Colin Turkington will lead a three-car battle into the final round of the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship, where he hopes to secure his first BTCC crown. Turkington leads Fabrizio Giovanardi by 13 points with Jason Plato a further 15...
Colin Turkington will lead a three-car battle into the final round of the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship, where he hopes to secure his first BTCC crown. Turkington leads Fabrizio Giovanardi by 13 points with Jason Plato a further 15 points behind. It was Turkington's Team RAC teammate who stole the show at Rockingham, taking two victories his first in the championship with Plato taking victory in race 2.
Plato had pole for race 1 but it was the rear wheel drive BMW's who got the best start, with Jonny Adam taking the lead and Jelley moving up to second. Rob Collard made a good start in another BMW moving up from 8th-3rd by the end of the first lap.
There wasn't such good news for former Formula 1 racer Johnny Herbert, who had qualified an impressive ninth, as he was innocently taken out by an out of control Matt Neal at the first corner, Dean Hairpin. This spelt yet another disastrous weekend for Neal who had previously crashed during free practice hampering his qualifying. This crash caused heavy damage to the Vectra resulting in him missing race 2.
Meanwhile on the track after a brief safety car period for the Neal crash, the two Chevrolets of Plato and Mat Jackson quickly got past Collard. Plato dived down the inside of Collard after he ran wide at Gracelands and Jackson followed Plato through at the same time. There was more bad news for Airways BMW as Jelley took the lead from Adam on lap 9 when he got past the Scotsman at the Dean Hairpin.
The two Chevrolets then homed in on the back of Adam and Plato found his way past Adam on lap 12, after giving the BMW a tap entering Tarzan Hairpin. Jackson got past Adam just a lap later. Jelley was too far in front of the Chevrolets and at last took his first victory in the championship. Adam continued in fourth until the final lap where he was passed by his teammate Collard.
Giovanardi managed to finish sixth, taking more points off of Turkington, ahead of his team mate Andrew Jordan in seventh and James Nash in eighth. The trio all managed to find their way past Paul O'Neill late on, whom eventually finished ninth just ahead of series leader Turkington. Turkington made hard work of scoring the final championship point, when running behind Nash he nudged the Chevrolet exiting the Dean Hairpin spinning the BMW. This dropped him down to twelfth before being let past by third Team RAC driver Anthony Reid and then barging his way past Gordon Shedden on lap 17.
Race 2 got under way in the same positions that race 1 finished in. Jelley got a good start in the rear wheel drive BMW with Jackson getting past Plato. Sadly there was less good news for the Airways BMW of Collard, who failed to take the start pulling into the pits with transmission trouble, making him unable to start from his fourth grid slot. During the race there were two safety car periods. The first came when John George spun on lap 3, however, before the safety car came out a lap later Giovanardi had found his way past Adam.
When the safety car was brought out, it was the Chevrolets looking menacing and Jackson diving down the inside of Jelley into the Dean Hairpin. This also allowed Plato, Giovanardi and Adam through as Jelley ran wide. Jelley would let Turkington past just a lap later. The second safety car period came on lap 10 when BTCC rookie Matt Hamilton simply managed to out brake himself going into Tarzan Hairpin.
After the safety car came in there was still time for two crucial passes in the championship battle. Firstly Turkington overtook Adam into Gracelands, after giving the fellow BMW driver a slight nudge, before Plato got past his team mate Jackson into the first Hairpin on lap 16. Plato held on to the victory scoring an historic 50th BTCC victory for himself, making him just 10 races off all time record held by Andy Rouse. Jackson continued his amazing record of scoring 8 consecutive podiums; a record since the 3-race weekend was formed in 2005. Giovanardi would hold off a late charge by Turkington to take the final place on the podium closing the gap to just 7 points. Behind Turkington would be Adam and race 1 winner Jelley. Nash would finish 7th after a fierce battle with Paul O'Neill, which was cut short when the sunshine.co.uk driver had to retire with smoke pouring into the Integra's cockpit after the pair had got friendly at Gracelands.
Andrew Jordan would finish 8th just ahead of Tom Chilton in an all important 9th, as this was the lucky number drawn out of the lottery system that was drawn by O'Neill's famous spice girl sister Mel C. Just missing out on the pole position but still scoring a point was Herbert after his crew worked miracles to get his Honda Civic back on track after his collision in race 1.
Race 3 would be one of the most dramatic in recent years of the championship with the championship swinging either way with every lap. Chilton led away from the start whilst Jordan defended from him on the opening lap. The first bit of controversy happened on lap 2 when Giovanardi hit the back of Jackson into the first corner sending the Chevrolet straight on. This resulted in Giovanardi getting a fine and an endorsement. Dave Pinkney would not be part of the fun as he went off into the gravel causing a safety car period. Poor Collard would also not go much further as he retired with mechanical failure after an impressive start from the back of the grid.
