The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship came back with a bang at Snetterton from its summer break with the drivers showing that they are not afraid to bend and bash panels to pass each other...
Something that is cemented in the history of the BTCC and tintop touring car racing in general.
What was also provided was some exciting racing that has given the championship another twist in a season where, in my opinion, there are still 5 drivers fighting for the overall title.
Those 5 drivers being Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan, Gordon Shedden, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato. With these 5 drivers, you have the cream of the current BTCC Crop and anything can still happen between them...
And at Snetterton it did...
Now if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will recall how impressed I have been with MG's Sam Tordoff this year, in what is his first full season in BTCC. Well he started the weekend off well by taking Pole Position for race one from his much more experienced team mate Plato on the front row with him.
In fact the grid for race one had a slightly different look to it. The top 10 for race one read as Tordoff, Plato, Jordan, Shedden, Turkington, Aron Smith, Morgan, Goff, Newsham and Welch. Lea Wood would be the fastest Jack Sears Trophy competitor putting his Vectra in 22nd. Matt Neal suffered technical issues and would start 11th for race one...
Aron Smith showed the pace that the Airwaves Fords are now capable of by taking 6th in qualifying, however even though he had a massive crash after the first turn, he managed to keep the position as no one went faster and it would be a preview to what Airwaves could show and would show in race pace.
Of the newer drivers and cars to appear at Snetterton, Warren Scott traded his S2000 SEAT Leon for a Team HARD built VW Passat and will receive assistance from Team HARD for the rest of the season, Andy Neate made his debut in his NGTC Chevrolet Cruze Saloon and popular american driver Robb Holland drove the 2nd Vauxhall Insignia.
So onto race one...
Well to be honest it was the quietest race of the day for the BTCC racers. Tordoff disappeared from Pole to go and take his first ever BTCC win from Plato, giving MG a 1-2 finish. Shedden made it past Jordan as did Turkington and Smith at the start and the 2012 champion would chase home Plato to the finish. Jordan would repass Smith during the race and would hound Turkington to the end.
Smith stayed in 6th position after Jordan passed him. Morgan would take another points finish whilst Newsham and Welch would suffer a spin and retirement respectively. Welch's retirement would be assisted by Collard firing him off at the first turn.
Matt Neal would chase down Jack Goff during the race but the lack of boost the Honda had during the weekend was obvious as the Vauxhall pulled away on the straights. However after Neal passed Goff, contact with Newsham would drop both men to finish 11th and 12th. Mat Jackson would make his way up through the field and pass Neal who would take 9th place with Collard 10th. Will Bratt had an interesting start as his bonnet flew up during the race and he had to pit to have it replaced by one of Rob Austins for the rest of the day.
So to recap race one finished as Tordoff, Plato and Shedden with Turkington 4th, Jordan 5th, Smith 6th, Morgan 7th, Jackson 8th with Neal and Collard completing the top ten.
Race Two would up the ante for the excitement...
Try and keep up...
Tordoff led from Pole Position again with Plato alongside him, however it would not finish that way. Plato retired on lap 5 whilst Tordoff would fall to 18th due to failing brakes on his MG6. So this left Shedden, Jordan and Turkington fighting for the lead of the race. After a brief safety car period due to an incident involving JST runners Kaye, Nye and Griffin, the race resumed and Jordan passed Shedden for 2nd.
Jordan then went after Turkington for the lead and it was obvious that the BMW did not have the pace to hold back the Pirtek Honda driver. On lap 11 Jordan passed Turkington in a close move that saw Turkington spin down to finish 6th at the end. With no weight now in his Honda, Neal fought his way through to finish 2nd after an amazing last lap pass on Airwaves Ford man Smith. For a while during the race there was a queue for the lead and during this time Collard retired after contact with Shedden trying to pass the Honda driver for position.
So race two finished with Jordan winning from Neal and Smith with Jackson 4th, Morgan 5th and Turkington 6th followed by Shedden, Newsham, Tom Onslow-Cole and Frank Wrathall hauling his Toyota Avensis up to 10th. Lea Wood took his 2nd JST win and would cap off Sunday by winning the Race Three JST as well, becoming the first man to do so all year.
For the Race Three grid draw, Dave Newsham in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis was picked for Pole Position for Race Three by 1958 BTCC Champion Jacks Sears himself and hopes were high that Newsham could replicate the win he took at Snetterton 12 months ago in the Team ES Racing.com S2000 Vauxhall Vectra. However it was not to be.
But race three would be rather exciting...
Take a breath...And continue...
