BTCC 2014: Epic Silverstone has Spills and Thrills…

The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship has been a season full of RWD vs FWD arguments, close racing, exciting overtakes and Turbo boost moans. However the penultimate weekend of the series held at the home of British Motorsport, Silverstone, reminded us of the spectacle of the BTCC and just how thrilling it can be…

And wow, we were not disappointed…

Going into the weekend, there were three drivers capable of winning the overall Drivers Championship: Colin Turkington, Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden and all three were made to work hard for their various targets.

For Turkington, he needed to score well at a track that didnt favour the BMW. For Plato, he needed to score well to close the gap to Turkington and take the fight to the finale. For Shedden, his aim was to catchup the ground lost at Rockingham at a track that didn’t suit the Honda historically.

This is how it all panned out…

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Jason Plato secured his third pole position of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship season in a closely fought session, ahead of championship leader Colin Turkington and Sam Tordoff.

In truth, Plato always looked favourite to claim pole in the delayed half-hour-long session, but given his points deficit to Turkington in the championship, he might have hoped that the eBay Motors driver would not be the next car behind him on the grid.

There was drama before any of the drivers had had a chance to set a timed lap, as Dave Newsham dropped his AmD Tuning Ford Focus on his out-lap and was forced to sit out the remainder of the session having damaged his front-end.

In a hectic start to the session, the rear-wheel drive cars of West Surrey Racing and Rob Austin in his Audi traded spells at the top of the times as they lowered the pace below the one-minute barrier, before Plato joined in on the action and immediately started lapping quicker, posting his pole-winning time of 58.511s on his fourth lap, with the session not yet ten minutes old.

But while Plato’s pole was decided relatively early on in the session – the fact that he completed 21 laps would suggest that he had time left to chip away should anyone take his pole – there was plenty of action left in the session. Andrew Jordan had a big sideways moment at Brooklands, while shortly afterwards the remaining MGs of Tordoff and Marc Hynes had their fastest laps deleted for exceeding track limits, although both retained their respective third and tenth positions.

Aside from the MGs at the front, the Airwaves Racing team had expected something of an upturn in form ahead of the weekend, and Mat Jackson hauled his Ford Focus into second with an off-the-radar lap as the session approached its halfway point.

The BMR Restart team had also shown plenty of promise in the two preceding practice sessions and Aron Smith and Alain Menu stated their intent to get in on the action as they moved into third and fifth respectively.

But with a third of the session remaining, Turkington ensured that he goes into raceday with a good opportunity to clinch the title as he first went sixth, before falling just short of Plato’s fastest time to slot into second on a 58.575, 0.003s ahead of Tordoff.

Jackson’s effort meant that he was the third driver to qualify within a tenth of Plato at the front, while Smith and Menu’s times were eventually good enough for fifth and sixth. Tom Ingram reinforced his credentials as a star of the future with a fine seventh place, ahead of late improver Hynes, Adam Morgan and Austin.

Jack Clarke also enjoyed his most competitive qualifying session of the year in 12th, while Aiden Moffat 18th birthday will be marked by a points-paying grid slot after he hauled his Chevrolet Cruze into 15th, ahead of the ailing Hondas of Andrew Jordan, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal. United Autosports Driver Luke Hines would start his first race in the championship since 2005 from 26th, as he qualified 1.388s off the pace.

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Jason Plato went on to score a fourth British Touring Car Championship win of the season in the opening encounter at Silverstone, holding off points leader Colin Turkington and Mat Jackson.

The 46-year-old was expected to convert his pole position into victory with relative ease, but he was made to work hard for the win as the front three remained line astern until the penultimate lap.

Indeed, Turkington got the jump on his MG rival off the line, with the relatively short run to Copse still giving the rear-wheel drive BMW enough time to deploy its advantage at the start. Jackson was also able to jump Sam Tordoff into third, while Alain Menu passed teammate Aron Smith for fifth.

Despite being jumped at the start, Plato looked as though he was ready to dominate the encounter and after feigning a pass into Brooklands on the second lap, he quickly regained his lead on the next tour as he passed Turkington at the same spot.

But once in front he struggled to gap the group behind – which at that stage consisted of six cars, with Menu, Smith and Morgan latching onto the back of the leaders and each attempt he made to pull away from Turkington was matched by the Northern Irishman reeling him in the next time round.

Another group had formed behind the leaders, where Hynes headed eight cars for eighth place. Hynes initially appeared to be back those behind him into one another, but soon pulled a gap on Ingram, who found himself under real pressure from Rob Austin.

