Tuesday, 26 August 2014

BTCC 2014: Chaos reigns at Knockhill...

Knockhill was the host to the seventh weekend of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and it provided one of the most exciting weekends racing this year with plenty of topsy turvy action from the small Scottish venue.

Qualifying on the circuit with 31 powerful NGTC cars was always going to be a lottery but it was eBay Motors’ Colin Turkington who was the fastest driver in qualifying, however it will be MG’s Sam Tordoff who starts from pole position after the BMW driver’s grid penalty from Snetterton is applied.

Turkington rose to the top of the times after 16 minutes of the session – which took place on a drying track – and improved his time twice inside the final few minutes to ensure he took pole by 0.464 seconds from Tordoff. However Turkington will start Sunday’s first race from ninth following his eight place grid penalty from Snetterton for contact with Matt Neal.

Behind Tordoff was 2013 poleman Rob Austin, who posted his best lap inside the final few seconds of the half-hour session. Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan was the top Honda driver in fourth, beating the works’ Civic Tourers of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, who were fifth and sixth fastest respectively.

MG’s Jason Plato was seventh fastest, 0.636 seconds off the pace and unable to match his team-mate around the short Scottish circuit. Airwaves Racing’s Mat Jackson was eighth fastest ahead of eBay Motors duo Rob Collard and Nick Foster in ninth and tenth. However Collard, like Turkington, also has a grid penalty for race one which will see him demoted to the back of the grid for having passed under yellow flags at Snetterton – his third offence of the season.

There were season-best qualifying performances from the drivers just outside the top ten, with United Autosport’s local driver Glynn Geddie and Rob Austin Racing’s Hunter Abbott  in 11th and 12th respectively.

Following his engine change after free practice, Tom Ingram was 14th fastest in his Speedworks Toyota, ahead of Alain Menu in 15th who was the top Team BMR driver.

The session was briefly red-flagged after ten minutes when Chris Stockton went off at Leslies, whilst there was also an off for Abbott at Scotsman Corner. Handy Motorsport’s Simon Belcher suffered a snapped driveshaft in the session and qualified in 29th after only completing six laps.

Matt Neal claimed his first victory of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship season in a crazy opening race at Knockhill, with Rob Austin in second and Gordon Shedden in third.

The triumph marked Neal’s first visit to the top step of the podium in more than a year and it was also his first win in the Honda Civic Tourer, but there were greater repercussions further down the order as a retirement for championship leader Colin Turkington saw his advantage in the title race over Shedden reduced to nine points.

As the race got underway, Sam Tordoff converted his pole into a first lap lead ahead of Austin in his Audi A4, as the field safely negotiated the opening couple of tours with little change in position.

But the serenity of the start was not in tune with what was to come, as plenty of action and a spate incidents ensued in front of a bumper crowd at the Scottish circuit. Shedden set the tone of what was to come with a late, deep lunge on the inside of Andrew Jordan’s Honda for third at the end of lap four for third place, with Tordoff escaping at the front as Austin took time to heat his tyres.

The first incident of the day came in the middle of the pack as Robb Holland and Dan Welch were both forced to retire after contact. Chris Stockton had passed the Audi driver at the start of the lap and as those behind looked to pile the pressure on, Welch caught one of the curbs and was launched into the side of Holland’s car, breaking his front suspension and forcing the pair to crawl back to the pits.

The decision was taken not to deploy the safety car but the leading five cars were still able to bunch themselves up as Austin dragged Shedden, Jordan and Neal towards Tordoff at the front.

On lap 11 Austin took a look up the inside of the MG at the hairpin, but the move put him on the back foot as he was forced to defend from Shedden’s Honda, who soon moved into second after tapping the rear of the Audi, forcing Austin to lift off and drop to fifth.

Behind the leading group, Jason Plato headed an increasingly long gaggle of cars as he struggled for pace (apparently... Its amazing that he set fastest race at the end of the race...) and as those behind bunched up, Nick Foster spun the United Autosports Toyota Avensis of Glynn Geddie from ninth, the Scot having put in his most impressive showing in the series until that point.

Back at the front, Tordoff slowly began to edge away again as Shedden struggled slightly, and Jordan sensed a chance to pounce as he made a move for second at the start of lap 15. Shedden looked to immediately retake the position, but slight contact through Duffus sent the Honda backwards down the hill, as he crashed into the reigning champion at McIntyre, allowing Neal and Austin into second and third and forcing Jordan to retire.

After starting from ninth after a grid penalty, Turkington had latched onto the back of Plato’s MG in the battle for what was now fifth but was continually unable to pass the two-time champion down the main straight. That changed on lap 18 though as Jackson bumped the BMW coming out of the hairpin, pushing Turkington past Plato as they headed into turn one.

Any thoughts of a podium for the eBay Motors driver were soon quashed however, as he was eliminated from the race just a corner later. After running wide, Plato was forced to slow to avoid contact which allowed Jackson to pass up the inside into McIntyre, but making slight contact with the MG’s rear pushed Plato sideways, who in turn touched the rear-left of Turkington’s car and punted the championship leader into the gravel trap.

The incident was yellow flagged for a lap, and that was crucial as Neal had moved onto the back of Tordoff’s tail while the drama behind them had unraveled, and passed the MG for the lead on lap 19 – just before the safety car was eventually deployed to recover Turkington’s stricken car.

There was more drama to come as Tordoff slowed and pulled off the circuit on lap 22, just as the safety car was about to return to the pits. The 25-year-old was able to rejoin, but finished the race down in 24th.

Neal led away as the race restarted, with five laps left to run after the race distance was extended. Austin, who was now back in second, initially fell back once more but retained his composure to rapidly close in on the Honda driver.

