Saturday, 28 September 2013

WTCC China Update...

A quick update on the World Touring Car Championship with some news being revealed this week.

Firstly, Volvo have announced that they will be making a one off return to the WTCC in China. The Polestar team will run the same C30 that took was driven in the 2011 season by Robert Dahlgren.

This time out it will be driven by recently crowned 2013 Scandinavian Touring Car Champion Thed Bjork. Whilst the car will run with an extra 40kgs as per the rules, Bjork's talent is the best, having won multiple Swedish and Scandinavian Touring Car titles.

The aim of this one off return? Well Volvo have confirmed they still see the WTCC as a viable option and this could be a possible precursor to an entry in 2015 when the new regs will have been in effect for a year. Lets see how that goes.

Secondly, Bamboo Engineering have confirmed this week that they have purchased two 2014 RML Chevrolet Cruze's. With Bamboo being the customer Chevrolet team since they entered the WTCC, this comes as no surprise.

What will be interesting is the driver choice. James Nash and Alex MacDowall are both capable of winning this years Yokohama Trophy for Independents and both have been very competitive overall in this seasons races. Tom Chilton has also has made it clear he wants to remain with RML in some capacity and brings Aon Sponsorship so who knows?

What has been mentioned is there could be up to six 2014 Cruze's available so after the season finale at Macau, its going to be a very interesting off season.

Anyway, its a long way to 3rd November when the series races on the Shanghai Circuit, so lets see what else is announced by then...



Sunday, 22 September 2013

WTCC 2014: My concerns for the future...

Earlier this year the FIA announced its new for 2014 Super 2000 regulations for cars entering the FIA World Touring Car Championship from 2014.

In a nutshell the new cars will be lighter, faster, more aerodynamic and wider...

Now with these rules came the question: What year do they come into effect?

Originally this was slated for 2015, however with Honda and Lada committed to the WTCC for the next 2-3 years and with Citroen wanting to enter but their decision dependent on when the rules came into effect, it was decided that they would come into force in 2014.

Now with Honda already commiting to providing 4 2014 Honda Civics whilst the current crop of Civics will be upgraded, Lada confirming that their 2 Granta's will be upgraded and possibly joined by a 3rd Granta and Citroen confirming they will have 3 C-Elysse's for Muller, Loeb and a 3rd driver, this still leaves a question over the other manufacturers who have cars present and the problems facing the independent teams for 2014 who dont have the budget to build new cars.

So I thought I'd lay them out for you...

Firstly, SEAT.

Now earlier in the season SEAT introduced the Leon Cup Racer and put it on show from the Salzburgring WTCC event onwards. The car itself looks the part and when the new regulations were confirmed at Porto there were high hopes that we would see the return of a works team from the spanish manufacturer for the first time since 2009.

However 2 weeks ago, SEAT confirmed that they would not be entering the Leon Cup Racer into the 2014 WTCC as the cost of building the car in time for next season would be too high as Citroen already have their car built and testing. They also felt that it would be too expensive developing the car when they are already on the backfoot.

What they did confirm was that they were to going to concentrate on using the Racer model in enhancing the current SEAT Supercopa single make series around Europe, expanding the series into new markets and more support for teams that enter the Single Make Trophy in the European Touring Car Cup.

So, this means that there will be no new SEAT's built to the new rules. What this does is leaves the current WTCC SEAT teams with two options:

A. Move on to a new manufacturer who has plans to have customer 2014 S2000 cars.


B. Leave the WTCC for pastures new.

Now Munnich Motorsport have already said that staying in the series next year will be difficult without a 2014 car, however they have the option of going to the new World Rallycross Championship for next year. Special Tuning Racing have been a SEAT Customer team for the past few years as has Campos Racing or SUNRED Engineering as they were known before. For these teams the options are also become a customer of a new manufacturer or look elsewhere.

STR have raced in the BTCC with the S2000 Leon and the BTCC offers an alternative if they can build an NGTC spec car. For Campos, I would expect a return to Spanish national level racing like the new Leon Cup Racer series mentioned.

But these are educated guesses on my part. Not gospel truths.

Next, BMW.

Now, its well known that support for the WTCC BMW Customer teams has been in short supply since BMW pulled its works team at the end of 2010. Whilst Augusto Farfus and Andy Priaulx tested the 320 TC with the 1.6 litre engine in early 2011, development has been little. The BMW Customer teams have all complained of a lack of straightline speed and BMW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt has made it clear that there is no more development due for the 320 TC as their focus is on the DTM and endurance programmes.

So, at the moment, the same situation faces the ROAL Motorsport, Engstler, PB Racing and Proteam Customer BMW teams. Either sign up for a new manufacturer or leave... But there is a 3rd option...

There has been talk of developing an upgrade kit to allow the 320 TC to be competitive in 2014 guise with some private engine development discussed between the teams. ROAL did mention earlier in the year they would look at other makes but with all races using standing starts in 2014, any BMW entered has a chance as long as its upgrade proves competitive.

I have ranted on before how I think that BMW should've stayed on in WTCC but my hope is that with the new regs in place they will consider a works team return or increase support for their customer teams to be competitive.

Next, Chevrolet.

Now this year all 6 Chevrolet Cruzes have been run as Independent entries: RML, Nika, Tuenti and Bamboo. The Cruze has been the dominant force in WTCC since 2010 and a lifeline for this car and the teams that have run it was presented last week.

