The opening weekend of the 2013 BTCC season produced a similar pattern to what we have become accustomed to over recent seasons. Jason Plato showed that the winter break had hardly stopped his charge for titles as he raced off to score 2 race victories, with old adversary Matt Neal taking victory in Race 3. You could be forgiven for asking, why should I even bother reading on? Why did you say this was going to be an exciting season? Are Plato and Neal going to dominate once again?
Well the answer to third question is quite possibly on the evidence of Round One, but I would point out that there were so many strong performances throughout the weekend I wouldn’t think that Plato and Neal are sleeping soundly at night. Notable strong weekends came from Rob Austin, Sam Tordoff and Adam Morgan who all excelled in at least one race.
The season opener was definitely a solid if unspectacular start to the season. In all honesty, it wasn’t all that exciting but I think I can explain that in a nutshell: Brands Hatch Indy Circuit. There is little doubting that Brands Hatch is one of the most traditional names in British Motorsport and that is probably why the BTCC holds 2 rounds there each season. However, the Grand Prix Circuit is great with several bends, long straights and so on which allows for entertaining racing. The Indy Circuit on the other hand, is quite frankly a waste of time. A lap that takes around 50 seconds is never going to produce quality racing, in my opinion, and I think that showed on Sunday. With 27 cars taking part in the opening round, it was more like a precession because the circuit was simply not long enough to enhance quality racing. I’m not saying cars didn’t overtake and that there was no action, because there was, but just not as much as I wanted as an avid BTCC viewer.
Race One saw a fantastic start from Rob Austin in the Audi A4 as he shot up the field from 7th on the grid. Austin’s drive in the first race was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, taking the lead until he was eventually beaten by Jordan and Plato. Austin showed that the Audi has been developed even more over the winter and I think he will have a promising season. It was a shame that in the second race he had to retire before retiring in more dramatic circumstances in Race 3, having being collected by a spinning Dave Newsham. Austin’s Audi spun before smashing into the barriers at high speed. ‘Sherman’ as Austin calls his car, was definitely looking a bit worse for wear.
The high drama in Race One, was saved until the very last corner where a quite desperate and in all honesty stupid move from Andrew Jordan nearly took himself and Jason Plato out. Jordan jumped down the inside of Plato looking for a gap that was never there, which ended in the pair visiting the gravel but both had enough momentum to get out and cross the line ahead of Austin. Plato was remarkably calm about the incident post-race, probably helped by Jordan’s rather red face.
Race Two followed a similar pattern, Jordan followed home Plato who led from start to finish. I can’t really recall any major incidents from Race Two apart from Frank Wrathall turning his car into a bumper car and smashing into anything in his path. This was something that didn’t go unnoticed by the stewards as he has subsequently been given penalty points and a fine. Jeff Smith inherited a podium finish after Gordon Shedden, who had forced his way through from the back of the grid, failed a post-race ride height check.
Race Three saw most of the big names run the soft, white striped tyre for the first time. However, the finishing positions were quite similar to what we have seen on a regular basis with Neal taking victory from Shedden. However, in third was new boy Sam Tordoff who had an excellent weekend on his BTCC debut. Tordoff, who finished the weekend 3rd in the Driver Standings, had a successful race day with 3rd, 4th and 5th place finishes. I think we can all agree that is an excellent debut. As previously stated, the big incident in Race Three was Newsham losing control at the top of Paddock Hill bend before spinning into the middle of the track where he collected Austin and the rest is history as they say. The stewards covered this with a safety car when a red flag was not out of the question. For ITV4’s lucky viewers however, they and myself, missed the re-start and several changes in position because they were more interested in showing the latest PPI advert. They need to sort that out for the rest of the season.
At the end of the opening round, Plato leads the way on 54 points, 9 ahead of Jordan, with Tordoff 5 points behind him. Jeff Smith, Matt Neal and Adam Morgan round-up the top 6.
Before the race weekend there was a lot of excitement about the soft tyre, which all cars have to run in one of the races they have nominated before Saturday qualifying. I originally thought this new regulation was going to be a positive for the drivers and give them a much better advantage in their chosen race. However, this weekend seems to show it is more of a disadvantage and this was even on a really cold race weekend! It’ll be interesting to see how the drivers cope with the soft tyre on a red-hot track because it’s going to be lucky to last for even half of the race.