Despite narrowing the gap in the last three laps, the Audi man was not close enough for a pass into the hairpin and Neal was left to seal victory by 0.230s from Austin, as Shedden fended off Jackson for the final podium slot.

Plato had a quiet but effective run to fifth, ahead of Morgan, Ingram, Smith, Newsham and Foster, who rounded out the top ten.

Mat Jackson went on to win his and his Airwaves Racing team’s first British Touring Car Championship race in nearly two years as he kept his cool to beat Jason Plato into second and Rob Austin into third in race two at Knockhill.

Jackson’s win – his 20th in the series – came as the championship battle took another intriguing twist, as Shedden dropped down the order after a collision with Austin at the start while Turkington drove a near-perfect race as he recovered to fourth.

Matt Neal led the field as the race got underway, but Austin drew ahead of the Honda as they plunged into turn one, attempting to go around the three-time champion through Duffus. While he briefly took the lead, the Audi driver was forced to run onto the infield and Neal regained top spot, but as Shedden looked to have taken second, Jackson also attempted to pass Austin and contact between the trio forced Shedden around, as he dropped to 28th.

The safety car was brought out immediately to cover the incident at McIntyre, where Warren Scott had also crashed, but with the BMR Restart driver and Shedden both able to get going again, the racing resumed on lap three with Neal leading from Jackson, Plato and Austin.

Neal looked as though he was moving slightly on the grid prior to the race start, and sure enough found himself with a drive-through penalty for a jump start, which he served at the end of the fourth lap which allowed Jackson into first, a position that he would not relinquish until the end of the race.

Indeed, the Airwaves Racing driver stretched his lead at the front as Plato kept a charging Austin at bay, the Audi driver once again coming on strong after he had the opportunity to get his tyres up to working temperature.

While the Hondas had gone backwards, Turkington was able to make sensational progress – he moved from his starting position of 27th to 20th on the first lap alone – and by lap nine he was into 11th place after two smart passes on Marc Hynes and Alain Menu.

Turkington’s teammate Rob Collard was also enjoying the second race, as he carved his way into the top ten after sliding through past Aron Smith and getting by Dave Newsham’s Ford Focus for sixth on lap 14, and the pair continued their progress until they reached Adam Morgan in fourth, when on lap 23 Collard allowed the championship leader past to ensure he took full advantage of Shedden’s misfortunes. The eBay Motors drivers both got past Morgan’s Mercedes on the straight the next time round, and held their respective fourth and fifth places to the line.

Ahead of them, the gaps between the front three remained the same until the line, with Jackson taking the chequered flag two seconds ahead of Plato who just held off Austin. With Turkington, Collard and Morgan next up, equaled his season’s best finish with seventh place, and Dave Newsham kept up his fine form at his ‘home’ race with eighth, ahead of Jackson’s teammate Fabrizio Giovanardi.

Nick Foster in the third BMW would start the final race of the day from pole, after he selected his tenth-place finish for pole in the reverse-grid draw. Foster had been on course to finish in 11th, but Aron Smith moved over on him on the exit of the hairpin on the last lap and catapulted himself into the infield tyre barrier, allowing Foster to claim the final spot in the top ten.

Rob Collard ended his two season-long wait for victory in the British Touring Car Championship as he won the final race of the day from Dave Newsham who scored a phenomenal maiden podium for his AmD Tuning team and championship leader Colin Turkington.

The eBay Motors team had extra reason to be cheerful with Foster following championship leader Turkington home to complete a 1-3-4 for the team, but while Collard’s victory was richly deserved, Newsham’s drive to second was the highlight as the 47-year-old fended off the BMWs with a determined drive made all the more poignant after the loss of his mother on Thursday night.

It was Foster who held onto his first place off the line when the race started, and with everyone seemingly on their best behaviour, Collard’s jump from sixth to third was the only noteworthy change in the order on the opening lap.

Fabrizio Giovanardi followed Foster closely in the opening two laps, but as he looked to get a good exit from the hairpin, Collard snuck up the inside of the Italian and began his pursuit of Foster’s lead.

A lap later and Newsham used his nous to pass Giovanardi at the same spot, learning from Collard’s example to perfect a forceful but fair move up the inside, which also allowed Ingram to grab fourth.

Over the next couple of laps the front four began to pull away as Giovanardi struggled, and Turkington – who had passed Morgan – found himself increasingly frustrated behind the Ford Focus, and the championship leader was eventually forced into a risky move at Clark which resulted in both drivers running into the gravel on the outside of the corner. Turkington did make his way past Giovanardi, but as he regained speed on the run down to the hairpin, Morgan pounced and got back in front of the BMW driver.

Collard had closed right onto the back of his teammate by this point and on lap eight made his move into Duffus at the end of the straight to take the lead, with Newsham and Ingram taking a lap more to get past the BMW driver and move into the podium positions.

Giovanardi lost further places to Austin, Plato and Jackson in the incident with Turkington, and found himself on the end of a punt from Neal on lap nine when the Honda driver hit his rear into Clark, pitching the Italian into the air and forcing him further down the order. There was more contact at the hairpin a lap later when Plato whacked Austin’s rear, sending the Audi into a spin and retirement...

Something that seems to happen a lot to Rob Austin, whether its a works MG or a works Honda strangely...

Further ahead, Turkington again found himself frustrated as stout defending from Ingram meant that the Northern Irishman was forced to bide his time, before forcing a move at the hairpin on lap 13 with Foster following him through.

And the top four remained in that order until the end of the race, with Newsham defending for six laps from the BMW duo to clinch his first podium since Silverstone in 2012, while Turkington was made to work for his third place in the closing laps as teammate Foster kept him honest.