After Sonoma, it was reported that RML, who built and own the Cruzes from scratch, are looking at a programme of potentially upgrading up to 6 Chevrolet Cruzes to the new 2014 regulations. There has also been talk of renewed support from Chevrolet but nothing is confirmed.

However were there to be upgraded Cruzes on the grid, they would still be a force to be reckoned with. The car is already a good competitive base to work from. But lets see what happens.

Whilst there has been a positive effect by  moving these regulations forward by a year, there has also been a negative consequence. Before the 2013 WTCC season started, Arena International or Team Aon closed it doors after developing the Ford Focus S2000 cars for the WTCC and racing them in the capable hands of Tom Chilton and James Nash in the 2012 WTCC season.

Now during the winter break, there was talk of backing and support from Ford and rumours linking such names as Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi to a potentail 3 car team with a much upgraded and developed Focus. However this never happened.

But the WTCC Fords found a new home with Rotek Racing, a team that takes part in the german VLN series and co-owned by American Touring Car ace and Team HARD stalwart Robb Holland. In fact earlier this week the two cars were staying at the Team HARD headquarters before being sent of to the german base of the Rotek Racing squad.

Now, Robb and the team have tested the cars with the upgrades in suspension, chassis and engine that were due to be undertaken by Team Aon themselves and were looking to run the cars before the end of this season intending on a full season next year. But with the new regulations already cleared for next year, this has caused Robb and Rotek to pause for thought on the best course of action to take.

Quite simply, an upgrade kit would be expensive, considering the Mk 3 Focus was built and raced in the BTCC in 2011 in its original S2000 form before being updated to FIA S2000 specs. As this is an independent entry, the cost has to be weighed out as to whether this is feasible or not in the long run. Another option would be to race it in the ETCC with a 2 litre Normally Aspirated engine, but again this requires a budget capable.

The final issue to be aware of is that any cars that take part next year but conform to the current 2011 S2000 1.6 litre turbo regs will be uncompetitive. Basically the 2014 cars will have a power increase of 80bhp and are designed to be 1.5 seconds faster...per kilometre.

As pointed out by Yvan Muller over the Japanese WTCC weekend, that means that if he drove his current S2000 Chevrolet Cruze over the same 54 second lap at Suzuka East Circuit as his Citroen C-Elysse 2014 car, the Cruze would be 9 seconds per lap slower.

9 seconds per lap! Both the WTCC races were 26 laps today meaning any current S2000 has no hope of winning a race next year. Now for the Independent that has no other option, thats fine but thats still one hell of a performance hike. There is talk of a possible seperate championship akin to what was the Jay-Ten Cup a few years ago as cars were then being converted from 2 litre N/A to 1.6 Litre Turbos.

Again we'll have to see. Theres also talk of other manufacturers joining next year but again, we'll have to wait and see who.

So whats the outcome of the decision to introduce the new S2000 regulations in 2014 and not 2015?

The answer is two fold:

Its a great outcome because Citroen has entered the fray to bring the manufacturer count in the championship to 3 for the first time since 2009 and there will be a double figure amount of new cars on the grid. It also opens up the driver market as well to allow good drivers a chance at being in these newer cars.


Its also concerning considering how many independent teams there are in the championship that have a customer team relationship using cars that, if kept in their current form, will be uncompetitive by design of the new rules and also making a clear 2nd class behind the newer cars.

This could also mean that stalwart teams that have been the backbone of the WTCC, whilst manufacturers have come and gone, now face an uncertain winter either forging new relationships for new cars, try building their own or go off to pastures new.

I will be following this with interest, as will every fan and media member, over the next few months. I just hope this will encourage a surge of manufacturer growth over the next few seasons and not damage the series further. The WTCC is a great championship and deserves some positive momentum.

Once again I stress that a lot of this post is my own thoughts on what I think will happen based on information already provided by other sources!



WTCC Japan: Muller seals the title as Norbi & Coronel star...

When the FIA World Touring Car Championship arrives in Japan, it is always embraced fully by the fans and this is due to 2 reasons: Tom Coronel and the fact that the Japanese love their racing...

Well Tom certainly upped the ante this time!

Better get the kettle on before reading this one...

Just before the weekend though, Michel Nykjaer announced that he would no longer be racing for the Swedish Nika Racing team. Due to finances (the bain of all Touring Car drivers) Michel could not complete the season with the team. I can say happily that was a lot of support for the driver and I for one can say he was missed during the 2012 WTCC season and will be during the rest of this season.

Although Michel was part of the Chevrolet Motorsport Sweden team with swedish Touring Car legend Rickard Rydell as his team mate in 2012 in the Super 2000 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, he had a great year and has made strides as a top line Touring Car driver this year. Hopefully he will return next year in the new look WTCC.

Also for the Japan WTCC weekend was the start of the Eurosort Asia Trophy with 9 drivers from Japan, China and Macau registered to take part. Big names racing over the weekend would include Hiroki Yoshimoto who would take Nykjaer's place at Nika Racing, former Honda and Bamboo Chevrolet driver Yukinori Taniguchi replaced Fredy Barth at Weichers-Sport in the BMW and Masaki Kano who would replace an unwell Franz Engstler for this weekend in the BMW 320TC.  