At the start, Newsham tangled with Neal and the resulting contact between the two sent Neal to the back of the field and Newsham to retire. Neal would work his way back up to finish in the top 10 by the end. Shedden fought for the lead with Turkington in another show that the BMW was capable of taking the lead but it was not able to up the pace, leaving Turkington open to attack from another Honda during race day.
That poor bloke must be wondering if he has a Honda Target on the boot of his BMW 125i as each time he was attacked for the lead, Turkington came away with panel damage to his car. Shedden took the lead and would go on to keep it.
In another show of improvement, the Airwaves Fords of Jackson and Smith moved up the field and pounced on Turkington after Shedden passed him to move up to 2nd and 3rd positions.This was the best finish yet for both drivers and hopefully shows of more pace to fight for wins in the weekends to come.
Normally Snetterton is a good race track for Jason Plato but this year it proved to be his bogey. Although he took 2nd behind Tordoff in race one, that would be his best position on raceday. During the final race, Plato was making up positions from the back when he was tagged on the back of the car coming through the infield. This contact would send the MG6 spinning off and into a barrel roll off the track.
Jason would emerge from the car ok, but it would cap off a bad weekend for him and even he acknowledged that it made things difficult in the overall title chase.
Morgan would finish 4th in the end whilst Tordoff showed more of his talent by driving from the back to finish 5th at the end, hounding Morgan for 4th but to no avail. Jordan lost positions to Tordoff and Turkington as his Honda hurt whilst it carried maximum ballast from his race two win, but he would finish ahead of Matt Neal, which is something he will need to do more often in the coming weekends.
There was a big accident between Ollie Jackson in the 2nd Speedworks Toyota, Dan Welch in the Proton and Will Bratt in the Audi that led to all three retiring from the race. Rob Austin was on for 5th in the race but then suffered a spin to fall down to 12th in the end.
So the overall finishing order for race three was Shedden, from Jackson and Smith on the podium. Morgan, Tordoff and Turkington were followed by Jordan, Neal, Collard and Foster.
However due to the days robust driving there were penalties to follow and a severe penalty earned by one driver to race one at Knockhill...
For his move on Gordon Shedden in race two, Jordan was given two penalty points on his racing licence. For his move on Turkington in race three, Shedden was given 3 penalty points and a £500 fine for the move. However there is a new rule this year for driver conduct that states if a driver racks up three infractions in volving penlty points during the season, they will suffer a 6 place grid drop at the next round and Andy Jordan is the first driver to receive this penalty. This will take place at Knockhill for the Pirtek Honda Driver.
So, where does all this leave the driver standings? Well Matt Neal leads the overall drivers title on 256 points. However Jason Plato is 5th in the drivers table on 206 points with Jordan, Shedden and Turkington in between. Thats the top five drivers covered by 50 points as the series moves to Knockhill.
Its getting close...
As for the other teams and drivers not mentioned, apart from his 9th place in race two, Snetterton was a quiet weekend for Team HARD. Robb Holland scored 15th place to score his first ever BTCC points whilst TOC was in the top 15 suffering with issues all weekend. Warren Scott had teething troubles in the new VW Passat but it was first rolled out on Saturday Morning and he has since tested the car at Brands Hatch.
Jack Goff had his best qualifying yet in 8th for race one, but it would go downhill from there during all three races for the former Clio Cup Champion. 12th would be his best finish and retirements in races two and three would be little reward. During the Dunlop Tyre Test, Goff learnt a lot in the Insignia and its pace improved. However Goff is now out of the car for Knockhill, replaced by Paul O'Neill but hoped are high that he will be back in the car for Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch as he has shown he has the speed and the tools to fight with the established teams.
Team Hard has what it takes to fight th established teams, it just needs to find the speed that TOC has unlocked in the VW Passat and transfer that to the Vauxhall Insignia also. But i feel we will see that speed return soon...
Andy Neate had a quiet raceday but acheived his goals by taking a finish in all three races in the NGTC Chevrolet Cruze Saloon. He has more testing planned but there ismore to come from the RML built chassis/machine. For Dan Welch it was a weekend to forget in race trim. 10th in Qualifying for race one was the best he would start however he would suffer retirements after contact with other drivers during the races. Hopefully Knockhill will see a return to form in what has been a troubled year for the privateer Proton Team.
Rob Austin and Will Bratt both showed that they were able to score points in the Audi A4, however in thier quest for points finishes, these often ended up with both cars spinning or being involved in incidents with other cars. Rob Austin ofetn seeming to have contact with Pirtek Honda's Jeff Smith in two races. However when the Audi is on the pace, it can trouble the front runners and lets hope this happens in the coming BTCC weekends.