Andrew Jordan came home in fifth, finishing ahead of Gordon Shedden as the pair enjoyed a feisty battle for much of the race, including a slight coming together at the hairpin on lap 17. Morgan came home in seventh, ahead of Menu, Ingram and Plato, who rounded out the top ten.

The championship situation now means that Turkington leads Shedden by 23 points with Plato staying in contention a further 20 points behind Shedden. Jordan is fourth in the title race having conceded his title hopes after the Knockhill encounter with Collard in fifth.

I would like to give a shout to Chris Stockton and the whole BTC Racing team. After a torrid season so far with various engine issues, a switch to the TOCA engine for the NGTC Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback meant a much more reliable performance with Stockton stearing the car to three reliable finishes!!

That made my day and I look forward to more good performances from the team.

Next up is a track that is local to the Tintop Guru, with the series moving to the UK's oval Circuit at Rockingham in Corby.  A track that produces great racing come rain or shine and also offers great viewing of the whole infield from either the Grandstand or on top of the Pit Garages.

Its also the track where in 2011, my son Aaron met Lewis Hamilton and took a photo with him (The only one Lewis allowed that day as he was supporting Nic in the Clio's) and on the same raceday wondered who the Johnny Depp lookalike was walking up and down the pitlane.

He seemed unfazed when I explained it was James Thompson at the time... He now knows more about Thommo and realises who he is... Now that he drives a Lada in WTCC.

On that note, all the best!


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

BTCC 2014: Bitching in the BTCC... It needs to stop...

Yup, you read that right...

I want to make a few points and comments about something I feel is ruining the BTCC...

Ever since 2009, there has been some sort of "heated discussion" regarding a particular element in the British Touring Car Championship. This often been about:

The Advantage held by Rear Wheel Drive cars.


The Parity between Turbo powered cars and Normally Aspirated cars


The level of boost made available due to Performance Equalisation in effect.

Now, as you are all well aware, I've been a fan of the BTCC since 1988. My up close, personal experience with the series began in 2011, the year where there were Turbo Powered Engines and Normally Aspirated Engines in use as the transition was made to using Turbo's again.

Its also where Social Media began to expand with fans talking on forums and pages and in groups, sharing opinions in an open arena.

But its where the bitching from frontline drivers stepped up a gear. I still recall watching Plato's outburst at Oulton Park in 2011 on ITV4, where moments before the two Honda's slid off at the last corner handing his N/A Cruze the win. He complained about not being able to beat the Honda's instead of enjoying his win. He was later fined by the MSA. Its not the first time it happened ashe spent 2009 complaining about the RWD 1st gear advantage from the Super 2000 BMW's.

I should point out that Plato admits time and again he uses the Media to play mind games and gain an advantage but surely enough is enough?

This year, that argument has returned. But its not just Plato thats spoken of it. Dave Bartrum from Motorbase has made noises of building a RWD NGTC BMW 3 series for 2015 and Triple Eight boss Ian Harrison has said that his team would be more competitive next year using RWD.

At Snetterton Plato was overjoyed at getting Pole Position, but then complained in the press that it meant nothing as he expected Turkington to beat him off the line in each race. He also explained his moaning is to get TOCA, the BTCC Organiser, to act on this to equalise the field more.

Gordon Shedden complained about the Honda's lack of straightline speed against other cars due to the boost equalisation formula. Something that Honda have complained of year in, year is their boost handicap because of not using TOCA Engines. At Snetterton both Andrew Jordan and Aron Smith have both said after Snetterton let the moaning comments stop and let the racing spectacle do the talking.

To be honest, Colin Turkington seems to be the only man benefitting from RWD as he leads the championship. But this is due to hard work from WSR over the winter improving the NGTC 125i Sport to fight for wins. After dominant races at Oulton Park and Croft, TOCA instructed a longer first gear to be used by the RWD BMW's and Audi's to neutralise their start advantage... After comments made by Plato and Harrison.

Now I'm a fan. Not a Professional or Amateur member of the Press, so these are my thoughts and opinions. So if I offend I apologise. I dont hate Jason Plato or Ian Harrison so dont think that either. I respect them and how hard they have worked to get to the top.

As a fan, I'm fed up with hearing drivers complaining about cars not having equalised boost or needing further penalties applied to keep things level. I'm also fed up of reading a week later of how TOCA acts after these comments are made.

Almost as if TOCA has reacted to the comments instead of being proactive to them...

Now I'm not knocking the racing and action this season in anyway. Having a full NGTC field for the first time has meant everyone using the same regulations at each event and this attracted a 31 car season entry. That alone shows the popularity of the NGTC regs and the willing for new teams to step up. The on track action has been exciting, close and a thrill to watch. I love that part and always will

But its starting to be off putting now to watch a good race weekend from the BTCC and then to read about the moaning, bitching and complaining in the following days online content or to read about it in a magazine. Its tainting the racing in my view knowing that after watching a great action packed race, more negative comments are made.

It something that needs to be stamped out or stopped, otherwise the BTCC could see itself losing its status as"Britain's Premier Motorsport Series" to the British GT Championship, which is on a big rise with better crowd figures and an improved TV package helping to accelerate this. Indeed SRO Chief Stephane Ratel has confirmed that the British GT Championship will have live TV coverage of all its races next year...

In fact, there are times that the comments and bitching made reminds me of the American Wrestling organisation The WE where everything is staged for the fans. I hate to think that the BTCC could slide to that level, but I wonder if its not on its way already.

My opinion is that TOCA should listen to the fans for a change. Hold an open event at each BTCC meeting where they can converse with Alan Gow and othrs to put forward ideas to help move the championship on. But also voice opinions about what they feel is helping and hurting the series.

As my regular readers know, I have been enjoying the spectacle of the 2013 FIA European Rallycross Championship last year and its successor The FIA World Rallycross Championship this year as my new motorsport following... And its offering a better spectacle than other FIA championships are such as Formula One and the World Touring Car Championship.