This also marked the first anniversary of Honda entering the WTCC, where 12 months ago Tiago Monteiro entered a JAS Honda Civic built to Super 2000 regulations after enduring a tough year in the SUNRED SEAT Leon. So Honda decided to enter a 4th car or the weekend for Super GT driver Takuya Izawa to celebrate that fact.

However in what proved to be a very close Qualifying session, it would be the Zengo Motorsport Honda Civic of Norbert Michelisz that would take Pole Position on home ground, leaving the works JAS Honda's slightly confused as to where he found the pace from as Michelisz was fastest in Q1 and Q2, setting only one lap in both sessions. Tarquini and Monteiro were not amused...

There were a few surprises in Japan and one of them was Alex MacDowall's increased pace, where he qualified in 2nd place for race one next to Michelisz. Chilton and Muller were on the second row whilst Monteiro joined Nash on the third row or 5th and 6th. Oriola lined up 7th with Tarquini 8th and the BMW's took row 5 with Bennani 9th and Tom Coronel 10th and more importantly, on Pole for race two...

There was another entertaining episode of the "Rob & James Show" with Huff and Thompson fighting it out to get both of their cars into the top 12 for Q2. Both men were successful, however in Q2 Huffy would put his Munnich Motorsport SEAT Leon in 11th whilst Thommo would qualify the Lada Granta in 12th.

In the title race, all Muller needed to do to sew up the title would be to finish 4th or higher in race one, regardless of where Tarquini finished in that race. With Nykjaer out for the season, this meant that Tarquini could fight for 2nd in the title race with Chilton making strides in points after his Sonoma debut win.

In race one, Norbert ran off into the distance. He had pace from the rolling start and made sure he held a gap over the Chevrolets that pursued him. MacDowall managed to hold off Muller after the Frenchman had passed Chilton around the outside of turns 1 and 2.

However Monteiro had ideas on a good showing during the races and things were not to go his way. At the final corner, Tiago understeered and fell down the field to 8th. This would put him into the clutches of Pepe Oriola but more on that later...

Muller tried his best to reel in MacDowall and take 2nd, but the Bamboo driver held off the more experienced RML driver and took 2nd behind Michelisz with Muller 3rd and Chilton in 4th.

Behind them Tarquini retired with technical issues however that saved him from what was a frantic battle that involved Monteiro and Oriola in the Tuenti Racing Cruze. Pepe made it clear over several laps that he was the faster driver and Tiago defended well however it all ended badly as Oriola hit Monteiro at the final corner, causing the Honda driver to retire and the young Chevrolet driver handed a drive through penalty.

All this allowed James Nash to quietly take 5th position whilst James Thompson pulled off the defence of the weekend from a queue of cars behind that included Rob Huff, Tom Coronel, Marc Basseng in the 2nd Munnich Motorsport SEAT and Fernando Monje who made progress though the field to finish 10th. 6th place was the best place finish for a while for the Lada diver and showed that the Lada Granta was an agile car on this kind of circuit.

With his 3rd place finish, Yvan Muller sealed his 4th WTCC Title and beat Andy Priaulx into 2nd in the WTCC records by becoming the series first 4 time WTCC champion. He gave thanks to the RML Team or his title win as he later explained up until one month before the season started, they did not have a program in place. He also explained that from now on he would support Tom Chilton in trying to beat Tarquini to 2nd in the drivers title.

But wait!! That still leaves race two!!

With Bennani on Pole and Coronel alongside him race two was always going to be about which BMW driver had the best start and who would have the best defence. Coronel looked the better of the two as he had saved 2 sets of fresh tyres for the Japanese WTCC weekend.   

This was also the 200th WTCC race since the championship started in 2005 and the first race that took place was also won by a BMW, in that case it was Jorg Muller at Monza.

Bennani made a cracking start and led Coronel into turn one as the rest of the field funnelled in behind. There were two casualties in this race as Michelisz made contact with Muller. Muller retired on the front straight cuasing a safety car whilst Michelisz limped home with a puncture and broken suspension.

At the re-start, Bennani led away from Coronel and the racing between the two BMW drivers was hard but fair and it took the Dutchman until lap 17 to pass the Moroccan who ran wide at turn 2. Coronel took the lead and went on to win the race from Bennani, making this the 3rd win for Coronel in the WTCC and also in Japan.

Mehdi Bennani is another driver who will soon win a WTCC race. he has had at least 3 2nd places this year, all in race two format, but he is fast and young and hopefully that win will come before the end of the season. Monteiro took 3rd for Honda whilst Tarquini made up for the race one retirement by taking 4th behind his team-mate.

James Nash finished in 5th with Tom Chilton not far behind him and keeping close company with the Bamboo driver during the race. Charles Ng took his best ever finish in the Engstler BMW by taking advantage of the tussle at the front and made his way up to finish 7th. Behind him was another frantic battle involving James Thompson in the Lada who at the start of the last lap was in 9th place and looking good for another points finish in the nimble Granta.

But this was not to be. 

During the fight led by MacDowall who was defending from Thommo, Basseng, D'Aste, Darryl O'Young in the 2nd ROAL Motorsport BMW and Monje in the Campos SEAT Leon no quarter was given and none was asked. However Basseng gave Thompson a slight nudge and who in turn nudged MacDowall in the Bamboo Cruze leading to both Brits falling down the order.