At the halfway distance Morgan made a forceful move past Smith for sixth, having threatened to do so for some laps, and set his sights on catching Menu, who had begun to gap his teammate. Morgan’s chase was to be short-lived, however, as Smith re-passed the WIX Racing driver at the start of lap 14, as his Mercedes slowed and was forced to pull off at the start of the Club straight.

Andrew Jordan and Gordon Shedden had both made progress from their grid slots as they looked to move into the top ten, but as a move from Austin put Ingram on the back foot, with the youngster then shuffled back through the pack, Shedden looked to get in on the action but was forced off the track as the Speedworks driver appeared not to have seen him.

Plato was still unable to break Turkington at the front as the front three started to pull away from Tordoff, with his lead rarely bigger than half a second. Despite that, it looked unlikely that Turkington would be able to pass the MG and the one moment that might have presented him with an opportunity – when the trio came round to lap Simon Belcher – worked against him as Plato got by early and finally pulled some breathing space from the BMW, with Jackson closing up to Turkington as the pair passed the Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis.

Jackson’s interest in second put pay to any hopes that Turkington had of claiming a win, as Plato crossed the line to win by a somewhat flattering 1.453s.

Behind the leading three, Tordoff, Menu and Smith retained their places in the top six, while a late charge from Rob Collard saw him pass Hynes for seventh on the final lap. Hynes nevertheless recorded his best result to date in the series, ahead of Austin in ninth and Jordan in tenth.

Shedden recovered slightly to 13th – which leaves him as the third and final driver still in the title fight – while his teammate Matt Neal was forced to take a drive-through penalty on the final lap and dropped to 21st as a result. Luke Hines, on his return to action, finished in 20th.

Jason Plato took a second win in as many races at Silverstone, but the win was overshadowed by a crash involving Rob Collard which caused the race to be red flagged.

The race followed a similar pattern to the day’s opening encounter, but the red flag was flown a lap from the end when Collard double-rolled, having attempted to avoid a spinning Jack Clarke.

Plato was again jumped by the fast-starting Turkington off the line, while  Menu got past Tordoff for fourth with Collard following suit as the field bunched up into Maggotts.

But Plato immediately looked to regain the lead and unlike in race one – where he took a look a lap early before making his move a lap later – squirmed straight up the inside of the eBay Motors man into Brooklands on lap two and into first. It was a good close but fair move from the MG driver.

For the second race in a row a train of cars lined up behind Plato, with the top nine in close company. Aron Smith utilised that situation to pass Tordoff into Copse at the start of lap six, as Turkington started to harry Plato for the lead.

After his pass on Tordoff, Smith looked keen to overtake Collard while two places further forward his teammate Menu hounded Jackson for the final podium spot. After several abortive attempts, Menu finally made the third place his with a good run through Copse and a pass into Maggotts on lap 13.

At this point, the top seven – who had dropped Marc Hynes and Andrew Jordan – were still closely bunched as they crossed the line just 2.014s apart, with Smith following his teammate’s example and passing Collard on the exit of Becketts for fifth.

The race finally appeared to have settled down a few laps later as Plato, Turkington and Menu all appeared comfortable in their positions, but a staunch defence was required by Jackson in fourth to keep the second Volkswagen of Smith at bay. The Airwaves driver was able to keep his former teammate behind him, however, and with just two laps left to run it looked as though the race would end quietly.

But that all changed on lap 21 as Clarke, who was running in tenth, spun through Becketts and as those behind him looked to avoid contact, Collard – who had fallen some way down the order – was side-swiped by the Crabbie’s Racing Ford Focus, sending the eBay Motors car off balance and over itself, taking some seconds before eventually stopping by the side of the track. Collard was taken to the medical centre for checks, where it was said he was ‘okay’.

The Safety Car was immediately deployed, but as the race had by now reached it’s penultimate lap, the decision was taken to red flag the event with the final result counted back a lap (lap 20 of 22).

That meant that Plato’s eventual winning margin was 1.013s ahead of Turkington and Menu, who scored his second podium in three races. Jackson and Smith were fourth and fifth, ahead of a quiet Tordoff.

Fabrizio Giovanardi finished in seventh and would start the final race of the day from pole, while Andrew Jordan was eighth. There was a maiden top ten finish for Warren Scott on his 43rd birthday after a stellar drive to ninth, while the count back meant that Clarke was also able to secure his first top ten finish in the series. Gordon Shedden was classified in 11th place, and as a result is out of championship contention.