And in my growing opinion, the BTCC now as well.


Theres no moaning for performance equalisation taking place. The only reason a Rallycross driver moans is if his or her car has had a failure or suffered an incident on track. The races in the Heats, Semi Final's and Finals are short but exciting...with no moaning of car advantage or performance equalisation because everyone competes to the same levels of boost and regulation etc.

Of course, many could say "Well Phil, dont watch it or read about it anymore."

I'm a Petrolhead. I want to know every detail, whether its the off season, on season, race day or the weeks inbetween. Motorsport is in my blood so I keep watching and will do... But I can say how I feel...and how other fans feel...

So for me, TOCA need to look into reworking the boost formula or scrap it altogether, allowing everyone to use the same bar boost level. Keep the Success Ballast, this works already. But for race three, reverse the whole grid. Let the guys at the back get a chance at the front for a change. Either way, something needs tweaking for 2015 and beyond.

NGTC works... Now the performance measures need work.

Thank you for your time


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

2014 World RX: Solberg rules in Canada

Norway’s Petter Solberg took a sensational lights-to-flag victory at the  World RX of Canada to become the first driver to win a round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy held outside of Europe. The PSRX driver also becomes the first double winner in RX this year.

Volkswagen Marklund Motorsport’s Anton Marklund and Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timur Timerzyanov finished second and third respectively, both drivers securing podium spots for the first time this season.

Staged at the Trois Rivieres street circuit as part of the annual Grand Prix Trois-Rivieres (GP3R) motorsport festival, the seventh round of World RX attracted crowds of more than 30,000 people to watch 18 flame-spitting Supercars and nine RX Lites cars in the Intercontinental Cup. 

Three Canadian stars also helped draw a passionate home crowd as F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, former IndyCar star Patrick Carpentier and multiple Canadian Rally Champion Antoine L’Estage took to the all-new RX circuit.  Villeneuve was denied a place in the semi-finals after a fuel tank issue meant he was forced to withdraw but Carpentier wowed the crowds on his World RX debut, reaching the final and eventually finishing sixth.

“I am so, so happy right now but it hasn’t been the easiest day,” admitted Solberg who has extended his lead at the top of the standings by 20 points thanks to three heat victories, plus a win in both the semi and the final.  The former WRC World Champion, who was also awarded the Monster Energy Super Charge Award, added: “The morning didn’t start so well – we had similar problems to Belgium but the mechanics worked really hard on the car and I want to credit this win to my team.  I wouldn’t be here without them - they work harder than anyone.  It’s always been my dream to become the first person to win two World Championships and now that dream is getting closer but there are still five races to go and this sport is tough. I’d also like to thank the Canadian organisers – it’s fantastic to come to a new event, they have done a great job.”

Marklund was a model of consistency over the weekend after never finishing outside the top five in all the heats.  The 21-year-old went on to win his semi-final to qualify on the front row of the final alongside pole starter Solberg.  “This has been a lot of fun,” said Marklund. “I’ve managed to score points all day and driving down the long straight at speeds of around 190kmph is just amazing.  Usually rallycross events are over two days so this has been a big challenge for my team to work over one day and they have done an amazing job. It’s also really good for VW to have three out of four cars in the final and now we’re tied with Olsbergs MSE in the manufacturer standings too – it’s been a great weekend for the whole team.”

After what can only be described as a torrid four heats for Timur Timerzyanov, the Russian defied all odds to reach the final where he drove a mature race and secured a well-deserved third place for Team Peugeot Hansen. The reigning European Rallycross Champion commented: “It’s fair to say I’ve had an active day: I’ve been fighting against rails, tyres… but somehow I made it to the final! I need to work on my driving style but for now I’m really happy and I hope this is the first of many podiums in the second half of the year.”

Two punctures for Reinis Nitiss proved costly for the Ford Olsbergs MSE driver who narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot after qualifying 13th at the end of the heats.  However, retirement for team mate Joni Wiman before the semi-finals opened the door for Nitiss, as first reserve, to enter the semi in which he finished third. Nitiss progressed to the final and eventually finished fourth but the lack of points gained from the heats means he drops behind VW Marklund’s Topi Heikkinen in the overall standings.  Heikkinen rounded off the top five at RX Canada.

Arguably one of the most impressive drives of the event was that of local driver Patrick Carpentier who made his RX debut in the event.  Carpentier, a former NASCAR and IndyCar driver, proved a natural talent despite having only one short test ahead of the race. “I can’t explain how happy I am to have made it to the final,” beamed the French Canadian. “Before today my only aim was to reach the semis and to be in the final in front of such an amazing home crowd on my RX debut is more than I could ever have hoped for.”

Monster Energy World RX Team’s Henning Solberg and Davy Jeanney both reached the semi-finals but a stall for Solberg on the start line saw the Norwegian denied a spot in the final. Jeanney was close to finishing in the top three in his semi but a final lap tussle saw the Frenchman lose out on the chance of reaching his first final this year.

After two heat race wins Villeneuve was on course for a spot in the semis but a heavy landing wreaked havoc with the fuel tank on his Albatec Racing prepared Peugeot 208 Supercar and forced the French-Canadian to retire. Britain’s Andy Scott made the final 12 securing crucial points for the Scottish-based team.

Vermont-based squad Subaru Rally Team USA impressed on its debut in World RX as three-time European Rallycross Champion Sverre Isachsen was on the pace throughout all four heats.  The Norwegian reached the semis but finished fifth, one place behind Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Bakkerud who also missed out on a spot in the all-important final.

Round eight of the FIA World Rallycross Championship will return to European soil as the World RX crews prepare for the hugely popular French RX event which will be staged in Loheac from 6-7 September.