In the end, the finishing order behind Huff in 8th was Basseng in 9th and D'Aste in 10th with O'Young taking 11th ahead of Thompson who beat MacDowall to 12th by 1/10th of a second.

So although the East Circuit is not one to the fans liking, yet again it showed that it can offer good racing on the shorter circuit. Lets hope next year that we get to race on the full Grand Prix circuit. I still maintain that the picture of the newer faster 2014 S2000 cars flying through the spectacular 130R corner is one that should happen.

So the series moves on to the Shanghai Grand Prix circuit at the start of November where last year the title race was on between the Works Chevrolet drivers of Huff, Menu and Muller and where Colin Turkington showed what he could do in a WSR run bright yellow Chevrolet Cruze.

This year the field will be joined by a one of appearence of the Polestar Volvo team who have confirmed that they are still interested in the WTCC and that the C30 entered will be driven by 2013 STCC Champion Thed Bjork. This is a "toe in the water" exercise as Volvo still see the WTCC as a viable future option so lets hope this leads to a possible 2015 entry by the Swedish Manufacturer...

Anyway with the next WTCC races not until the beginning of November, there is the small issue of the settling of the British Touring Car Championship, so I'll get started on those blogs in the coming weeks...

Until then, All the best!


Thursday, 19 September 2013

WTCC USA: Muller denied as Chilton & Tarquini win

Since the beginning of the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship when Tom Chilton was announced as team mate to Yvan Muller in the Lukoil RML Chevrolet team, I stated that he was quick enough to take a pole position and a win before the seasons end...

At Sonoma Raceway, he delivered both.

And my god did I cheer!

This years championship has seen overall race wins for Chevrolet drivers Yvan Muller, Michel Nykjaer, James Nash and now Tom Chilton. (Yes I know, Pepe Oriola won a race in Marrakech but that was in a SEAT Leon) Tom has proved this year he can mix it with his more experienced team mate who has been driving the Cruze since 2010 so a win wasnt far away.

As far as the Sonoma WTCC event was concerned, this was the first of the tracks where Yvan Muller could win his fourth WTCC Title. To do it he would needto outscore both Michel Nykjaer and Gabriele Tarquini significantly in both races.

In Qualifying, as well as Chilton taking pole position with Muller on the front row with him, there was one big loser: Tom Coronel. The ROAL Motorsport driver had the speed to get into Q2 but with his time set earlier on in Q1, he lost out to other cars setting faster laps. Tom would start both races in 13th place, but that didn't stop him attacking in both races.

So after Qualifying was over, the race one grid read as: Chilton, Muller, Monteiro, Oriola, MacDowall, Nash, Michelisz, Huff, Nykjaer and Tarquini. This meant that Tarquini was on Pole Position for race two, but bad luck was to befall Nykjaer. After qualifying, his car was adjudged to have a techncal infringement and along with the Campos SEAT drivers of Valente and Monje, he was sent to the back of the grid for race one.

For Muller, this made his attempt at taking the title a little easier as Nykjaer was 2nd in the title race.

In race one, Chilton led from the rolling start and never looked back. However Montiero got a great start from 3rd on the grid and leaped past Muller into 2nd place. The Portuguese Honda driver would do his best to hassle Chilton but he would not get past and with Muller staying in 3rd, the race one podium was set.

Muller did suffer some pressure from the Bamboo Engineering Cruzes of Alex MacDowall and James Nash but held them both off. This ws a good showing from MacDowall as he is yet to take a win this year whilst Nash has a win and the Yokohama Independents title lead. Tarquini brough his Honda Civic home in 6th.

However the battle of race one was down to Huff, Coronel, Basseng, D'Aste, Oriola and the amazing Tom Boardman who started race one in 20th position. This train of cars was being held up by Huff in his Munnich Motorsport SEAT Leon and it was obvious at the time that Coronoel and the others were faster. Oriola fell in with this group after outbraking himself at the chicane earlier in the race.

Nykjaer and Valente made good progress through the field as they hassled James Thompson for 13th place until the last lap when they both made it past the Lada. Whilst the Chevrolet was the car to have, the Lada's wre not happy in the US.

The race finished with Chilton taking his first WTCC from a charging Monteiro with Muller in 3rd. MacDowall, Nash and Tarquini took 4th, 5th and 6th repectivel and behind them came Coronel, who passed Huffy 3 laps from the end with Huff, Basseng and D'Aste rounding out the top 10.

With Nykjaer being put to the back of the grid for race one, this ment that ProTeam driver Mehdi Benanni was promoted to 2nd on the grid for race two. Normally when he's on the front row of the grid for race two, Bennani makes a cracking start but in this case, Tarquini held the BMW at bay to lead into the first corner.

Michelisz lost out to Huff who took third place on the road whilst Tom Chilton got too much wheelspin and fell down the order from his 10th spot. Chilton would make it to 11th place by the end of the race. Huffy would soon retire with a puncture however promoting the Zengo Honda driver to 3rd place.

However Michelisz set off after Benanni and set the fastest lap in the process, but this was soon to be a lesson in defence for the young hungarian. As ever, Muller had made his way through the field passing Montiero, Nash and the retiring Huff and hassled Michelisz to the end. Coronel again fought his way through the field from 12th on the grid to pass Nash, Basseng and D'Aste taking fellow BMW driver Fredy Barth with him for company. Both drivers again showing that the BMW has pace.

