No time to rest as series heads to Brands Hatch

No time to rest as series heads to Brands Hatch

No Time to Rest in The BTCC While the fallouts still continue from Rockingham, only less than a week ago, the BTCC heads straight to Brands Hatch where they will use the world famous GP lay out for rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British ...

No Time to Rest in The BTCC

While the fallouts still continue from Rockingham, only less than a week ago, the BTCC heads straight to Brands Hatch where they will use the world famous GP lay out for rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

Jason Plato leads Steven Kane and Rob Collard in Rockingham race 2.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Pre-season championship favourite Jason Plato heads into the place where he scored a memorable hat-trick at the final round of the 2009 championship this weekend. With a 17-point lead now in his hands and fresh from the Chevrolet Cruze's first BTCC win at Rockingham with four podiums out of six already this season, Plato refuses to get carried away.

He still expects more but commented, "The Cruze is still new to the BTCC so we're still finding out what makes it tick. There's still plenty of scoop to get even more out of the car and I think we will be even faster as the season progresses. Although we're enjoying a very good start to the season which is what we wanted and I had a great day on the Brands GP track last year with all three wins in one day. Whether I can do that again next weekend we'll see."

Matt Neal goes into the weekend as 'the man in form' following his two victories at Rockingham. Arch rival Rob Collard, with whom he clashed with at Thruxton, once again feels the Honda Racing man will be strong and said, "I think Matt Neal will be the man to beat this weekend, Overall, that Honda is the best car on the grid at this moment as a complete package. At Thruxton and Rockingham in every session and every race it is right up there whereas everyone else is a bit up and down."

Speaking about his own start to the season and this coming weekend Collard added, "This time last year I was third but then had some awful luck, Hopefully my bad luck has happened early and now I can have a trouble-free run. I've won on the Brands GP track before and I won around Brands Indy in a BMW as well last year. In the past, the Brands GP lay-out was ideal for the BMWs, but I'm not so sure that's the case at present. Some of the front-wheel-drive cars have become extremely fast, particularly in qualifying trim. In some ways we're almost resigned to writing off qualifying and re-thinking our strategy so we come on strong in the races. I really started to get a good feel and balance with WSR's BMW at Rockingham. I don't think it's over by a long way. If we all dig deep as a team then I believe we can fight our way back into the top three by the closing stages of the season."

Tom Chilton.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Many people feel that Team Aon's Tom Chilton will be the man to beat this weekend. Last season Chilton shocked the BTCC grid by securing pole position and also took pole last weekend at Rockingham. Speaking ahead of this weekend Chilton is expecting big things as he said, "I was thoroughly disappointed with the way things unfolded at Rockingham. But I always look ahead and - seriously, I'm not being funny here - I think three wins are on this Sunday.

"I'm the fastest man around Brands GP and Brands Indy. I love the GP circuit and should have won there last year of course but my power steering packed up," continued Chilton. "We've been waiting for softer springs from Eibach and now we're getting them. The way the car's been set up so far has made it very fast over one lap but these new softer springs should result in a very different form in our race pace. I'm 14th in the points now but, provided the softer suspension does what we think it will do, I'm aiming to come out of Oulton in third - it might sound like a near-impossible goal but we have to go for it. I'll have to start carrying success ballast in my car if I do start winning, but hopefully the LPG-turbo engine can help overcome that."

Although for Chilton to start moving up in the points, Airwaves BMW driver Mat Jackson feels that Chilton needs to race smarter after their collision in race 3 at Rockingham where the ford driver received an endorsement and fine. "Tom's team have clearly done a very good job with the LPG engine developments in the Ford but he needs to race a bit smarter if he's going to make full use of it. I really thought Tom knew better and I hope he's learnt from it as it's wiped him out of the race as well and then had a ticking-off," Jackson said.