Finally, I’d like to give a mention to the drivers in the Jack Sears Trophy. (Humble pie) Well done to James Kaye who won the inaugural round of the Jack Sears Trophy. You were either very lucky or have done a very good job to win a race in that Golf! Liam Griffin won the other races, although he inherited the victory in Race Three as Lea Wood was disqualified following a technical issue. Wood had qualified as the leader of the Jack Sears pack and looked like the man to beat over the weekend. All the cars seemed to suffer problems, with Joe Girling only making it out for Race Three following drive shaft problems, James Kaye missed the last race due to a faulty gearbox, David Nye had various issues including the gravel trap as did Warren Scott in the SEAT Leon.
A quick summary of all the teams:
Honda Yuasa Racing- Honda Civic
Had a nightmare weekend until Race Three, but showed they are still one of the strongest teams in BTCC
MG KX Momentum Racing- MG6
Certainly had the strongest weekend out of all the teams with 2 race wins and a podium. They look even stronger than last season.
eBay Motors/WSR- BMW 125i M Sport
Ah, eBay Motors. Other than Turkington who had 3 low top-10 finishes the weekend was a complete nightmare for the team. On the plus, side they will have learnt the most out of any team about their car over the weekend. A steep learning curve ahead.
Airwaves Racing/ Motorbase- Ford Focus
I was a little bit disappointed with Airwaves to be honest; I thought they would have been a bit stronger. Mat Jackson had a few reliability problems, notably his car cutting out again. If this is the same problem as last season, then it is criminal that it hasn’t been fixed.
Pirtek Racing- Honda Civic
A strong weekend for the team with both drivers doing well. A team to watch.
Speedworks Motorsport- Toyota Avensis
A fairly decent weekend for the team, more so Dave Newsham than the heaviest driver on the grid Ollie Jackson. Definite promise.
Dynojet- Toyota Avensis
Frank Wrathall, who I have a lot of time for, annoyed me with his bumper cars in Race Two and deservedly got points and a fine. It’s a shame I’m talking about this and not the fact that it looks like he’s got another strong car. (Both performance and structurally!)
Ciceley Racing- Toyota Avensis
A super weekend for the Avensis with Morgan finishing 6th in the driver standings after the opening round.
Wix Racing- Audi A4
Rob Austin showed great promise in Race One, in particular, and I think this will be a great season for Wix Racing. Will Bratt was fairly inconspicuous with his presence though.
Kraftwerk Racing/ Team HARD.- VW Passat CC
TOC was towards the back end of the field throughout the races, I’m sure improvement will be made during the season.
RCIB Insurance Racing/ Team HARD.- Vauxhall Insignia VXR-R
The Insignias didn’t look too bad although they were often found in a spin.
Team 44 Club- Chevrolet Cruze
Nothing to report because they weren’t there!
BTC Racing- Chevrolet Cruze
Nothing to report because they weren’t there!
Welch Motorsport with Sopp + Sopp- Proton Gen-2 (NGTC) and Ford Focus (S2000)
Dan Welch was around the mid-field all weekend. Solid enough. David Nye had a few issues, notably a gravel trap.
Addison Lee/ Motorbase- Ford Focus MK III (NGTC) and Ford Focus MK II (S2000)
There was no sign of Michael Caine in a NGTC Focus but Liam Griffin had a decent weekend despite a couple of dramas and leads the Jack Sears Trophy after the opening round.
Wheel Heaven/Houseman Racing- Vauxhall Vectra
Still looks like the man to beat in the Jack Sears Trophy for me.
M247 Racing- Chevrolet Cruze
Joe Girling made it out for the third race following issues. Hopefully, he’ll be out for all three at Donington Park.
Team BMR Restart- SEAT Leon
The car looked decent but not when it was off the road, as it was on several occasions.
AmD Tuning.com- VW Golf MK5
Well done to James Kaye as he won the inaugural Jack Sears Trophy race. However, normal service was resumed as he retired the Golf with gearbox issues in Race Two and didn’t want to risk it in Race Three.