So race two finished with Tarquini taking the win from Benanni with Michelisz in 3rd. Muller took 4th with Monteiro, Coronel, Barth, Nash, Basseng and D'Aste rounding out the top ten finishers.

With Tarquini and Michelisz taking 1st and 3rd in race two, this sealed the Manufacturers Title for Honda in 2013. With their only competition being Lada who have not taken a podium or win yet this season, Honda where well and truly pleased to achieve this in their first year as a Works Team in the WTCC.

What this did mean though was that Muller would have to wait for his title until the next round that was due to take place at Suzuka in Japan on the East Curcuit. Howver the chances of him being caught in the title race are slim and both Nykjaer and Tarquini would need Muller to retire from all of the races at Japan, China and Macau...

Not bloody likely...

With the championship now heading to the Asian side of the calendar, this also meant the beginning of the Eurosport Asia Trophy in the WTCC. This is a trophy that is new for this year where any drivers from Japan, China or Macau can take part in Normally Aspirated 2 litre Super 2000 touring cars of even in the current 1.6 litre Turbo S2000 touring cars where they can win prize money. This is done to promote touring car racing in Asia where there is plenty of homegrown talent always wiling to take part in the overall championship.

However I, like many WTCC fans must register my disappointment that the WTCC is again using the East Circuit which is quite imply akin to the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. Hopefully next year, the FIA and the WTCC will find the money and allow the series to race on the Gand Prix circuit.

What a sight it would be to see the new breed of Super 2000 cars at full chat coming through the 130R corner...

Anyway, as you can tell I'm catching up on my blogs again and pretty soon I should have the Japan blog up.

Until then, Cheers!


Sunday, 15 September 2013

2013 BTCC Final Three Races Catchup

So after checking my blog, it would seem that I haven't posted since 28th September. My apologies for that as it was down to an intense hunt for work.

Thankfully I can say that I am now employed so I can get back to the blogging!! Now normally I would put a blog out about each BTCC round but I have decided to for go that to do a catchup.

Whats also obvious is that the whole month of October has past and we now have a newly crowned BTCC Champion in the form of Andrew Jordan. And well done to him. He's looked the most committed and the most willing to take the fight to the four established BTCC Champions competing this year: Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden.

Better get the kettle on.... Yup its one of those long ones...

Maybe a few biscuits too...

Things swung in Jordan's favour at Rockingham. Although he had won races previously in the season, Jordan often qualified behind Neal for the first race on Sunday and needed a change of luck. That luck came in the form of what was to be a bad day for Matt himself.

While Plato stuck his MG on pole for race one with Rob Austin alongside him in his NGTC Audi A4, Jordan had a spectacular first lap that left him with a lead he wouldn't lose. An accident involving Andy Neate, Ollie Jackson and Dan Welch brought out the safety car and when racing resumed, Neal spun down to 14th in the damp but drying conditions. Whilst Jordan won from Mat Jackson and Rob Austin, he also took the championship points lead. Shedden, Plato and Turkington were 4th, 5th and 6th followed by Collard, Newsham, Jack Goff and Wrathall.

In fact 9th place for the Team HARD. driver was the beginning of a welcome return for Jack Goff after missing the three Knockhill races and the beginning of an impressive turn of speed that the former Clio Cup star is known for...

He's one to watch...

Race two will probably go down as the most fan popular race of the season. Rob Austin powered "Sherman" into the lead at the start and stayed there, taking his first BTCC overall win in drying conditions. Rob has taken podiums throughout this season and a switch to the TOCA 2 litre turbo engine has paid dividends. However it wasnt an easy win as Shedden and Turkington progressed forward to pressure Austin.

Matt Neal suffered retirement on lap 10 and Jordan finished 8th. After the race three draw, Jordan was picked for pole and he drove hard for the win to take a second race win from Sunday. He was chased home by Turkington and Plato but in turned kept his championship lead and that was vital as the BTCC headed to Silverstone.

Other drivers who showed an upturn in performance at Rockingham were Dave Newsham in the Speedworks Toyota, Mat Jackson in the Airwaves Ford and Sam Tordoff who returned to his usual top six position in the championship. Tom Onslow-Cole had a quiet return with Airwaves whilst Team HARD. debutants Howard Fuller and Andy Wilmot showed good speed in the Vauxhall Insignia and VW Passat respectively. Meanwhile Lea Wood won the inaugural Jack Sears Trophy by taking three wins in the S2000 class at Rockingham.

The high speed nature of the Silverstone National Circuit normally favours the faster MG compared to the more nimble Honda but this year was honours even between the two marques in my opinion. With 45kgs on board in qualifying presenting a new challenge for Jordan, the aim for him was clear: leave Silverstone with the points lead intact.

Whilst Plato took pole for race one in an MG 1-2 front row lock out, Jordan lined up 10th with title contenders Turkington 4th, Neal 9th and  Shedden in 16th. Whilst Plato led Tordoff to a 1-2 finish, Newsham starred from 3rd on the grid on lap one but a spin on cold tyres dropped him down the order. However all four NGTC Toyota's would show great speed on race day and soon places were made up. Behind the MG's Neal took 3rd whilst Turkington was 4th, both drivers trying to close the gap on Jordan who finished race one in 6th, shedding his weight for race two.

