BTCC 2015: Thrills & Spills at Brands Hatch Opener…

A very different looking British Touring Car Championship got its 2015 season  under way at Brands Hatch over the Easter Weekend with some interesting results.

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Several changes that have been introduced this year are as follows:

1. The Race 2 grid will now be decided by the fastest laps set in Race 1. However for that lap time to stand, the driver has to have completed at least 90% of the Race 1 distance.

2. The Success Ballast system has been updated to now award the top ten drivers of each race with weight, whilst for the first race of each weekend will see the top ten in the drivers Championship awarded weight with a Race Winner or Championship Leader carrying 75kgs and 10th place carrying 9kgs.

3. The soft tyre must be used Three times in Race One, Three times during Race Two and Three times during Race Three during the season. Thruxton is excluded as a special tyre is used that weekend.

So, how did this affect the action at Brands Hatch…

QUALIFYING…

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Andy Priaulx landed a sensational pole position in his first qualifying session on his return to the British Touring Car Championship, beating a trio of Team BMR Volkswagen CCs at Brands Hatch.

In a rain-threatened and disrupted session, the three-time World Touring Car Champion posted a best time of 48.411s midway through the half-hour to beat Aron Smith into second place, with Jason Plato third ahead of Colin Turkington.

Grey clouds loomed over the Kent circuit as the session got underway, with a number of drivers taking to the track immediately to try and beat any potential weather. Indeed, it was Priaulx who kicked the quick times off after five minutes, as he got straight down to business with a 49.612s.

Teammate Sam Tordoff then posted the fastest lap of the weekend, a 48.878s, before Priaulx responded with a 48.589s. Drivers were clearly pushing to the limit, as Andrew Jordan ran wide on the exit of Paddock Hill before his teammate Jack Goff had an off at the back of the circuit.

After Turkington showed his hand and moved to the top of the standings, the top four (of Turkington, Priaulx, Gordon Shedden and Plato) were separated by less than a tenth-of-a-second. The track was then quiet for a brief spell before Priaulx posted his pole-winning time.

And the timing of that lap proved to be crucial, as moments later Martin Depper’s Honda Civic lost its left-front wheel with a red flag flown to allow for its recovery.

With ten minutes left on the clock, the setting was there for an enthralling close to the session, and although the drivers looked as though they might disappoint on that front, a spate of laps in the final few minutes brought the promised excitement.

Tordoff kicked things off as he first improved his time but not his position, before moving into fifth with a 48.631s. Priaulx was unable to improve his time but a lap of 48.525s was still faster than any of his competitors, until Smith popped up witha 48.480s, beating Plato (48.534s) and Turkington (48.535s) into third and fourth respectively.

Rob Collard was another late improver to fifth, while Jack Goff secured sixth on his qualifying debut for MG, less than two-tenths-of-a-second shy of pole. Shedden had a quiet but productive run to seventh, pipping Tordoff with his last lap of the session. Tom Ingram had another strong run to ninth place, ahead of Matt Neal who completed the top ten in the second Civic Type R.

As had been the case in the two practice sessions, 26 cars took to the track with only Warren Scott missing after an off at the end of second practice.

RAC ONE…

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West Surrey Racing’s Rob Collard took victory in the opening race of the 2015 British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch, heading home the Team BMR duo of Aron Smith and Jason Plato.

A monster start from Collard left him in the prime position when teammate Andy Priaulx started to lose pace on the soft tyre. From there, Collard managed the gap back to Smith to calmly claim a ninth victory in the championship.

Off the line, Priaulx and Smith both got fair starts, but it was Collard from fifth who managed to squeeze between the pair as the field headed through Paddock Hill bend for the first time in 2015. Alex Martin appeared to stall on grid in his Dextra Racing Ford Focus, while Sam Tordoff in the third WSR car also dropped back off the line.

With Smith and Plato dropping to third and fourth respectively, they nevertheless stayed within striking distance of the fast-starting BMWs, while Jack Goff – who had jumped ahead of Colin Turkington – did his best to stay with the leaders in his MG.

Priaulx looked comfortable at the front for the first ten laps of the race, but Collard started to close in at the end of lap 12, and pounced at the start of lap 14 as he slithered past his teammate at Paddock Hill, with Smith and Plato following through on the run down to Druids.

Priaulx dropped further back a lap later as Goff, Turkington and the Honda of Gordon Shedden all went through, with Priaulx also losing out to Andrew Jordan and Matt Neal before the end of the race.

Collard maintained a gap of half a second back to his rivals until the end of the race, with Smith in turn holding off Plato for second – although with the fastest lap, the latter would go on to start the second race from pole position.

Goff dropped away from podium contention in the latter stages of the race, but did a fine job of managing the soft tyres to stay ahead of reigning champion Turkington and Shedden, while Jordan and Neal each had quiet runs to seventh and eighth respectively.

Behind Priaulx, Tom Ingram completed the top ten in his Speedworks Toyota, having had a slight coming together with Adam Morgan in the middle of the race. Josh Cook was the highest placing rookie in 13th, with a couple of impressive overtakes moving him ahead of both Rob Austin and Tordoff towards the end of the 24-lap encounter.

Derek Palmer, in his Support Our Paras Racing Infiniti Q50, was the only retirement from the race after 14 laps, while Andy Wilmot did not take the start in his Welch Motorsport Proton.