Monday, 11 August 2014

BTCC 2014: Plato leads the Charge at Snetterton

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returned from its Summer Break to the venue of Snetterton for the beginning of the second half of the 2014 season and the series offered more of its exciting close racing, thrills and spills.

In the buildup to the event, Team BMR confirmed that it had replaced the two NGTC Vauxhall Insignia's driven by Jack Goff and Warren Scott with two newly built VW CC's. This will mean an enormous amount of data being gathered by the team with four CC's in operation so expect strides to be made.

Jason Plato would start Race One of the British Touring Car Championship from pole position after setting the fastest lap time in qualifying at Snetterton.

The two-time champion was dominant in the day’s earlier second practice, and despite missing out on beating his session time, still finished 0.415s ahead of Colin Turkington with Sam Tordoff in third.

Plato made the early laps by the rear-wheel drive cars look almost amateurish as he set his fastest time, a 1:56.495, a new qualifying record at the circuit with his first flying lap, when those around him were struggling to break out of the 1:59s bracket.

With Andrew Jordan forced to miss the session after he was ruled out on medical grounds following a crash in first practice, Mat Neal set out to salvage some pride for the Honda runners. The three-time champion, who has endured a trying 2014 campaign thus far, ran well in the early stages, trading times with Sam Tordoff for second place.

A number of drivers set their fastest times with some of their first laps. Alain Menu jumped up to fourth a third of the way through the 30-minute session, while Tom Ingram put in another impressive display to claim sixth.

Menu’s fourth became fifth when championship leader Colin Turkington moved into second, as the Northern Irishman’s effort also demoted Tordoff and Neal, the former eventually gaining the upper hand, but still qualifying seven-tenths slower than his teammate in first.

Aron Smith was seventh, while Adam Morgan would start ahead of Mat Jackson by virtue of having set his lap of 1:57.746s earlier than the Airwaves driver’s identical effort. Jack Goff rounded out the top ten, despite a small off.

Plato commanded the first race of the day at Snetterton, heading Colin Turkington home with Matt Neal completing the podium.

While there was plenty of action throughout the field, Plato was serene at the front as he led from lights-to-flag, finishing 1.924s ahead of Turkington, who was at least able to keep the MG driver honest.

Surprisingly as the race got underway Plato maintained his lead ahead of the usually fast-starting BMW of Turkington, but while the field were safely able to negotiate Riches, Sam Tordoff found himself in trouble on the exit of the corner as he came of worst in an incident involving Neal and Menu. Further down the order, Nick Foster appeared to be tapped into a spin by AmD Tuning’s Dave Newsham and limped back to the pits.

As the leading duo broke away at the front, Menu found himself in third after the opening lap incident with Neal and Tordoff, while Tom Ingram managed to work his way between the two champions after a good start. That lasted until lap three however, as Neal pounced on the Speedworks Toyota and set his sights on catching Menu.

It took just two more laps for Neal to move into third, but it took a forceful move at Murrays from the Honda driver which put Menu on the back foot. With BMR Restart teammate Aron Smith having made his way past Ingram on the same lap, he cruised alongside Menu along the pit straight and the pair almost came to blows with the Swiss having to take avoiding action dangerously close to the pit wall. Their battle continued down to Montreal, but as they focused on each other Adam Morgan nipped up the inside of the pair with a fantastic late braking move into the hairpin.

After that frantic period in the race, things started to settle down, as Menu gradually eked out a lead over his teammate. Rob Austin, in his team’s 100th race, attempted to pass Glynn Geddie but the pair collided and the United Autosports driver dropped from 12th to 15th.

Back at the front, Plato was able to canter to the flag, setting a best time of 1:58.120s – just shy of Tordoff’s race lap record from 2013 – with Turkington claiming more valuable points to build his championship lead. Neal’s third place was his fifth podium of the season, but his first in nine races came as he had to hold off Morgan, who showed great pace to secure his best finish of the season.

Menu and Smith came home line astern in fifth and sixth, ahead of Shedden, who performed better than he had on Saturday but still lost ground to Turkington in the championship. Jackson finished in eighth whilst Jack Goff and Rob Collard completed the top ten, but only after Ingram was forced to retire from the race on the final lap as his wheel flew off.

That had repercussions for the final points paying position, as Ingram’s retirement allowed Rotek Racing’s Robb Holland to score his first point of the season and his team’s first in the championship. The American was forced to work hard for his position, but after a great start, a determined drive saw him keep the recovering Andrew Jordan at bay for the final three laps.

Plato went on to take a second victory of the day at Snetterton, as he battled his way back past second placed man Turkington with Shedden completing the podium.

As the race started, Turkington was able to do what he missed out on in race one and overtake the MG of Plato – who was carrying 45 kilograms of ballast following his earlier success – into Riches to lead the pack. However, behind them there was contact almost immediately as Alain Menu, who had run wide on the exit of the first corner, brought the rear of his car across the front of Morgan’s WIX Racing Mercedes and found himself sliding into the barrier on the inside of the circuit, bringing his second race two exit in as many race weekends.

With Menu’s car stricken at the side of the circuit, the Safety Car made an appearance and remained in place until the end of lap four, with the race distance increased to 15 laps. Turkington tried to make a break as the race resumed, but Plato stayed with him as the front two again raced away at the front.

Almost immediately however there was contact, as Andrew Jordan – who had made up six places from his grid slot – pushed Collard wide through Williams onto the main straight. That allowed Goff to close up on the pair, and as they went to turn into Brundle three-abreast, Collard was squeezed by the two on either side of him and Jordan was shot off onto the grass, giving him more ground to make up once again.

One lap later Shedden showed that trio how overtaking into the corner should be done, with a brave move on the outside of Morgan for fourth place.

