duties but hopes to be out making a good impression, “We have a couple of days available for testing in the days leading up to the race weekend, so we’ll aim to get some miles on the car before we go out in anger. We’re looking forward to seeing how the car compares against the rest of the field.
It’s been a dream of mine for many years to run in the BTCC. We’ve come close in the last two years, but for a variety of reasons we didn’t make it. This time we are definite!
Excitingly for the BTCC during the week another new team to the BTCC, Thorney Motorsport confirmed that they will build all new NGTC Vauxhall Insignia’s which they hope to have running at the final event of the year at Silverstone.
Thorney Motorsport have run Vauxhalls previously in the Dunlop Sport Maxx Championship and had previously hoped to enter the series last season in a pair of ex Triple 8 Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatches. They also run a BMW M3 in the Britcar championship as well as on a daily basis being a tuning company specializing in a number of cars most notably Vauxhall.
Team boss John Thorne has also confirmed that he will drive one of two Insignia’s and admits it’s a dream to at last enter the championship by saying, “It’s been a dream of mine for many years to run in the BTCC. We’ve come close in the last two years, but for a variety of reasons we didn’t make it. This time we are definite! The Insignia is going to be a challenge. It’s a big chassis and we know that weight will be an issue initially, but the size is also to our benefit – the width of the shell is such that we won’t need to resort to huge wheel arch extensions which, whilst looking good, don’t do you any favours in terms of aerodynamics. Racing needs a commercial platform to be successful. By partnering with our performance centres and the wider Vauxhall retailer network we can generate a real ROI to both businesses without the need for formal manufacturer backing. We won’t be a factory team, but Vauxhall are pretty happy we’ve chosen to race their product… so long as we do well, of course!”
So that’s a round up of whom to look out for at Donington Park this weekend. Of course Motorsport.com will be on hand to bring you all the news and full images over the weekend. So stay logged in to see who has the advantage after qualifying going into Sunday’s races.