Tuesday, 27 May 2014

BTCC 2014: Church Corner dominates at Thruxton...

The third weekend of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship saw the action move to the high speed Thruxton circuit and add more action to an already action packed, fever pitch season.

Coming to Thruxton, Andrew Jordan and Jason Plato were tied in the drivers  championship lead and things would change after this event in the points table with three eventful races to come.

In Qualifying, Jordan took Pole Position from the works Honda Civic Tourer's of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden. Mat Jackson qualified an impressive 4th in the Airwaves Focus, with the car now looking to be on front running pace. Tom Ingram carried on his amazing qualifying pace to net a best ever 5th position whilst the two MG6's of Jason Plato and Sam Tordoff were 6th and 7th respectively. Collard qualified 8th with Alain Menu 9th and Adam Morgan completing the top ten.

Race One saw Rob Collard make his usual lightning start to jump from 8th to 5th by the time they reached the complex. Mat Jackson too made a cracking start to be second by the time they were flying towards Church corner. He passed both the Honda's and set after Jordan who had kept the lead. Further back Menu passed Tordoff at Church for position as Jackson mounted an attack on Jordan for the lead coming into Club Chicane. Andy held him off, but it was a sign that the Airwaves Focus was fast again...

Jackson spent the next few laps hassling Jordan whilst the Honda's of Neal and Shedden stayed close. James Cole and Warren Scott clashed on lap 3 at Club whilst Chris Stockton in the BTC Racing Chevrolet Cruze had retired with mechanical issues. Cole's Toyota was written off at Donington and he was using a spare chassis provided by Speedworks Motorsport at Thruxton. They would be busy bunnies after the Thruxton weekend, but thats later on...

By lap 5, Jackson was falling back into the clutches of Neal and Shedden and was down to 4th by lap 8. Behind these guys was an epic scrap between Collard, Plato, Menu, Morgan and Turkington, who started 13th! Turkington passed Morgan on lap 9. Ingram meanwhile had fallen back down the order from his 5th place grid spot due to a bad set of tyre pressures. Plato pressured Collard in the late stages but that led to no avail.

The field stayed pretty static at that stage and it was Andrew Jordan who won the race on maximum ballast from the two Honda Civic Tourers of Neal and Shedden. Jackson took 4th from Collard and Plato with Menu, Turkington, Morgan and Tordoff completing the top ten places.

Race two saw Jordan lead from Shedden whilst Neal boxed in the fast starting Collard and Jackson held off Turkington, with the BMW's once again using their RWD starts to good effect. At the Complex Shedden made a bid for the lead and outbraked himself, allowing Collard to close on Jordan with Shedden now back in third. At the end of lap one Jordan led from Collard, Shedden, Jackson, Neal, Plato, Turkington, Menu, Morgan and Giovanardi, himself having made a few places on lap one.

Shedden closed down Collard for 2nd whilst Jordan built a gap. Menu was handed a Drive through penalty for being out of position at the start, something he was quite angry about later on, whilst further back Stockton retired from race two with further mechanical woes. Jack Goff had a good start, hassling Tordoff and Giovanardi as the Insignia got quicker and quicker. On lap 3, Shedden passed Collard for 2nd place and set after Jordan. On lap 6, Goff finally passed Tordoff and Giovanardi for 9th position after some hefty fighting. On lap 8, Neal passed Jackson for 4th in a very close side by side pass with Turkington in close company.

By lap 9 Shedden was hooked onto the tail of the Pirtek Civic and looking to take the race lead. Goff meanwhile had caught up to Plato and Morgan and set about trying to pass Morgan for 8th. Newsham lost it coming into Club Chicane on lap 10 and fell down the order. On lap 11, Shedden capitalised on a small error from Jordan and took the lead from there. Turkington spent most of the race hunting Jackson but the Focus was proving to be a match for the BMW in its newer faster guise.

On lap 15 there was contact between Foster and Austin at Church Corner with the BMW going backwards into the tyre barrier and then over it, whilst Austin managed to rejoin the track. Foster got out of the car ok and was soon back in the pits, but the incident brought out the red flags, stopping the race on lap 15.

Church Corner would claim a few more scalps later on in race three...

With the race red flagged, Shedden would go on to win the race from Jordan with Collard joining them on the podium in 3rd. Neal, Jackson and Turkington were 4th to 6th whilst Plato, Morgan, Goff and Giovanardi completed the top ten. To add to this Gio picked position 10 for the race three reversed pole position. This season its been agreed that whoever is 10th is race two picks the reverse grid draw and it worked out well for the Italian.