Plato had looked racey just before the Safety Car was deployed, and after pursuing Turkington from the restart, taking a look up the inside into Brundle on lap eight, he passed the BMW into Montreal at the start of lap nine to regain first place. Shedden had made similar inroads on teammate Matt Neal, and a couple of seconds further back made the same move to climb into the podium positions.

Turkington ensured that Plato worked for his win as he stayed with the MG until two laps from the end, but after feigning an overtake he dropped away, leaving him to claim his 13th win at Snetterton, the site of his first victory in the series.

With Turkington second and Shedden third, Neal came home in fourth ahead of Morgan who was a distant but impressive fifth. Mat Jackson led home teammate Fabrizio Giovanardi for sixth and seventh, while eighth-placed man Smith will start from pole for race three after his number was drawn. Tordoff recovered to ninth after his race one disaster, with the third MG of Marc Hynes in 10th.

Jordan finished the race in 15th after recovering a few positions after his off, but the decision was taken to rule him out from racing in the final event of the day following his free practice accident on Saturday.

Smith claimed a third British Touring Car Championship career victory at Snetterton in an intense final race, with Jackson in second and Turkington in third.

The Irishman was defending almost from the get-go but soaked up the pressure with maturity to secure his second victory of the season and his BMR Restart team’s second as an outfit.

Smith’s position looked under threat immediately when second-place man Fabrizio Giovanardi got a better start off the line, but he was forced to tuck in behind the Volkswagen CC, just in front of teammate Jackson.

The race was started in an impeccable manner by the entire field as every driver completing the first lap cleanly, although Jack Clarke was slow at the end of the Bentley straight.

Morgan looked fiesty in the opening moments but he was slightly over-zealous in his pursuit of Jackson’s third place, running wide at Agostini and relinquishing positions to Neal and Turkington.

Over the next couple of laps, those in front of Morgan’s Mercedes began to pull away, but that changed when Neal and Turkington caught up to the leading three cars, as they then found themselves backed into a pack including Plato and Shedden.

There then followed a brief period of calm until lap seven, when Turkington, who had the door shut on him by Neal in front a lap earlier, appeared to be caught out by the Honda driver’s early breaking into Montreal with Neal plummeting down the order and out of contention.

As all eyes were focused on that move, Jackson snuck by his teammate at the same corner and started his pursuit of Smith’s lead. Jackson, whose winless run stretched back to the Silverstone meeting in 2012, was keen to get past his former teammate and had a half chance when Smith was slow out of Murrays, but the Volkswagen driver was able to hold his lead onto the pit straight.

Whilst the final race of the day five weeks ago at Croft had been messy and full of crashes, Turkington, Plato and Shedden were all full of respect for one another knowing that the points scored this weekend could well stand them in good stead come the end of the season.

Jackson had one final attempt to pass Smith for the lead on the final lap, as he held onto the back of the Volkswagen through Riches before giving him a gentle tap into Montreal. With Smith’s superior straight-line speed, however, the 24-year-old was able to maintain his lead in the final half of the lap, eventually finishing 0.444s ahead of Jackson.

Giovanardi was set for third, but he made a small error at the penultimate corner and ran wide onto the grass, losing positions to Turkington, Plato, Shedden before receiving a hit from Rob Collard, sending the Italian down the order to 13th.

With Collard securing sixth, Tordoff, Morgan, Hynes and Goff completed the top ten, with Neal in 11th but securing an extra point for the fastest lap.

This means that Turkington left Snetterton with his championship lead stretched to 23 points ahead of Shedden, whilst Plato moved into third in the championship ahead of Jordan who suffered a poor weekend and will now be on maximum attack for the remaining 12 races. Collard, Jackson, Neal, Tordoff, Smith and Morgan complete the top ten places.

Knockhill is next up for the BTCC, where the BMW's and RWD Audi's are sure to be up the front of the field, whilst Jason Plato is sure to be bitching even more about the "FWD vs RWD" debate...

My thoughts on that will be published in a later blog post, one where I will be extremely honest in my opinions...



WTCC 2014: Lopez doubles up in Argentina

After the one on one battle between Yvan Muller and Jose Maria Lopez at Spa, the FIA World Touring Car Championship moved to Argentina for the next two rounds in this years series... Homeland of Jose Maria Lopez, the 2014 championship leader.

Quite frankly, "The Lopez Effect" in Argentina is the same as "Norbi Fever" in Hungary, "Mansell Mania" in the UK and when Senna raced in Brazil...


And the home fans were not disappointed.

Jose Maria Lopez stormed to a sensation pole position on home soil in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship in Argentina, beating team-mate Yvan Muller by 0.428 seconds.

Lopez was only slightly quicker than title rival Muller after sectors one and two, but a mammoth final sector saw the Argentine driver take pole position by more than four tenths of a second.

“You need to go for it – I have two team-mates that really push – it’s not easy,” said Lopez, who scored his fourth pole of the season. “When I did the last lap in Q3 I wasn’t sure I would be on pole.”

Muller would start alongside his team-mate for the first of Sunday’s races, with Sebastien Loeb completing a Citroen 1-2-3 on the grid in third.

Norbert Michelisz was the top Honda driver in fourth .The Zengo Motorsport driver out-qualified works Honda driver Tiago Monteiro, who was 1.408 seconds off the pace in fifth after making a mistake on his single Q3 lap.

ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton was the top Chevrolet driver in sixth, unable to challenge for a spot in Q3 despite having been the top non-Citroen driver in second free practice earlier.

Seventh was Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, who only completed one flying lap in Q2 and missed out on progression to the final part of qualifying by half a second. The Italian will have independent Proteam Racing Honda driver Mehdi Bennani alongside him in eighth.

Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente and LADA’s Rob Huff completed the top ten respectively, with the latter securing his first reverse-grid pole position of the season for race two.

Tom Coronel and Rene Munnich were 11th and 12th respectively, with the Chevrolet drivers seemingly struggling around the Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.

LADA’s James Thompson only just missed out on progressing from Q1, with the Brit bumped out in the final seconds by team-mate Huff. He would start both of Sunday’s races from 13th on the grid, ahead of Campos Racing’s Dusan Borkovic, Munnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli and fellow LADA driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy.

Franz Engstler again took pole position in the TC2 class ahead of John Filippi, with the second Engstler BMW driven by local Camilo Echevarria struggling to third in class.

Lopez took victory in the opening World Touring Car Championship race in Argentina, beating Norbert Michelisz by 2.526 seconds.

Lopez led the entire race from pole position and was never challenged by the Honda of Michelisz. The Hungarian driver made his way into second at the start of the race as both Muller and Loeb in front of him got off to slow starts.

Muller took the final podium position in third, with the Frenchman seeing his deficit to Lopez in the championship increase to 50 points. Loeb was fourth, after the French duo repassed a fast-starting Honda of Tiago Monteiro on the opening lap of the race. Monteiro finished in fifth, unable to pressure the Citroen duo in front after initially getting the better of the pair on the opening lap.

Tom Chilton finished sixth with the Brit being the only Chevrolet driver to finish in the points in a difficult race for the Cruze cars. LADA had reason to celebrate, as Rob Huff finished in seventh. The Brit got past the works Honda of Gabriele Tarquini on the opening lap of the race and the Italian was unable to repass, being forced to settle for eighth.

Trust me, after all the times Gabriele has...helped Huffy off the track in recent years, it was good to see the LADA hold off the Honda.

Ninth went to Mehdi Bennani, ensuring that all four Honda Civics finished inside the top ten. James Thompson took the final point for LADA in tenth, after passing Tom Coronel for the position at the final corner on the final lap. It marks only the second time that the Russian marque has had two cars inside the top ten in a race.

Coronel went on to finish in 11th ahead of Morbidelli, Munnich and Kozlovskiy who  was the final TC1 driver in 14th.

For the 12th time in 2014 victory in the TC2 class went to Franz Engstler ahead of Campos Racing’s John Filippi.

Both of the Campos Racing cars retired from race one. Borkovic retired with a left-rear puncture whilst running in 13th, whilst team mate Hugo Valente completed only seven laps due to brake problems.

Lopez went on to become the first World Touring Car Championship driver of the season to win both races in a weekend in race two in Argentina, as Huff scored LADAs first-ever podium in second.

Lopez enjoyed a dream weekend on home soil in Argentina, adding to his victory in the first race of the day by scything his way through the field from tenth on the grid in race two.

The championship leader crucially got past title rival Muller on the second lap of the race and has now extended his lead over the Frenchman to 60 points.

Poleman Huff held on to take second, having led the first eight laps of the race. The result marks the first-ever podium finish for LADA in the WTCC, since the marque first appeared in the 2008 season. The final podium position went to Muller as the reigning champion was unable to carve his way through the field as easily as his team-mate.

Tarquini and Monteiro missed out on a podium result and took fourth and fifth respectively, despite having ran behind early race leader Huff. Loeb finished in sixth, again unable to make the same rapid progress as his experienced circuit racing team-mates. The Citroen driver made slight contact with Tom Chilton when moving into sixth, but held on to the position.

Michelisz finished in seventh, ahead of Borkovic in eighth, with the Serb being the only Chevrolet driver inside the top ten.

Completing the top ten were Bennani in ninth and Thompson in tenth. Bennani had moved into second at the start of the race, but the Moroccan dropped down the order at the half-way stage of the race.

Coronel finished outside the points in 11th for the second consecutive race. Morbidelli also failed to score any points, with the Munnich Motorsport driver handed a drive-through penalty for contact with Thompson early on in the race.

Victory in the TC2 category went to Franz Engstler once again ahead of one-time team-mate Camilo Echevarría.

Hugo Valente, who started the race on the front row of the grid, endured his second retirement of the weekend and stopped after eight laps. Chilton also pulled off the circuit on the same lap.

So with a 60 point lead and four race weekends left, Lopez has moved closer to claiming his first ever WTCC title. With current points scoring system, aperfect weekend gives 5 points for pole in Race One with 25 points per race win. Meaning that for Muller to catch Lopez would mean Muller having a perfect points scoring weekend and Lopez qualifying outside of the top five.

Remember, anything can happen before and at Macau...

Normally the next stop on the calendar would be at the Sonoma Raceway the US, however due to logistical issues this round has been replaced by a venue in Beijing which be followed be a 2nd race weekend at the Shanghai Grand Prix circuit one week later, followed by the WTCC heading to Suzuka to use the full Grand Prix Circuit (FINALLY!!) before the finale at Macau.

Wow! Three WTCC weekends in October... Well thats made me happy...

Honda have improved again, making ground on Citroen whilst LADA have shown they now have Race Two winning potential. Remember Thommo was leading Race Two at Macau last year before Pepe Oriola put him in the wall at Maternity Corner, so a LADA win is not unreasonable.

All the best!


Friday, 1 August 2014

WTCC 2014: Muller & Lopez fight it out at Spa...

The last European round of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship took place at the legendary Spa circuit in Belgium and played its part in the growing "Muller vs Lopez" Championship battle.

It was Yvan Muller who took pole position in qualifying ahead of Citroen team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Jose María Lopez.

In the decisive Q3 shootout Muller was 0.146 seconds faster than Loeb, after championship leader Lopez made a mistake going through Eau Rouge on his attempt.