Whilst Plato roared off the line, things exploded behind with Austin, Wrathall and Onslow-Cole making contact, causing an early safety car period. This allowed a ballast free, soft tyre shod Jordan to quickly move forward when racing resumed and soon he was hassling Plato for the lead. Although there was contact between them, the racing stayed fair and Airwaves Ford driver Aron Smith joined the fight in the final laps. Plato went on to win from Jordan and Smith.

Turkington was 5th behind Tordoff whilst Neal held off Shedden, Newsham, Welch and Jackson for 6th which after the race three draw would give the Honda driver pole. Indeed the performances from Neal (with a broken finger) and Welch (with injuries from his crash with Andy Neate at Rockingham) were standout due to injuries they drove with. However another man on a mission was Gordon Shedden, looking to retain his title from 2012.

Shedden went onto win race three from Aron Smith, taking another podium and showed the ever improved pace of the Airwaves Focus. Neal was 3rd and with Jordan finishing in 5th and Plato 7th, things were looking good for Jordan. However Turkingtons hope took a battering blow after Mat Jackson tried a move at Copse that resulted in contact and retirement for the Ebay BMW driver.

Other drivers of note from Silverstone were the Toyota's of Dave Newsham and Ollie Jackson at Speedworks, both whom enjoyed a great battle with Ciceley Racing's Adam Morgan during races two and three. Also Aiden Moffat who replaced Andy Wilmot in the VW Passat and scored his first points as well. Moffat had an outing in the Finesse Motorsport S2000 Chevrolet Cruze at Knockhill but suffered mechanical issues.

However here is another youngster racing for Team HARD. and at Silverstone he showed good pace...

For Jordan it was mission accomplished as the series headed for Brands Hatch and Finals Day. Andy led Matt Neal by 34 points and Gordon Shedden by 35. Turkington was 48 behind with Plato 49 behind. However with a Maximum of 67 points on offer, all five drivers had a chance. Even Plato who had ruled himself out of the title race and there would be surprises to come on a wet and horrible race day...

Race one saw Plato and Tordoff lock out the front row with Jordan hussling his Pirtek Racing Honda to 3rd. Championship contenders Shedden took 4th with Turkington 6th for the grid. Both Matt Neal and Aron Smith suffered crashes in qualifying whilst Jake Hill showed good pace by qualifying the 2nd Rob Austin Racing Audi in 10th place. Hill showed well in the wet conditions earlier in the year at Croft where he took a JST win in the S2000 Focus.

In the race itself Plato moved into the lead whilst Shedden moved ahead of both Jordan and Tordoff to keep pressure on the MG in the wet conditions, typically the achilles heel of the NGTC built car. Turkington was eliminated on lap one after being spun round and making head on contact with his team mate Nick Foster.

Tom Onslow-Cole was having a better weekend and managed to pass Andrew Jordan to take 4th after Jordan went wide at Graham Hill bend in the slippery conditions. He also outshone the regular Airwaves Ford frivers Mat Jackson and Aron Smith who finished in 9th and 10th. However Andy kept his title lead intact even with Neal making his way up to 6th at the end of race one.

Then came race two and the biggest twist in the 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship...

Plato led home Tordoff for another MG 1-2 finish, proving that race one was no flash in the pan with Mat Jackson third, but earlier in the race disaster struck the title aspirations for Jordan. Coming into Surtees on lap 2, Jordan left the door open letting Aron Smith pounce for position. However Smith passed Jordan for position and then made contact with Rob Collard in his BMW. Jordan was forced to try and avoid Collard and Neal made contact with the Pirtek Honda on the left rear wheel.

Andy was out in what was his first retirement all season. Thats how good this guy has been in 2013. I can tell you that the missus and I cried out in despair as we watched, horrified that Andy could lose out on his title in waiting that he was working so hard on.

Whilst Plato went on to win, Neal retired during race two and then the engine bay caught fire to add further despair to his title hopes which were now over. Shedden finished in 7th place and after Alan Gow did the race three draw, this put the 2012 champion on pole with Team HARD's Jack Goff alongside.

See, told you that guy Goff was fast...

So the title now fell to three men. Jordan, Plato and Shedden. It was a simple permutation. Shedden needed to win with Jordan not in the points. But if Plato was in a podium position, Jordan needed to be 7th.

Race three began with Shedden taking the lead from Goff who was right behind the Works Honda and pushing him in the wet, hard. It was obvious there was pace in the Insignia and a possible win was on the cards. Whilst Goff hassled Shedden, Jordan was making his way up through the field whilst Plato was falling back on max ballast in the worsening conditions.

The turning point came when Jordan passed Plato for 9th. From that point on the title was Andy's and we tantalisingly watched as Plato circulated behind the Honda whilst Shedden did everything he could to hold off Goff. Jack gave 110% and it was his best performance of the season taking 2nd in the race behind Shedden and adding another podium to the three that Tom Onslow-Cole took in the VW Passat at Thruxton and Croft. That capped off an up and down year for the Kent based team having built their own NGTC Cars.

But all congratulations finally go to Andrew Jordan, not only 2013 overall Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion but also 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Independent Champion. After the ups and downs of the 2012 season, he came back a drove a determined and driven season. He is a deserving champion and a popular champion.

