This weekend the HiQ MSA British Touring Car championship heads up to Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10,11 and 12 in what has proved to date as the most open championship in the history of the series. This was proved when James Thompson...
This weekend the HiQ MSA British Touring Car championship heads up to Oulton Park in Cheshire for rounds 10,11 and 12 in what has proved to date as the most open championship in the history of the series. This was proved when James Thompson crossed the line in round 7 of the championship at Donington to set a new BTCC record with 7 different drivers winning the first 7 races, before Thompson doubled up his race tally in round 8 and Rob Collard doing the same in round 9.
Matt Neal heads to Oulton as the championship leader having taken seven podiums out of nine races but is worried about the threat from other competitors, particularly from team mate Fabrizio Giovanardi, who will only carry 18kg of ballast on the car, saying, "Whenever he's been to Oulton Park before his car has been very heavy on ballast and he's still been able to wring the car's neck and get results around there. This time he'll be that little bit lighter on ballast. When he gets fired up he doesn't get ragged, he just digs deeper and is a supreme performer. He'll bounce back."
He also knows that his ballast of 45kg will affect him particularly in qualifying and that double Donington winner and ballast-free Thompson will once again be a threat, quoting, "I'll have maximum ballast in my car and that could really hurt, particularly in qualifying when we have some low-to-medium speed corners leading onto uphill sections. Certainly, I predict I'm going to have my hands full. I know I've tipped Fabrizio as the man to watch, but James Thompson is going to be very difficult to beat as well. He won two races at Donington last weekend and his Honda will have no ballast so he could easily stick it on pole position"
In the past the circuit has also played into the hands of the BMW with Colin Turkington having taken victory previously, and this may give an opportunity to Stephen Jelley who topped both free practices at Donington before crashing heavily in race 1 wiping his car out for the weekend. Now with his car fully prepared he hopes he can finally get that break through podium having had good pre-season testing at the circuit saying, "We had a good pre-season test there and there are some sections which will favour the rear-wheel-drive of the BMW, but others where the front-wheel-drive cars will have the upper hand. I think it will be very even between the two types of cars. Donington I hope was a bit of a blip. I genuinely had good pace at Donington and feel I can carry that on at Oulton. In my second season in the BTCC I'm feeling more comfortable all the time - in the car, the environment and the races. I think I'm doing OK now and upsetting a few people."
Dan Eaves will be hoping for a better race weekend too and actually completing some racing laps after only completing a handful of laps in the three Thruxton races for different reasons he then had his engine blow up in free practice 1 at Donington ending his weekend there. Team Aon on the other hand will be looking forward to Oulton with Tom Chilton scoring his first points out in the last race and, with his brand new Arena prepared Ford Focus finally showing promises that they are almost up to speed, will be hoping to at last mix it up the sharpe in of the grid by saying, "It might only be ninth place, but there's been a lot of progress and if we make the same gains between now and the next rounds we could be looking at a podium finish quite soon."
Oulton will mark the home race of BTCC favourite Paul O'Neill, the place where he scored his first BTCC win back in 2002. Since returning to the series O'Neill has driven superbly punching well above his weight. Although all he has to show for this is a fifth place finish as he was cruelly denied second at Thruxton due to a puncture, and was spun out of the race at Donington when on course to score another strong finish. He is fully aware of what is needed to continue his good form at Oulton by saying, "Oulton can be a really hairy place, but you've got to sometimes go against your instincts. It's almost a case of putting your left foot over your right foot to keep the throttle fully depressed. Your brain is saying otherwise, to back off, but you have to keep it flat. But that's how the big boys do it in this game and at the moment we are punching above our weight and matching some of the bigger teams. It's all about hanging it out. I don't mind hanging it out."
Oulton Park will also see a debut for another young driver, James Nash, who will be racing yet another Chevrolet Lacetti prepared by RML along with Jason Plato and Mat Neal who race under the team Silverline banner. Nash drove last year in the Seat Eurocup finishing fifth proving to RML that he can do a job in the BTCC. Paul Field RML team boss says, "James has been highly competitive in every series he has raced in and I know has caught the eye of many in the industry.His enthusiasm and willingness to learn has also impressed me and we're all looking forward to working with him" with a delighted Nash who has only recently switched from single seaters to tin- tops saying "I'm extremely happy that we have finally reached this deal with RML. We've been looking at BTCC for some time, following a great first- season in the Eurocup last year, and I am just really excited to be working with RML. Having switched from single-seater to saloons at the beginning of last year, I have relatively little experience in comparison to other competitors in the BTCC. However, through working with RML I know this will be one of the biggest stepping stones in my career and, to date, one of the most positive moves I have made."
Oulton Park is another classic race circuit on the BTCC calendar and just like the previous race at Donington is a favourite among drivers with its natural flowing dips and curves causing the drivers to be flat out throughout the lap. As a result of this be sure not to miss any of the action. Will yet another driver make it to the top pf the podium such as Andrew Jordan or Stephen Jelley? Will Giovanardi finally get his title bit back on track for a hat trick of titles or will Matt Neal increase his lead? Come back for full reviews in what promises to be yet another unpredictable weekend in the BTCC.