Airwaves Ford Racing I feel made the biggest improvement after the summer break. Whilst Smith broke into the top six for the race one starting grid, he proved that this pace was no fluke and followed it up with three points finishes, two of those on the podiums. Team mate Mat Jackson also showed that he has lost none of his touch in bringing home a fast car in the points and it was made clear that team boss David Bartrum has ordered that both cars be bought home in one piece with as little race damage as possible, leading to a large points haul. Jackson has been title contender before and in the run to the seasons end I have a feeling that both Ford's will be in the mix with the Honda's, BMW's and MG's.
Whilst Airwaves Ford showed improvement, the same could be said for the Ebay BMW's of Rob Collard and Nick Foster. Whilst Turkington has been fighting for the lead in races at Oulton Park and Croft and again at Snetterton, Collard and Foster were often in the fight for top ten positions and this is a much better showing that in the 1st half of the year. With the Independent titles being fought out between Pirtek Honda and EBay BMW, you can see that they will both fight to the last point possible. What is needed is more pace out of the BMW on the harder Dunlop tyre, otherwise the EBay boys will be sitting ducks.
Again Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Racing Toyota Avesis was the best of the Toyota's again and has been the case for ost of the season so far. Morgan took top ten points finishes in all three races whilst Newsham and jakson suffered both spins and retirements. However Frank Wrathall has had the worst reliability so far with the Dynojet Toyota proving to be much more fragile than last year. He's also using a Works Toyota engine so lets hope that he finds reliability in the car.
Whilst Jordan is fighting for overall wins, Jeff Smith seemed to have an off weekend at Snetterton, bein involved in incidents with other drivers when normally he is racing or the race three win. Knockhill last year was Smith's first visit to the podium so lets hope that he finds his way there again and can regain the good form he has.
With regards to the Honda's, whilst they were down on boost on the straights, once again, the chassis showed its strengths with Shedden taking a victory in race three and Neal taking a podium in race 2 and driving back through the field in race three. They are both drivers who can never be counted out of the title fight and this year both drivers have adopted a consistent approach to the title and its working. Neal is leading with Jordan close behind whilst Shedden is 3rd in the table.
As for MG, well they will bounce back. They will take reward from Tordoffs maiden win and Pole Position but they will also be ready to strike back at Knockhill. The MG6 is fast, thats never been denied and its also got a good chassis so the honours will almost even (except for boost adjustments of course) and you can expect some fierce fighting between Plato, Neal and Shedden in the coming rounds, all of which could work to the advantage of Andy Jordan...
As for the S2000 runners, Lea Wood has firmly put his stamp on the Jack Sears Trophy after winning all three races. But his competition will increase as Griffin and Nye are showing increased pace in the S2000 Ford Focus's whilst James Kaye returned to the series in an ex-Team Dynamics S2000 Honda and his pace showed that he can hopefully take the fight to Wood and the others in the lst 12 races. Its possible but it will be tight.
It's also looking like we will see an all NGTC field next year in the BTCC and it will be a shame to see these pure bred racing cars to leave the BTCC, however with the current crop of World Touring Car S2000 cars looking for a new home possibly in the European Touring Car Cup, these cars will race on yet. It also allows drivers like Lea Wood to find a good race seat as they deserve in an NGTC car.
One issue that was made clear again was the unhappiness of the drivers about the issue of boost adjustment and this is an issue that has caused issues and arguments since it was introduced back in 2011. Matt Neal was visibly unhappy with the boost situation on the Honda and it was evident watching him chase Jack Goff in the Insignia that he wouldn't pass the Vauxhall on the straight. However whilst this year it is based on the individual driver performance and not the car, that still makes it difficult for a title fighting driver to come back through the field with cars that run at the back end on higher boost.
But that also provides cracking racing for we, the fans. So the outcome is that Boost Adjustment is here to stay and that it will cause many an argument. What I ask is that the boost adjustments are published so that we the fans know who has had a boot drop and who has had a boost increase...
I live in hope, but know better...
So the series moves to its annual visit to Knockhill in Scotland and this is a track that throws up all manner of issues for the cars and drivers and on such a short fast circuit anything can happen as we witnessed last year with the clash between Jason Plato and Aron Smith...
I, for one, am looking forward to it...and hope that you have also enjoyed this blogpost.
Apparently theres also the Belgian Grand Prix on during the same day... Thats going to make TV viewing fun at home!!!
All the best!!