At the start, Gio led away with Turkington getting another rocket start, passing both Goff and Morgan before the Complex sequence of corners. At the Complex, there was contact between Collard and Morgan, sending the WIX Racing Mercedes into a slide, only for him to come back and make contact with Plato. Plato would retire with suspension damage. At Church, Turkington passed Gio for the lead and made a break for it ahead of the Airwaves Focus who had Goff and Collard in close company.

Behind them were Jackson, Jordan, Shedden, Neal, Rob Austin who made it up to 9th place and Tordoff suffering in 10th. Goff harried Gio over the next few laps, not afraid to hassle the former two time champion. Jackson began closing down on the both of them, however the safety car came out, with the first talking point of race three...

Now I've spent a few days scrutinising this one to make sure I get it right. Goff was going to pass Gio at Church, however both men saw the yellow flags and backed off. But at the next marshalling post after Church, the flag is green and Jackson took advantage of this by passing Goff before the next marshalling post at Club Chicane which had a yellow flag and SC Board out. So Jackson's move on Goff was done in a green sector of the course.

However the reason for the safety car was due to Ollie Jackson going off at Church and his car clearing the tyre barrier and hitting a tree. The tyre barrier itself taking a battering from the earlier incident with Nick Foster hitting it and going over it.

Racing resumed on lap 9 with Turkington leading from Gio and Jackson with Goff now 4th ahead of Collard, Jordan, Shedden and Neal, Morgan and Tordoff, with Aron Smith up to 11th after a torrid time in qualifying led to him having a big accident in the Team BMR VW Passat and starting from the back. Jordan attempted a pass on Collard which failed allowed the Civic Tourers to close on him and attack for position. Smith passed Tordoff for 10th on lap 9 also. Neal hassled Jordan as Jordan hassled Collard but then we had Safety Car No. 2...

Simon Belcher suffered a failure in the Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis leading to it going straight on at Church Corner, hitting what was left of the tyre barrier and ploughing straight through it, going into a barrel role. He left the car OK but this meant a rapid rebuild of the tyre barrier and to further slow things down, double waved yellows at Church.

Turkington headed the field on lap 13 as the race got going again with the Airwaves duo of Gio and Jackson close behind. Jordan passed Collard at Club for 5th on lap 15, whilst Shedden passed Neal as they hunted Collard. Coming into Club Shedden touched the back of Collard's BMW, sending him up the escape road and back out ahead of the Honda's again. The pace of the Honda was quicker than the BMW and there would more to come...

Up ahead Jackson passed Gio for second and held up Goff, allowing Jordan and Collard to close on the Insignia and Jordan to pass him on the run to Church. Shedden passed Collard behind them and then passed Goff, under double waved yellows, at Church. The positions would be swapped after the race by the stewards. Goff then defended from Collard and Neal which led to more contact between the BMW and the Honda. Neal touched the back of Collard going through Allard, unsettling the BMW and allowing Neal to come alongside. Obviously fed up with being hit by Honda's, Collard then drove straight on as Neal tried to turn into the corner with the result being both cars going off.

This later resulted in Collard going and having a "polite chat" with Honda team and in my opinion, a fair right too...

On the last lap Jordan, Shedden and Goff attacked Gio for 3rd whilst Smith made it into 7th. But it would be Turkington who would hold on for the win ahead of Jackson, Gio, Jordan, Shedden, Goff, Smith, Morgan, Tordoff and Collard.

Race three was an action packed, incident strewn affair with questions a plenty raised about driving standards, marshall flags and the safety of Church Corner with social media exploding over the decisions taken. There were plenty of penalties and penalty points handed out and also a lot of work to do for both Welch Motorsport and Handy Motorsport as both teams look to rebuild their cars for the Oulton Park round in June. Hopefully we should also see the return of Robb Holland in his popular Oakley Racing Audi S3 and a full field, but time will tell...

As for the Church Corner debate, my thoughts on it are this. Put a triple layer tyre barrier in place and cut back some of the trees there. Dont put a gravel trap in as this will cause cars to barrel roll, making an accident bigger than it should be. Maybe even some run off tarmac to slow things down but again this is just a view, not a recommendation.

Next up is Oulton Park and for me and possibly many other fans, this meeting could be the biggest of the season. As well as the BTCC and its TOCA support package, the Super Touring Car Championship is holding two races over the Oulton weekend with the Sunday race broadcast live on Sunday!!! Live Super Tourers again!!! It reminds me of 1999 all over again... There are 29 cars entered with popular names including John Cleland and Patrick Watts taking part.

This is certain to be another exciting chapter in the 2014 BTCC Season as this year the International Circuit is used for the first time by the series since 1996. Back then Joachim Winkelhock dominated the weekend in the BMW 320is along with Rickard Rydell in his Volvo S40. However Oulton is traditionally a good circuit for both MG and BMW with Plato and Turkington needing big points in the championship to catch Jordan.

Oulton is going to be a cracker!!!



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