RACE TWO…

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Gordon Shedden won the second race of the British Touring Car Championship season by 0.040s ahead of Andy Priaulx, with Colin Turkington in third.

After a late lunge from Priaulx, Shedden held on to win for the first time on the Kent circuit’s Indy layout by the smallest of margins, following Jason Plato’s late retirement from a comfortable lead.

Plato looked well set for victory from the moment the red lights went out, as he quickly pulled away from Rob Collard, who once again made a lighting-quick start to jump into second.

Squeezing past teammate Priaulx, Collard’s overtake left Shedden room to squeak back through ahead of Priaulx, in arguably one of the most important moments of the race.

Plato’s lead at the front was aided significantly by Collard who, having won the first race of the day, began to struggle with maximum ballast and soft tyres. Shedden made a move on the West Surrey Racing driver into Paddock Hill on lap three, with Priaulx following through.

Collard slipped further back the next time round with Turkington also getting past, but backing up Aron Smith and Jack Goff, the latter tapped Smith into a half-spin at Graham Hill bend, with the pair dropping down the order.

By the time that Collard had dropped out of the top ten, Plato’s lead was as big as 3.8s, with a fight between Shedden, Priaulx and Turkington quickly developing for the final two podium positions.

The trio remained line-astern until lap 20 when Priaulx made a lunge on Shedden at Clearways. The Scot was forced sideways by the move, but kept his foot down and the pair continued side by side along the main straight, before Priaulx moved ahead through Paddock Hill.

At that moment, Plato had gone off into the gravel in front of them with an apparent puncture, but with Priaulx running wide, he relinquished the lead as Shedden dived back inside the BMW at Druids.

Having dropped Turkington, the pair then looked set to remain in formation until the flag, but on the final lap Priaulx made one last attempt to lunge past the Honda having both just lapped Derek Palmer.

Shedden nevertheless held his nerve on the outside to claim the win, which was also his team’s first with the new Civic Type R model.

With Turkington in third, Adam Morgan had a trouble-free run to fourth place. Having started in ninth, Morgan fended off Andrew Jordan in the closing laps to claim a strong result in his Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Tom Ingram also had a productive run to sixth, ahead of Sam Tordoff, Matt Neal and Goff who recovered after his incident with Smith. Rob Austin finished tenth and will start the third race of the day from pole having drawn his number from the reverse grid selection.

RACE THREE…

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Matt Neal won the third British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Brands Hatch ahead of Jack Goff and Aron Smith.

Neal’s win was Honda’s second of the day, after Gordon Shedden’s race two triumph, but the three-time BTCC champion was made to work for the result after coming under sustained pressure from Goff in the closing stages of the race.

As the race started, polesitter Rob Austin leapt off the line as Neal jumped in front of Goff in his MG, before a safety car was required to remove the stricken car of Rob Collard, who went off at Paddock Hill , as well as debrief from a collision between Derek Palmer, Stewart Lines and Kieran Gallagher which also held up Jason Plato.

Race two winner Gordon Shedden had struggled off the line and found himself in 15th place under the safety car, although that became 14th when Josh Cook pulled off at the side of the track.

Cook’s demise extended the caution period, but as the field prepared to go racing again, Shedden himself was forced to pull into the pitlane which took him out of contention for the remainder of the afternoon.

Racing resumed on lap seven and Goff immediately began to push Neal for his then second place. A lap down the line, and Turkington span between Surtees and McLaren as he pushed to improve, while Andrew Jordan made a clean pass on Tom Ingram on the pit straight.

Smith, having started in 12th, was on a charge and overtook Andy Priaulx on the exit of Druids as Jason Plato continued his charge from the back of the field.

At the front, Austin had been holding his ground but was gradually caught by the Honda of Neal, who got alongside the team owner and driver at the start of lap 21 and took the lead of the race, with Goff also passing Austin into Druids.

Andrew Jordan, having overtaken Sam Tordoff earlier, fancied a piece of the action as well but after working a gap, forced both himself and Austin into the gravel on the exit of Clearways, allowing Smith and Tordoff into fourth and fifth. Although Austin recovered to fifth, Jordan was forced to pit immediately with a puncture and finished the race outside of the points.

That left Neal on the soft tyres and Goff to fight it out for victory, but although the latter feigned a couple of overtakes to warn his opponent, Neal managed his tyre situation well to win by 0.196s, with Smith coming home in a comfortable and impressive third place.

With Tordoff fourth and Austin fifth, Ingram completed a successful weekend with another sensible run to sixth, ahead of Adam Morgan. Priaulx and Dave Newsham moved up to eighth and ninth respectively on the final lap, as Austin’s teammate Hunter Abbott dropped two positions to tenth before pulling up in his Audi A4.

There was a maiden points finish for Mike Bushell in a strong 11th, while Turkington recovered to 12th with Plato dropping out of the points to 16th towards the end of the race. Simon Belcher also scored a first point in 15th, while Alex Martin had been on for a points finish before retiring six laps from the finish.

The Championship standings after Race Three are as follows:

1.MATT NEAL 37 points
2.JACK GOFF 37 points
3.ARON SMITH 36 points
4.ANDY PRIAULX 34 points
5.GORDON SHEDDEN 32 points
6.COLIN TURKINGTON 30 points
7.ADAM MORGAN 27 points
8.TOM INGRAM 26 points
9.SAM TORDOFF 23 points
10.ROBERT COLLARD 21 points

The next round of the British Touring Car Championship takes place this weekend at Donington Park.

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