Finally the overall standings at the end of a spectacular BTCC season:

Andrew Jordan    397pts
Gordon Shedden  390pts
Jason Plato          380pts
Matt Neal              356pts
Colin Turkington  347pts
Sam Tordoff         286pts
Adam Morgan     233pts
Mat Jackson       225pts
Aron Smith          201pts
Dave Newsham  176pts

Now I realise the BTCC season is over but I will try to keep you updated with any news as its released regarding developments on the 2014 BTCC and WTCC seasons.

I'll also be keeping an eye on the last two WTCC race weekends at China and Macau.

So stay warm and enjoy your weekend!!



Tuesday, 10 September 2013

BTCC Knockhill: RWD Dominates the day...

Colin Turkington stamped his authority on raceday and his intent to win the 2013 version of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill by taking two dominant wins whilst Rob Austin showed much improved form in his popular Audi A4 "Sherman"

Better go and put that kettle on...

Matt Neal said at the start of the season that along with Plato, Shedden, Jordan and himself, that Turkington was not to be ruled out of the title race and the 2009 BTCC Champion proved that at Knockhill making sure that the 2013 title fight would continue to remain close.

MG, however, had a weekend to forget at the scottish venue with both MG6's showing to be uncompetitive in the days three races and putting Plato on the backfoot in the championship. Both the Honda and BMW teams would make gains and show that since the mid-season break they are the cars to beat.

There were some new and old faces that joined/returned to the BTCC at Knockhill. Fan favourite and ITV4 Pundit Paul O'Neill signed a deal with Team HARD to take part in all three races in a Vauxhall Insignia. He was joined by scottish driver Kieran Gallagher who would drive the 2nd Team HARD Vauxhall Insignia. It is hoped that in 2014, O'Neill will be a full time driver in the ever expanding Team HARD roster.

16 year old racer Aiden Moffat would join Finesse Motorsport in the S2000 Chevrolet Cruze that Joe Girling piloted earlier in the season and would also take Tom Chilton's record for being the youngest diver to take part in the BTCC. Renault Clio Cup racer Mike Bushell replaced Andy Neate in the IP Tech NGTC Chevrolet Cruze after a positive test at Snetterton.

As is the way when the championship makes its annual trek north of the border, there are a few who can't or don't make the trip for budget or other reasons. James Kaye and Shaun Hollamby's AmD team didn't make the trip, neither did Andy Jordan's Pirtek Racing team mate Jeff Smith.

In qualifying for race one, Rob Austin took a surprise Pole Position by 47 thousandths of a second from Colin Turkington, ensuring an all RWD front row for race one. Andrew Jordan would show his awesome qualifying pace that has become the norm this season by taking 3rd place. However due to his third visit with the stewards at Snetterton, Jordan had a 6 place penalty and this left him 9th after adjusted times.

There was a break during qualifying as Warren Scott went off at Scotsman corner in his NGTC VW Passat and both O'Neill and Gallagher made a good start to their partnership as Paul ran into the back of Kieran during the session. Paul would start 17th in race one in what turned out to be a difficult race day for the fan's favourite.

So the top ten for race one was Austin on Pole, Turkington, Shedden, Plato, Neal, Morgan, Wrathall, Tordoff, Jordan and an excellent 10th place for Dan Welch in "Optimus" the Proton. Lea Wood took Pole Position for the Jack Sears Trophy from Liam Griffin.

I am so loving the fact of the names that some of these NGTC Touring Cars have... "Sherman"..."Optimus" Naming your BTCC car for the season or for good should be mandatory.

Race one would see Austin get a great start off the line with Turkington and Shedden in pursuit all fighting for the lead. On lap 2, all three drivers would arrive at the hairpin side by side and thats where Turkington pounced, taking the lead from Austin with Shedden pouncing later to take 2nd from the Audi driver. However whilst Turkington disappeared into a lead he would not lose, Austin would chase the Honda Civic driver all the way but with no way past on the tight scottish circuit to regain his position.

Toyota driver Adam Morgan showed that once again he was not afraid of fighting with the big guns of the championship by passing Matt Neal and Jason Plato on his way to 4th position. Jordan would only move up one spot to 8th by the end  shedding his success ballast for the 2nd race. Rob Collard in the 2nd Ebay BMW 125i would prove a revelation during the race, starting 12th and finally finishing 6th, showing that he has lost none of his talent in the team. Team mate Nick Foster however would have a run in with Paul O'Neill during the race, resulting in contact with the Team HARD driver, sending him into the barriers. Paul would not take part in race two due to the damage and would suffer further issues in race three.

Lets hope he gets a full season with the team next year in one of their NGTC cars.

After a brief safety car period, the racing resumed with Turkington taking the win from Shedden and Austin joining him on the podium. Morgan would finish 4th ahead of Plato, Collard, Neal, Jordan and Tordoff with Aron Smith taking 10th place in the Airwaves Ford. Liam Griffin took the JST win ahead of Lea Wood.

Race two offered more of the same excitement. Turkington motored into a lead he would never lose and this time with 45kgs of success ballast also added to the BMW. 4 laps in he had a 5 second lead! Austin make another great start in the Audi and managed to pass Shedden into the first turn, using the RWD start to his advantage. Shedden had no answer to the Audi this time around and they would finish in that order.