Jackson was less than happy with his points tally from Rockingham and finished off by saying, "Eight points from three races at Rockingham is a joke and that's in no way down the lack of ability on my team's part," said Jackson to the BTCC website. "Hands up, I made a bad call on tyre choice for race one but in race two I got back up to a fourth place finish and in race three I felt the car was capable of at least getting onto the podium and maybe even going after Matt Neal for the win. But instead I'm out on lap one thanks to a pretty amateurish error."

Paul O'Neill.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Biggest surprise this season has been from fans favourite Paul O'Neill. O'Neill has already reached the podium twice this season in his Honda Integra and goes into this weekend as independent points leader and 4th in the overall championship. He expects to be even stronger at Brands.

"On paper, the GP circuit at Brands Hatch should be just as strong for us, if not stronger, than Thruxton and Rockingham were," said O'Neill. "We will carry some ballast again thanks to our championship position, but there are no negatives for us to take into the weekend. Three solid finishes are the aim again, but instead of looking to get into the top six, we now have to be looking to get into the top three. We've had a third and second place so far and, if things go our way, maybe we could have a first win."

This season has seen the introduction of the turbo-charged NGTC engine, which will be used properly from next season in the all-new NGTC specification of Touring Cars. A couple of drivers have already taken advantage of the all new engine built by Swindon and Andrew Jordan has shown just how good the engine is by qualifying in the top 10 in both rounds so far in his Pirtek Racing Vectra.

After narrowly missing out on the podium at Rockingham, Jordan as high hopes for Brands and said, "Brands is a high-speed, highly technical circuit with several cambered corners, so it can be a challenge to get the right set-up on the car to suit the track. The tight high-speed corners combined with the long back straight will make this circuit one which will suit the turbo power of our NGTC engine. I was competitive at Brands last year and after the speed shown at the last two rounds I have to be confident we will be able to challenge at the front once again. As a team, we improved in every race at Rockingham and we're certainly hoping that we can continue that improvement this weekend. The aim will be to achieve an overall podium and an Independent 'class' win."

At Rockingham, we also saw another giant-killing act in the hands of Martin Johnson in his 2001 Ex Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe by finishing 9th in race 1 to better his 10th from there last year. The former Clio driver was understandably ecstatic with his 9th place finish. "It was an amazing result for us. We had two-tenths last year and those were like victories. Ninth exceeds those expectations and I think everyone in the team views it like that - it's an old car and old driver!

Martin Johnson leads Andrew Jordan.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

"I have to be realistic. I know the quality of the field is already very strong and getting stronger all the time with your MacDowalls and Neates beginning to get into their stride which makes it even tougher for a small team like ours," Johnson added. "I'm still hoping one day I get one of these results in race two and then get lucky with the reversed grid and I start race three from the front."

Johnson though for the time being is happy to hold on to his Rockingham memories and finished off by saying, "It was a bit of an unlikely result. I'd had a bit of a gear selection problem on the out lap to the grid so pitted. The track was damp but drying so I thought 'what the heck, let's go slicks all round'. I got put into a spin at the first corner and thought 'it's going to be one of those races' and then fifth gear started playing up. But as the race wore on I could see I was catching a lot of people who'd made the wrong call on tyres. Then suddenly I was up to the works Chevrolet of Alex MacDowall and, as I had with the others, I just bided my time - I knew I was a lot quicker so just made sure I picked my moment. Good, eh?"

This weekend we will see two more cars present on the grid. Lea Woods should make his debut in his family run Honda Integra, after deciding not to enter the opening two rounds, and Martin Depper will finally make his BTCC debut for Forster Motorsport, after missing the opening round at Thruxton with Engine trouble while he was stuck on holiday last weekend following the Air travel problems due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

The BTCC should see a 22-car up grid this weekend at Brands Hatch. Qualifying report will be up Saturday night with full race reports and images to follow after the event. So stay tuned to for all news and reaction following this weekend's action.

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Yvan Muller , Tom Chilton , Paul O'Neill , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Robert Collard , Steven Kane , Andrew Jordan , Martin Johnson , Mat Jackson , Martin Depper , Lea Wood , Alex MacDowall