Matt Neal hit the nail right on the head when he said to Steve Rider after his Race 1 win...
"Thruxton always throws in a curveball"
By god did it throw a curve ball on Sunday!!!
First of all, Thruxton proved that it was a track that favoured a good chassis and Honda proved the Civic has the best chassis. In Qualifying on Saturday the pole position fight was between Neal, Shedden and Jordan. No one else could get close. The MG's were down by half a second and were the closest challengers to the Honda's.
Tom Onslow-Cole proved to be the revelation on the weekend. He made a good start by qualifying 7th on the grid behind the ever impressive Jeff Smith. Not bad for an NGTC Car that was in its 3rd weekend of racing. But that was just the beginning. The Toyota's were close behind in quali with Wrathall, Newsham and Morgan again showing they have top 10 pace to run in Qualification trim. Turkington took 10th in the improving BMW, despite losing his windscreen in quali... Foster and Collard qualified behind the Airwaves Ford's.
The Airwaves Ford's were hoping for a better showing at Thruxton and they qualified just short of the top ten. The Audi's and Welch's Proton had a nightmare weekend, both teams suffering mechanical issues and a lack of pace.
In Race 1, Andy Jordan ran off into the distance and led the field with a gap, again showing that Pirtek seemed to have improved their Civic's better than Team Dynamics. But his luck ran out on the last lap when he suffered a fron puncture, handing the lead to Neal and Neal's win would be his 50th in BTCC. Jordan would cross the line to finish 11th...
However at the Start, it was Plato who nearly led the race. As He, Jordan, Neal and Shedden battled into the complex, Plato gave Shedden two small touches, the second touch sending Shedden into the barrier. Needless to say Gordon wasn't a happy bunny...
Onslow-Cole was on a mission and his 7th place starting position became 4th and led to a race long battle with Plato. Now it should be noted that Plato had 45kgs ballast on board. However the Team Hard VW Passat is still 30kgs overweight, even with no ballast on board. Tom pushed Jason hard but he couldn't pass the MG. With Jordan's puncture, Plato was promoted to 2nd and TOC to 3rd. Taking that first podium was only the start of a good day....
By the way, Myself and the family, being Team HARD fans, cheered Tom Onslow-Cole on all the way in Race 1 and we raised the roof as Tom came home 3rd. Did I tell you before we're Team HARD fans...
Tordoff kept pace in the 2nd MG to finish ahead of Pirtek's Jeff Smith as Wrathall went backwards down the field, leaving Turkington, Newsham, Jackson, Aron Smith and Morgan to fight it out for top ten honours. Shedden was lapped and would start race 2 from the back.
In Race 2, Neal led to the finish while TOC passed Plato as he suffered issues with tyre wear and the slightly light MG, again showing the Passat has pace at Thruxton for the 2nd time that day. Plato would finish 5th. Jordan and Shedden, both devoid of success ballast, made impressive comeback drives through the field and after a last lap attempt on TOC, Jordan finished 4th behind Shedden. Once again the Civic proved to be the car to have.
Jeff Smith, Tordoff, Morgan, Jack Goff and Aron Smith would complete the top ten as Newsham, Turkington and Jackson would fall out of the top ten. Goff was chosen for race 3 pole and this added to the 2 podiums already acheived by TOC.
Goff was beaten off the line in Race 3 and would take some roughing up by the rest of the field before retiring with damage. It was a shame as Jack seems to have gelled with the Team Hard Vauxhall Insignia as his results are improving.
Morgan took the lead as Goff fell back, but he too had an off track excursion and had to pit to have his air intake cleared of grass. Soon a battle developed on track for the lead between Jeff Smith and Plato. Now all credit to Smith as he rebuffed all of Plato's efforts to pass him lap after lap. However it became obvious that he was having trouble controlling the Honda coming into the last chicane and several laps later he was passed by Plato.
Shedden drove like a man posessed and it can be argued that had he not been helped off in Race 1, he could have challenged Jordan for the win. Well his rewards came in Race 3. He passed TOC, who would finish fourth in the end, while Plato would suffer a puncture and Tordoff would fall back. Shedden led Neal and Jordan over the line in a Honda 1-2-3 with TOC 4th and Aron Smith coming home 5th in a better performance for the Ford Focus.
Plato started Sunday leading the championship from Jordan. However after the final race, he now lies 3rd behind Matt Neal and Andy Jordan. But with the series now taking a month off until 5th of June for the next three BTCC races at Oulton Park, MG wont rest to make that gap up.
Team HARD have shown that they are making leaps and bounds with the VW Passat and if they can shed "the weight off her hips" as so politely put by TOC, then he will be hasseling the top teams again during the season. With Goff and James Cole both improving in the Insignia's and Howard Fuller due to appear in the 2nd Passat, things are looking up for the team that is firmly the Fan Favourite at the moment in the BTCC.
For me, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that Tom and the Passat will take a win this year...thats a fact.
But for me the team to watch is Team Pirtek. Andrew Jordan is driving extremely well this year and taking no prisoners in his fight with the works Honda's and works MG's. They have the Civic setup well and with Andy being a regular bet for Pole Position in Race 1, he is looking good for his aim to take the overall BTCC Title. Jeff Smith has improved in his driving and taking the fight with Plato in Race 3 showed that he's no longer afraid of the big guns and that Pirtek have two drivers who are capable of top 5 finishes, podiums and wins in every BTCC race.
Anyway, looking ahead, Andy Neate has announced his NGTC Chevrolet Cruze will race at Oulton Park, taking the number of Chevrolet Cruzes on the grid up to 2. We'll see how the car goes over the weekend and it will be good to see how the Team Club 44 Chevrolet Cruze looks in NGTC Trim.
We'll also have to hope that all the other teams on the grid have plenty of spare parts on the way... Just in case...
Between now and 5th June, I'll compile my thoughts as there are a few DTM and WTCC rounds to enjoy. I may even do a post about the time I commentated on an F1 race...
Anyway, go and grab that cuppa. You've earned it.