Croft provided some of the best racing yet this year in the British Touring Car Championship last weekend and it may also have opened up the title fight for 2013 into a five way fight...
Colin Turkington took Pole Position, two races wins and a 2nd place in race three to cap off a perfect weekend for him in his West Surrey Racing/Ebay Motors BMW 125i Sport and in the process joined Plato, Neal, Shedden & Jordan in the fight for the 2013 BTCC drivers title.
Now while it is common knowledge in BTCC circles that Croft favours rear wheel drive cars, it was also a weekend of wet racing which normally doesn't favour RWD cars and yet all three BMW drivers took top ten finishes during the weekends activities. Collard showed he hasn't lost his edge in talent since Turkington returned to the team and Foster showed his best performances so far this year
So the BMW has improved further and proved a match for the MG's and Honda's in the mixed damp and wet conditions. Hopefully this will translate into the same pace in the dry when the series returns from its summer break at Snetterton in August. However there will be more testing from all the teams during that period so you can bet things will be even closer in August.
Works Honda driver Matt Neal again has gone into the Summer Break leading the championship however while he had a 4 point lead over Pirtek Honda's Andy Jordan before the three rounds at Croft, he only extended that to 19 points. While Neal took the race three win with Turkington second, Jordan finished on the ppdium as well and scored good points over the weekend overall to minimize the damage in the title hunt.
I still maintain Andy Jordan will win the overall drivers title this year.
MG however suffered a nightmare weekend compared to Honda and BMW. Whilst Plato was beaten to pole by Turkington at the dying seconds of qualifying, the race two decision by Triple Eight to have both MG6's on wet tyres was bold but ultimately back fired when the expected downpour didnt appear. Plato and Tordoff finished 21st and 22nd, denting Plato's championship charge at title leader Neal. However this did setup a spectacular come back drive by Plato in race three where he fought through the field to finish 6th while team mate Tordoff finished 7th.
Honda maintained thier good performance with Neal and Shedden taking podium finishes in all three races betweem them: Neal taking 2nd, 4th and 1st whole Shedden took 3rd, 2nd and 4th. With Jordan in the Pirtek finishing 6th, 6th and 3rd in the days races, this proves that the Honda Civic's nimble chassis was once again up to the challenge. With the MG having good straightline speed and the BMW being kind to its tyres regardless of what weight it carries, its going to be a tight battle to the end between all three cars...
The Airwaves Fords had another mixed weekend challenging the fringes of the top ten...except this time there were 3 NGTC Foci... Trust me, thats easier than trying to say Focus's...
2012 British GT Champion Michael Caine joined the series for a so far one off appearance in 3rd NGTC Ford Focus that was in a black Autoglym sponsored livery. He last raced in the BTCC in an S2000 Focus in the 2011 season. My son Aaron met him at Rockingham. Nice chap too. Anyway Caine was a revelation in race one starting from 15th on the grid and finishing 8th, after a stunning move made by passing Collard, Morgan and Onslow-Cole on the last lap.
However his weekend would go downhill from there with retirement in race two and a non starter in race three. Mat Jackson endured a difficult three races and suffered a run in with the stewards as well. Jackson suffered retirements in all three races, in race one he hit the tyres at Hawthorn, in race two he hit Dan Welch whilst trying to pass the Proton into the hairpin (and short-cutting off most of the hairpin in the process...) Whilst in race three he retired after contact with Jack Goff in the Team HARD Insignia.
Aron Smith faired better in a season where he is showing that he can match his more experienced team mate Jackson and better him on points. Smith finished the weekend with 14th in race one, 12th in race two and 9th in race three. This haul of points kept him inside the top ten for the drivers points table.
Tom Onslow-Cole starred again in the ever impressive Team HARD. VW Passat CC. He qualified the car in 9th position on the grid for race one and finished 10th before going better in race two and made sure he kept the car on the island whilst others around him faltered in the mixed conditions to take another podium in the fan's favourite car. In race three he managed to finish 12th after contact damaged his front bumper.
The Audi's didn't repeat the same pace they showed in Oulton Park despite both Audi A4's now using TOCA supplied Enigines. Frank Wrathall suffered more bad luck in his Toyota Avensis. His car has looked more fragile this season than last season with most of his retirements being mechanical rather than damage induced. Adam Morgan showed more good speed in his Avensis after qualifying well but his only high point being picked out for race three pole. However the youngster has shown to be the fastest of the four Toyota's this year.
The Speedworks Toyota's also had mixed results in the mixed conditions. Newsham took his best finish of the year in race three with 5th. However this was preceded with 10th in race two and retirement in race one. Ollie Jackson suffered retirements in races one and three and didnt start race two.
Hopefully with all the testing the team has done, Speedworks can make a step forward in the second half of the season.
Jake Hill starred in the Jack Sears Trophy by taking a win in his first BTCC race driving the S2000 Focus whilst Liam Griffin was away on business. David Nye also took his first JST win of the year in his Welch Motorsport Focus whilst Lea Wood won the JST in race three, a lap ahead of the returning James Kaye. Joe Girling also returned to the BTCC fray, but a huge crash in qualifying ruled him out of race day. Warren Scott was also missing after engine issues during free practice followed into raceday.
Now just to make things a bit clearer as to the finishing order...because even I got confused...
Race one finished with Turkington winning from Neal, Shedden, Foster and Plato with Jordan, Tordoff, Caine, Collard and Onslow-Cole.
Race two finished with Turkington from Shedden, Onslow-Cole, Neal and Collard followed by Jordan, Foster, Morgan, Smith and Newsham.
Finally Race three was won by Neal with Turkington in tow followed by Jordan, Shedden and Newsham. Rounding out the top ten were Plato, Tordoff, Foster, Aron Smith and Jeff Smith.
This leaves the Championship standings in the drivers title at the halfway point with Neal leading Jordan by 19 points followed by Plato and Shedden tied on 188 points and Turkington on 5 points behind the pair of them.
Now is the summer break where teams and drivers will take the chance to rest and test, getting ready and refreshed for the return to action at Snetterton for what will be an action packed 2nd half of the season. One thing that is confirmed is that Neal, Jordan, Plato, Shedden and Turkington will fight tooth and nail for point and position they can with no quarter asked nor given...
And that means even more panel bashing, bumper pushing and mirrors flying...which is what you expect from the BTCC!!
All being well we should see Andy Neate make an appearance in his NGTC Chevrolet Cruze, barring any more financial or mechanical difficulties (thats the 3rd time I've said this. He better bloody well turn up!), also the expected appearance of the BTC Racing Hatchback NGTC Chevrolet Cruze and expected appearances of Howard Fuller and Robb Holland in VW Passat CC's.
However today James Cole has confirmed that he has left Team HARD. to try and secure a 2014 seat in the BTCC. I wish him all the best for the future.
Who knows, we may even see a full 32 car grid...
Now apparently Formula One is having some tyre problems to make the racing exciting this year...
Time to go write the next blog...