BTCC 2015: Donington Park Thrills & Spills!!!

The 2nd weekend of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship took place at Donington Park with some exciting and thrilling racing enthralling the crowds for rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the BTCC.

Lets see how things panned out…

QUALIFYING…

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Colin Turkington claimed pole position for the opening British Touring Car Championship race at Donington Park ahead of Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato. The fastest time in qualifying completed a clean sweep of sessions for Turkington’s Team BMR outfit, although in truth his claiming of pole came as something of a surprise with his team-mate Plato having dominated the day’s earlier practice sessions.

In a frantic half hour, the reigning champion posted his fastest time of 1:09.483s in the closing minutes of the session, and with neither Shedden or Plato able to usurp him will start from the front of the grid for round four of the championship. Adam Morgan put in a strong lap to secure fourth on the grid, ahead of Triple Eight’s Andrew Jordan, who twice spun during the session. The 2013 champion nevertheless retains fifth on the grid, ahead of his team’s 500th start in the championship.

A sensational sixth place went to Power Maxed Racing’s Josh Cook in what is the best qualifying position that any NGTC Chevrolet Cruze has ever secured as he wrung every bit of pace out of his machine, ahead of joint championship leader Matt Neal and Sam Tordoff. Aiden Moffat made it two Mercedes-Benz A-Class’ in the top 10, with Cook’s team-mate Dave Newsham completing the top ten.

As was the case in the day’s two practice sessions, there was a brief stoppage as Andy Priaulx’s BMW stopped out on track. Despite Tordoff’s encouraging pace, it was a disappointing afternoon for the West Surrey Racing team, with Rob Collard managing only the 19th quickest time with Priaulx languishing in 23rd.

RACE ONE…

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Team BMR’s Jason Plato won the opening British Touring Car Championship race of the day, ahead of Gordon Shedden and polesitter Colin Turkington. Plato assumed the lead from his team-mate Turkington at the end of the first lap having gone up the inside on the Starkeys straight, and looked comfortable until the finish as he claimed his first victory of the season.

Turkington led off the line as the front three got an even start, although Plato gave the Northern Irishman a small nudge as they rounded Redgate for the first time, with the latter getting the better of Shedden at the Old Hairpin. But Turkington relinquished the lead after running slightly wide onto the back straight, with Plato galloping off into the distance. Shedden capitalised on the opportunity at the old hairpin on the second lap, making a daring dive stick to move into second.

With Plato up the road, Turkington made an attempt to return the BMR team a 1-2 finish with a pass on the Honda at Redgate, but Shedden used the cutback well to immediately regain the position. Despite a hairy moment towards the end of the race, the Scot was able to hold Turkington behind him thereafter as they followed Plato across the line, who as 1.401s clear at the front.

Behind the podium finishers, Andrew Jordan had a quiet but productive run to fourth. Having wriggled ahead of Adam Morgan off the line, the MG driver wasn’t able to stay with the frontrunners, but nevertheless racked up his best result of the season so far in his team’s 500th BTCC race. Sam Tordoff also had a quiet run to sixth as West Surrey Racing’s trio of BMWs performed far better during the opening race than they had during qualifying, while sixth place went to Dave Newsham after an aggressive drive through the field from tenth.

Jack Goff pipped Rob Collard to seventh on the line, while Morgan held onto ninth as the best-placed soft tyre runner, ahead of Rob Austin.

A number of drivers had problems during the opening race. Aron Smith was unable to take the start in his Volkswagen Passat after problems brake fluid problems, while Mike Bushell and Dan Welch both pulled into the pits at the end of the formation lap. The former briefly joined the track, only to stop in the runoff area at the end of the main straight.

RACE TWO…

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Colin Turkington was victorious for the first time in Team BMR colours in the second British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Donington Park, ahead of Matt Neal and Adam Morgan.

The win continues his team’s clean sweep of sessions so far this weekend, while also making him the fifth different winner from the opening five races of this season’s championship.

It was Turkington who leapt off the line best when the race got underway, moving into the lead at Redgate from second on the grid ahead of polesitter Gordon Shedden.

The Honda driver then tried to come back at Turkington on lap two, but in tapping the rear of the Volkswagen CC, Shedden forced himself wide and into a slide which allowed Andrew Jordan through into second place.

As that was happening, Alex Martin missed his braking point and hit the rear of Warren Scott, and with the latter forced to retire a safety car was deployed.

That allowed the field to bunch up again, but Turkington was unfazed and raced into a five second lead by the middle of the race with the rest of the action behind him, eventually winning by 2.501s.

Neal’s advance came after the restart on lap five, first passing Jason Plato before closing onto a group that had formed behind Shedden. As his teammate began to struggle, Neal – having passed Rob Collard – latched onto the group that had formed behind the lead Honda, quickly passing Shedden after Morgan had forced a way through.