The result was Muller’s fourth pole of the season, the 25th of his WTCC career, and moved him an additional two points closer to Lopez in the championship battle.

Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente qualified in fourth after only his second visit to Q3 in his touring car career, whilst Gabriele Tarquini was fifth fastest in the top Honda, 1.538 seconds off the pace in the final shoot-out.

Tiago Monteiro qualified his Honda in sixth, missing out on entry into Q3 by just 0.018 seconds. Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was seventh, more than two seconds off the Q2 pace.

Completing the top ten were ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel in eighth, Proteam Racing’s Mehdi Bennani in ninth and Munnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli in tenth. The latter will start race two from pole position.

The second Campos car of Dusan Borkovic just missed out on the reverse pole and would start from 11th ahead of the second ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet of Tom Chilton.

Surprisingly Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua missed out on Q2 and would start from 14th, with the top LADA of Rob Huff out-qualifying the Citroen driver in 13th.

Franz Engstler took pole in the TC2 class for the fifth time this season ahead of Pasquale di Sabatino and John Filippi. Norbert Nagy, making his debut in the series this weekend, started from last.

Yvan Muller scored his fourth win of the season as he won the opening race at ahead of Citroen team-mates Jose María Lopez and Sebastien Loeb.

Muller led away from the line and had a comfortable lead throughout the nine-lap race as his Citroen team-mates squabbled behind him. The win moved him to within 32 points of championship leader Lopez.

Argentine Lopez finished in second after passing Loeb at Les Combes on the final lap of the race, having been glued to the rear bumper of the former rally star throughout. Loeb would finish third, unable to retake the position from his team-mate.

Gianni Morbidelli finished in fourth after a strong start which saw him move from ninth on the grid to fifth at the start of the race. The Italian had to defend heavily from Tom Coronel at the end of the race.

The Dutchman himself pipped Tiago Monteiro to sixth by just 0.073 seconds exiting the final chicane on the final lap after an extremely close four-car battle for fourth.

Gabriele Tarquini finished in eighth, with the Honda driver losing the most ground at the start of the race when he was battling with Hugo Valente for fourth. The duo went side-by-side into Eau Rouge, but Tarquini had to back out and lost several positions along the subsequent straight.

Dusan Borkovic finished as the top Campos driver in ninth despite having started from the back of the grid, ahead of Tom Chilton in tenth.

Ma Qing Hua just missed out on the points and was 11th, despite the Citroen driver completing most of the race with a damaged front windscreen.

Following drive-through penalties for exceeding the track limits, Valente and Mehdi Bennani finished the race in 12th and 13th positions respectively. Valente’s penalty came for running wide and gaining an advantage exiting turn one on the opening lap, whilst Bennani was penalised for overtaking two cars whilst cutting the chicane at Les Combes further around the lap.

The top LADA driver was Mikhail Kozlovskiy in 14th, lead driver Rob Huff had a tough race, spinning into the gravel on the opening lap and finishing down in 16th.

Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Franz Engstler once again won the TC2 class, ahead of John Filippi and Norbert Nagy.

Jose Maria Lopez ensured that Citroen team-mate and title rival Yvan Muller failed to significantly reduce his points lead in the second race, beating the Frenchman to the win.

Despite starting from eighth and tenth on the grid respectively, Lopez and Muller scythed their way through the field with their dominant C-Elysee cars. Both made up just one position on the opening lap, but had superior race pace to make passing look easy around the Belgian circuit.

Lopez was up to fifth on lap two, passing Gabriele Tarquini into Rivage. The Argentine then got by Norbert Michelisz for fourth further around the lap at the bus stop chicane. Fourth became third with the same move on Gianni Morbidelli just one lap later at the same corner.

Once past Tiago Monteiro for second, Lopez then set about reducing the 2.533 deficit to leader Tom Coronel. The ROAL Motorsport driver had taken the lead on the opening lap with a superb start that saw him lead Morbidelli before turn one. However on lap seven Lopez inevitably passed Coronel for the lead on the run to Eau Rouge to take his fifth win of the season.

By finishing in second, Muller failed to reduce the gap to rival Lopez in the championship. The Frenchman made steady progress with Lopez through the field finally passing Coronel for second into the bus stop chicane on lap seven.

Coronel held on to finish in third, taking his second podium finish of the season at effectively his home circuit. Monteiro finished in fourth, despite late-race pressure from Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb in fifth.

Pole-sitter Morbidelli took the chequered flag in sixth, unable to offer any response to the Citroen drivers. Michelisz finished seventh in his private Zengo Motorsport Civic.

Tarquini ended the race in eighth, having dropped down the order in the latter half of the race whilst battling with Loeb and Hugo Valente. Campos Racing driver Valente finished ninth, after Tarquini found a way back past the Frenchman in the battles on lap four.

Tom Chilton completed the top ten for ROAL Motorsport, taking his second points finish of the weekend.

None of the LADA drivers scored points for the seventh time this season, with Mikhail Kozlovskiy finishing in 12th to beat his two experienced British team-mates.

Victory in TC2 again went to Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Franz Engstler, ahead of team-mate Pasquale di Sabatino. Campos Racing’s rookie Norbert Nagy finished third in class.

There were retirements for Campos Racing’s Dusan Borkovic and Citroen’s Ma Qing Hua in the race, with the latter reporting an overheating problem with his car.

The title battle is now effectively between Muller and Lopez with Loeb looking secure in 3rd place in the championship as the series ended its European leg and begins the Flyaway section as we head towards the Macau Finale in November.

But Honda have been hard at work with a four day test in Spain using Honda Chassis number six so look for improvements there, whilst Lada also fitted in a test, looking to move further forward.

Argentina is next up where Pechito took his first WTCC win in his second WTCC race so expect Argentina to roar if he does that again.