Rob Collard showed that he was definitely a man on form by moving his way from 6th on the grid in race two to 4th by the end. This was helped when Morgan pulled off with technical issues with the Toyota whilst the handling problems that plagued Plato in race one got worse with the MG driver falling back down the order.

Matt Neal found the lighter Honda more to his liking and with Plato falling back made his way up to 5th, but he had to fend off the attentions of his title rival Andy Jordan in the Pirtek Honda who, with no weight either, was on a mission to try and force the 3 time BTCC champion into a mistake. Neal held off the Pirtek Charger til the end, but whilst Turkington gained on points in the title race, Jordan was reducing the gap between himself and Neal.

Something that has bugged me is Andrew Jordan's ability to end up with Neal one place ahead or behind him in the races this year. Andy needs a break with either Neal retiring or with several cars scoring points between them.

Plato and Tordoff suffered handling issues whilst the Airwaves Focus was making an impact again. That Focus in 2012 was a revelation but this year it has been a work in progress. Whilst Aron Smith retired, Mat Jackson would have an entertaining fight with Speedworks driver Dave Newsham until the end also. Griffin took his 2nd JST Trophy during the race.

Who says short tight tracks make racing boring...

Race Three offered its usual action packed excitement as it does at all the BTCC venues. Andy Jordan was chosen for race three pole and duly led away from the start, repeating the same show that Turkington had dislayed earlier in the day by building a gap. Even a delayed safety car period to remove Warren Scotts stricken VW didnt worry the Pirtek driver.

Behind, Matt Neal and Rob Collard renewed thier old rivalry as they fought for 2nd place. Neal eventually managed to pass the BMW driver for 2nd and would try to catch Jordan but he was too far gone by the finish. Collard fell into the clutches of title chasing team mate Turkington and for a while it seems that the Ebay BMW team may employ team orders. But this didn't happen and after the race Turkington confirmed that it was still too early for team orders to be employed...

Rob Austin would take 5th place by the end after a great battle with Shedden, however this ended on lap 17 when the scottish Honda driver retired the Civic at turn one with flames belching from the car. Gordon escaped the car unhurt and the race carried on. Austin was followed by Plato and a hard charging Dan Welch in the Proton. Mat Jackson improved during the race whilst there were 10 retirements including O'Neill, Scott, Tom Onslow-Cole, Sam Tordoff, Newsham and Wrathall.

This allowed some of the other drivers to score points, with Adam Morgan making his way back into the points from the back of the grid, chasing the BMW of Nick Foster all the way to the end. Lea Wood would take the JST win in the 3rd race of the day.


After race three, it ws revealed that Colin Turkingtons BMW had overboosted during the race and this showed during telemetry that wilt the problem cured itself, he did enjoy a "boost" and was thus disqualified from the results.

Now my thoughts on this are echoed by fans of the BTCC. It was made clear that this was an issue set by a TOCA supplied part that malfunctioned and was not Colin's fault nor the teams fault. In fact this is what comes of TOCA adjusting the boosts on the cars for their balance of performance.

Of course if the boost was left at the same damn level on every car...

Anyway, race three finished with Jordan winning from Neal and Collard, followed by Austin, Plato, Welch, Jackson, Foster, Morgan and Will Bratt in the 2nd Rob Austin Racing Audi.

This left the championship still being led by Matt Neal as the championship headed off to Rockingham but with Andy Jordan only 6 points behind him. Shedden was in third on 266 points whilst Turkington was close behind on 263 points. Plato fell to 5th in the table on 239 points and soon declared afterwards that he was out of the title fight and that he was gunning for wins from now on.

That means that from now on, Jason is on a mission and in the right conditions that MG is bloody fast... Silverstone will be interesting...

After the Knockhill BTCC race weekend, Tom Onslow-Cole announced that due to performance issues with the VW Passat, he would not be racing in the last three weekends of the season and that these issues negated his 3 year contract with Team HARD. This led to Howard Fuller being signed for the last three race weekends at Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch of the season in the Vauhall Insignia as team mate to the returning Jack Goff.

But on the eve of the Rockingham BTCC weekend, TOC then announced that he had been snapped up by the Airwaves Ford squad to race the 3rd NGTC Ford Focus that Michael Caine drove at Croft earlier in the year. With a team like Airwaves taking on TOC, this is sure to up the game of its regular drivers Mat Jackson and Aron Smith, who incurred a six place grid penalty for Rockingham due to some robust driving at Knockhill.

This move also allowed Team HARD regular driver Andy Wilmot to realise his dream by signing up to drive the Passat at Rockingham only....

And so the game of musical chairs in the BTCC continues...

However I praise Team HARD as it is fast recognising good talent in the series and offering those drivers a chance to race in competitive NGTC Machinery, be it the Vauxhall Insignia or the VW Passat that has taken podiums this year considering the lack of development its had. I often refer to the team as the "Sauber" of the BTCC, offering the new and young talents that want to take part in the UK's top domestic motorsport series each season a chance to.

So, i'll leave you all with this late blog entry and my apologies, well aware that just 4 days ago we watched the action from all three BTCC races at Rockingham. Fear not, that blogs a-coming too...

To be honest I am behind as I am still currently looking for work. I completed a 2 week course which should open up some possibilities soon. But, fear not fellow TinTop fans!!! My enthusiasm has not dimmed!!

I'll leave you to your evening and let you enjoy that cup of tea thats due.