As the battle for second then heated up, Neal took full advantage of a tap from Morgan on Jordan, by first slicing through the middle of the pair into the chicane and then switching back on Jordan into Redgate after the Triple Eight driver had forced his way through.

Neal then pulled away from the pair, but the battle for third was still to be decided as Morgan tapped Jordan for a second time. That allowed Collard – who had latched onto the back of Morgan’s Mercedes – to drive around the outside of the pair onto the Starkeys straight, but Morgan held the inside line and Collard was forced back to sixth, with Jordan bouncing across the gravel back into fourth and Plato through into fifth.

They remained in that order to the flag, although Plato and Collard had to withstand a late charge from Josh Cook, who finished seventh. The Power Maxed Racing driver produced a stellar drive to finish on their tails, and was rewarded with a reverse-grid pole position.

Goff finished in eighth having handled his soft tyres well, ahead of Sam Tordoff and Andy Priaulx, the latter making his first top ten appearance of the weekend.

RACE THREE…

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Matt Neal emerged victorious from the final British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Donington Park, holding off Andrew Jordan on the final lap with Gordon Shedden in third. In an enthralling end to the weekend’s proceedings, Neal grabbed the lead from Rob Collard with three laps to go and fended Jordan off in the closing moments to secure a second win, making him the first man to do so this season, which returned him the lead of the championship.

In stark contrast, the start of the race was a calm one as Collard took the lead from polesitter Josh Cook, with the pair pulling away from third-place man Jason Plato. Cook though had been full of confidence all weekend and after stalking the BMW in the opening two laps, moved into the lead at the end of the third lap.

There was plenty of jostling behind the pair in the next four laps, but both Cook and Collard would have been aggrieved to see a safety car deployed having built a big lead, but with Sam Tordoff and Jack Goff in the barriers as a result of midfield bunching into the final chicane, officials were left with little choice.

Racing resumed on lap 11 and immediately Aron Smith – who had carved his way through the order in the opening laps – latched onto the rear of Collard’s BMW, feigning a move at the end of the straight before switching back and moving into second on the run through the Craner Curves. Smith quickly turned his attentions to Cook’s lead, but the Power Maxed Racing driver in only his sixth BTCC race, put up a stout defence of the position, as he covered off Smith’s attacks throughout the lap.

That was until lap 14, when Cook showed an inch of room to Smith who, with a better run down the curves, looked to have snatched the lead before leaning on Cook. The pair both lost control and took to the grass down the hill, rejoining in the middle of a battle for what had been third place, between Collard, Neal, Jordan and Shedden.

The incident handed Collard the lead, but as he struggled on the soft tyres, Neal pounced and dived down the inside at the beginning of lap 17, with Jordan holding a slide as he tried to follow the Honda man through to claim second. They finished in that order, with Neal claiming victory by 0.157s, while Shedden came out on top in a five-way fight for the final podium position.

Collard clung onto fourth – which completed a trio of top ten finishes – while Aiden Moffat put in a superb performance to finish fifth, in so doing achieving a maiden top-ten finish. Smith and Cook were sixth and seventh respectively after their contact, while Plato came home eighth.

With bunching throughout the order, Martin Depper kept his head to claim ninth – his best finish in the series – while Tom Ingram completed the top ten. Alongside Goff and Tordoff, Andy Priaulx was not classified at the finish, having pitted on lap three with issues, while Dave Newsham and Rob Austin were late casualties.

However, after Race Three, Triple Eight lodged a protest against Matt Neals win, due to the contact that took place between himself and Andrew Jordan through Coppice and on the run up to Mcleans. This race result remains provisional and it will be decided before action resumes at Thruxton next weekend for rounds 7, 8 and 9.

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SUMMARY…

What Donington Park did provide was some awesome racing and it also opened up the question of the soft tyre and the revised weight system that is in place this year. Effectively, the soft tyre is the quicker tyre so far, but it needs the temperatures to be high and potentially later in the season we will see more wins and better performances from drivers.

However, the weight/success ballast issue is now opening up two routes for success. As a driver with a car capable of winning races, in 2015 a race win will give you 75kgs in the car. The pattern that is developing sees a driver win Race One and then in Race Two, where fastest laps from Race One complete the grid, fall back down the field to around 8th to 10th place or below as they do the best they can.

This often means now that anyone of the drivers fighting for wins and for the Championship may have to take the hit of suffering one difficult race out of all three over a weekend. But there is a second approach. Consistency. If you can get your car to finish 5th or 6th in each race, the weight is slightly lower and you can maintain that finishing position, you still score good points in all three races, so its an interesting quandry… We’ll see how things progress over the season.

All the best!

Phil!

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