Mat Jackson won the final British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Silverstone ahead of Aron Smith and Colin Turkington.

The Airwaves Racing driver made a decisive move past his teammate Fabrizio Giovanardi before a Safety Car was deployed to score his second victory of the season and the fifth of his career at Silverstone.

The start of the race was delayed when Sam Tordoff’s MG coughed out a plume of smoke as the cars headed for their formation lap, leaving a sheen of oil on the circuit, which had to be cleared before the cars were allowed to race. The delay meant that the field were forced to start a second formation lap, while the race distance was reduced to 21 laps.

When the racing did get going, Jackson took full advantage of the now vacant grid slot in front of him to jump in front of Smith, while Turkington also advanced into fourth place.

The race had been delayed by some 20 minutes but not a lap had passed before the Safety Car was called out. Hunter Abbott appeared to tap Robb Holland at Becketts, and while most of the remaining field were able to pass the incident, James Cole was unable to avoid Holland’s S3 and ploughed into the back of him, with Martin Depper also hitting the pair.

Holland ran straight over to Cole to remonstrate with him once he was out of the car, the American clearly disappointed to end his season with a first lap retirement. Holland however realised his mistake later on and publicly apologised to James Cole.

With cars able to race to the line until the first SC Board is seen, Jackson being really clued up in these situations, he attempted to overtake his teammate and was classified as the first-place man at the end of the first lap before tucking in behind Giovanardi into Copse where they joined the Safety Car. The decision was then taken to reverse the positions, given that Jackson had raced to the line, and as such he inherited the lead a lap before the Safety Car returned to the pits.

The Motorbase driver took full advantage of the clear track in front on him when the race restarted on lap six, leaving Giovanardi and the rest of the field for dust. Turkington had a similarly electric start, passing Smith before the start/finish line, before rightfully relinquishing the position on the run down to Copse.

With Jackson pulling away at the front, Smith saw it as imperative to pass Giovanardi, and duly passed the Italian on lap seven into Becketts. Turkington was then the next man to come against Giovanardi, but perhaps with the title on his mind, found it much harder to pass than Smith had.

With Jackson in a league of his own at the front, Giovanardi did, to his credit, keep Smith in his sights and put up a valiant fight against Turkington, before a lap-and-a-half of sensational racing saw him plummet down the order.

And it had me and the missus yelling at the TV as the best in the BTCC finally had some hard racing together…

At the end of lap 18, Turkington found himself on the inside of Giovanardi going into Brooklands, and despite the gap diminishing rapidly, kept his foot in to seemingly claim third. Giovanardi was having none of it though, and fought back through Luffield, forcing Turkington wide at Woodcote. Their squabbling allowed Menu to dive up the inside of the pair of them through Copse, as they started their 19th laps, but he ran wide on the exit and the pair re-passed him on the run down to Maggotts. Turkington again appeared to have a move done on Giovanardi, only for Plato to arrive behind him and push him into the side of the Italian, forcing him down to 11th, where he eventually finished the race.

Turkington moved into third as a result, with Plato fourth and Menu fifth. That was ultimately the end of the action, with Jackson cantering to victory and Smith equally comfortable in second. While Turkington did claim a third podium of the day, Plato’s performance across the weekend means that the title fight does go to the final round of the season, at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.

Behind, Andrew Jordan brought his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic in a solid sixth, ahead of ahead of Adam Morgan, Gordon Shedden, Warren Scott – who scored a second-consecutive top-ten finish – and Jack Goff, who completed the top ten.

All of this means now that Turkington can effectively tie up the Drivers Title in race one at Brands Hatch this weekend. If Plato were to take Pole Position, Lead the race, get fastest lap and win, Turkington needs only to finish second behind him. Considering the performances that the three eBay BMW’s showed on the Indy circuit back in March…thats quite possible.

What it also means is we can expect another exciting Finals Day with everyone racing for points and pride to get the best finish to the season possible. For me, that means either Gio or Menu or both drivers getting a race win before the seasons end and looking for more stand out performances up and down the grid.

One notable change for Finals Day will be Tony Gilham returning to the BTCC in thr Rotek Racing Audi S3. Robb Holland will be on VLN duties at the Nurburgring and unable to pilot the car and has asked Gilham to step in for the event. However with the car needing repair, its doubtful Tony will get to test the car before first practice on Saturday morning.

Either way it will be and exciting end to an… Interesting season. Not a classic, but an interesting one…

All the best!

Phil!

All the best from the Guru!!

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