Chilton remained in the lead but would slip down the field, as on lap 8 Jordan then Jelley on lap 10 first passed him at the Dean hairpin. Turkington passed him a lap later, allowing Plato through at the same time. Jelley then went after his second win of the day and passed Jordan at the same hairpin on lap 12, although Jordan fought back and re-passed Jelley exiting Gracelands. Jelley would not be denied and would re-take the lead yet again a lap later as Jordan got into a big slide through turn 2.
The most controversial laps of not only this year, but also the BTCC's recent history, occurred during laps 13 and 14. It started after Jordan had his half spin, which bunched up the lead pack as he defended heavily from Turkington. This allowed Plato right onto the tail of Turkington and Plato, sensing his chance, made a late lunge on Turkington into Tarzan. Contact was inevitable and Plato hit the BMW. With Turkington broad sideways across Plato's bonnet, Nash tried to go up the inside of the pair. Plato clipped him instantly causing a broken rear suspension to Nash and Plato had to pit with a puncture. Chilton, Giovanardi and Herbert all took advantage of Turkington's almost championship title destroying spin and crept past on the outside.
Lap 14 proved to be just as dramatic as Herbert dived down the inside of Giovanardi allowing Turkington past Giovanardi and alongside Herbert. With Herbert defending from Turkington this allowed Giovanardi to get a run at the pair into the chicane at the end of the straight. As they got there Herbert turned directly in on Giovanardi causing damage to the Vectra, which dropped the Italian eventually out of the points. Turkington took full advantage and moved up to fourth. Jackson and Adam, who was recovering from a spin himself on lap 3 after an optimistic move on Giovanardi failed, would both find their way past Herbert before the end of the race.
All this drama did not concern Jelley who would take his second career BTCC victory, and second of the day, from Jordan and Chilton. Turkington would take another step toward the title in fourth; ahead of the recovering Jackson whose eight successive podiums finishes would come to an end. Adam was sixth, ahead of a battered Herbert with Gordon Shedden in eighth, ahead of the second Team Aon Focus of Tom Onslow-Cole scoring his first points of the season. While on the line Giovanardi would even be denied a single point when Martin Johnson, in his tiny family run Astra Coupe, out dragged the battle scarred Vectra across the line.
Afterwards Giovanardi was less than impressed with Herbert's move and said, "I was clawing back the points in the first two races and in the third it was looking good, but then Herbert ruined it all. He's a guest driver; he's not involved in the championship, so I don't know why he had to smash into me, many times. After that, my car was completely destroyed. It is frustrating when it happens like that, but when you lose out like that to unprofessional driving it makes it all the more difficult."
Emotions were very different at Team Aon, with an ecstatic Chilton taking the Ford Focus' first podium in what has been a very difficult year for Arena Motorsport, the team who run the car. An ecstatic Chilton celebrated by jumping on his car.
So now it's down to just 3 drivers to see who will be crowned the 2009 BTCC champion. Turkington will now go into the final round surely as championship favourite but knows it will be no easy ride at Brands Hatch especially against the calibre of opponents and said, "For a moment in race three it looked like I'd be leaving Rockingham no longer the leader - it was a bit of a heart-in-mouth moment in the incident with Jason as the outcome could have been very different. But this time a bit of luck was with me while it was Jason's and Fabrizio's turn to suffer a bit of misfortune. So now this is it - just the final hurdle to clear but it's a very high hurdle. Jason and Fabrizio are world class drivers so I'll need to be at the top of my game to keep them where they are."
Giovanardi, despite losing valuable ground, is not to concerned with the gap to Turkington said, "I don't mind too much the gap to Colin - I am still quite close and he is maybe going to experience some new emotions. But he will be supported by his team-mate Jelley who has hit strong form at the right moment for his team." Giovanardi is also not surprised to see Plato still in with a chance of the title after his pre race comments and also admitted that having three drivers still in with a chance of the title is great for all concerned and finished by saying, "I said before Jason could still come into it and here he is! It is also good that there are three drivers who can win at the final round as it keeps it very exciting for everyone involved."
Despite what Giovanardi thinks Plato still admits he's just out for wins rather than the championship and said, "I really thought I was right out of it before Rockingham and I still believe 28 points is too much to make up. Realistically, it is Colin's and Fabrizio's to lose - all I can do is try and win races on the day and the rest is up to them."
The final word of the day should, however, belong to Jelley who superbly took his maiden two victories in the championship and said afterwards, "Crikey, what a day I've had! Awesome. I'm really proud because I achieved both my wins the hard way by catching and passing people. Days don't get much better than this..."
The final stop for the BTCC is in just 2 weeks at Brands Hatch around the Grand Prix loop, so you will be a fool not to return to see who will be crowned 2009 champion in what has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons ever in the long history of the BTCC.