2013 BTCC Round 5 – Croft Review

With the sunburn now just about faded, and shoes dried out, here is the full review of the 2013 visit of the British Touring Car Championship at Croft Circuit by our correspondent.

Turkington Dominates at Croft

ESM BTCC Croft 2013 (40)

Colin Turkington achieved, not only his best results since his return to the BTCC, but his best ever points haul in a BTCC weekend, at Croft. However, he wasn’t the only man to leave EngageSportMode’s local circuit smiling, as Matt Neal enjoyed a solid weekend to leave himself with a good gap at the top of the championship as we head into another six-week break.

The eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport had looked strong from the start of the weekend, with it proving impressive in free practice, allowing Rob Collard to come home first in FP2. Saturday qualifying saw Jason Plato top of the charts heading into the final run, but Turkington produced an outstanding effort to put himself at the top, gaining a qualifying lap record around Croft Circuit in the process.

Race One saw Turkington line up first, ahead of Plato and ‘The Big Three Hondas.’ Despite my admiration for Turkington, I didn’t give him much hope in this race. As the lights went out, Turkington made a clean start heading to the first corner, Clervaux, but the most impressive start was made by Collard. He started sixth on the grid and made the most of the great BMW start and was just about second as the cars went into the first corner. Croft is an extremely tight circuit in places, no more so than in the first couple of corners, and Collard was tapped by Plato sending him into a 360 spin which was enough to send him down the field.  The incident caused a small amount of damage to Plato’s steering and suspension, but it was enough damage to make Plato struggle in the race.

Turkington and Neal had built a sizeable gap to Plato by the end of the first lap and it was becoming clear that Plato was starting to hold the pack up. Collard, who was recovering from being tapped by Plato in the midfield, soon became the tapper, with Frank Wrathall his victim. Wrathall impressively held the spin and was able to carry on.

Frank Wrathall clings on to his sideways Avensis.

Frank Wrathall clings on to his sideways Avensis.

Gordon Shedden was soon all over Plato and following another brief battle between the pair and a little tap from Shedden, it ended with Plato running on the grass and Shedden was through. By the end of lap 3 it was becoming clear that Ollie Jackson’s Speedworks Avensis was rather sick, with all sorts of smoke coming out of it and it was also becoming clear that the BMWs meant business with Nick Foster pulling a good move on Sam Tordoff at the hairpin.

Mat Jackson had another fairly disappointing weekend, with his first race being ended by smacking into the tyres at Hawthorn Bend. Jackson had initially spun at Clervaux and caught it, but overcorrected and collected the tyres marking Hawthorn Bend, damaging the side of his car badly and the suspension.ESM BTCC Croft Jackson(70)

Laps 7 and 8 saw Turkington continue to build up a huge lead at the front, whilst Foster continued his charge up the field and Shedden closed the gap to Neal who was in second. Dave Newsham was a casualty at the hairpin on lap 8, meaning he missed the spots of the rain that started on lap 9. Luckily the rain, on this occasion, was fairly light and didn’t last too long.

The final laps of the race saw Foster finally overtake Plato with a neat move at Hawthorns, Dan Welch grass cutting and some interesting battles further down the field. Jeff Smith and Collard were having a good battle, before Smith went wide, which also allowed Michael Caine through. Caine also took Collard and Adam Morgan in one move at the chicane in a fantastic racing move. However, this race belonged to Turkington who came home with a winning margin of 9.3 seconds, which is simply amazing in the BTCC. In addition to his winning margin, it was the first victory for a car using soft tyres, in either Race One or Two of the day, as well as being the first victory for the BMW 1-series on true pace, with Turkington’s previous victory coming in the reverse grid race.

Neal was able to hold on to second ahead of the quicker looking Shedden, the impressive Foster, Plato and Andrew Jordan. In the Jack Sears Trophy there was a win on debut for the impressive Jake Hill.

ESM BTCC Croft 2013 (41)

Race Two was all about one thing: the weather conditions.  Just before the cars started to make their way to the grid for the second race, the heavens opened for what was a fairly heavy shower. The two MGs and Caine took the gamble to go for wet weather tyres, but the rest of the field stayed on slicks. As the lights went out, Turkington again got away cleanly and lead the flurry of cars down to Clervaux, followed by his quick-starting teammate Foster, although he soon suffered an issue.

As the cars approached Tower Bend, Plato used the grip given to him by his wets to take the lead of the race, overtaking both Turkington and Neal by his superior confidence in stopping for the corner. Tordoff, in the other MG, was second by the time they had completed half a lap and both MGs were starting to build a gap by the end of lap 1. It was certainly some start!

ESM BTCC Croft 2013 (61)

Lap 2 was fairly steady as the cars settled themselves down, but by the end of lap 3 Turkington had caught Tordoff and overtook him at the hairpin. Plato, on the other hand, had built a lead of 2.4 seconds. However, lap 4 was when Plato’s early dominance came to an end. By the end of lap 4, Plato had been overtaken by Turkington, Shedden and Tom Onslow-Cole as a dry line started to emerge. Lap 5 saw Shedden as one of the fastest men on track and he was really taking the challenge to Turkington, but couldn’t find a way around the BMW.

Further down the field and catching the eye were the S2000 cars fighting it out for the Jack Sears Trophy win. David Nye, Lea Wood and Hill were all engaged in a fantastic, closely fought scrap that continued all the way to the finish line on the last lap, with Nye eventually coming out on top. It was a real credit to the BTCC watching these three scrap it out in Race Two.

Following a few laps where the rain had eased, it started to come down again on laps 9 and 10, but this didn’t stop Collard pulling an outstanding and brave move on Foster at the Jim Clark Esses. By the time the rain started to come down again, the MGs were already well down the pack and by lap 14 their humiliation was complete as, running last, Turkington lapped both Tordoff and Plato. Their gamble to go with wet weather tyres simply hadn’t worked.

Collard had been catching Jordan in the final stages of the race for fifth place and on the last lap at the chicane, Jordan went straight over it as Collard was lurking. Collard felt Jordan should have given up the place, as he had maintained his advantage, but it didn’t matter as Collard slid through at the hairpin with the smallest amount of door rubbing. However, post-race this wasn’t the view of the stewards and the position was reversed with Collard being relegated back to sixth, allowing Jordan to keep fifth.

The race win was again taken by Turkington, racing with 45kgs, but this time from Shedden, Onslow-Cole and Neal. The MGs finished in 20th and 21st. This inevitably led to one question: Could Turkington complete a hat-trick of wins?

ESM BTCC Croft 2013 (69)

Turkington was given the chance to make it easier for himself in Race Three if he was able to pull out ball six in the reverse grid draw with Steve Rider. He chose ball eight, but it was still possible to complete a hat-trick with the conditions being as wet as they’ve been all season. Turkington’s ball choice meant that Morgan was on pole from Foster, Collard and Jordan. Jeff Smith was relegated 6 places down the grid following his altercation with Newsham in Race Two. It was the third time Smith had been found guilty of poor driving this year, hence the 6 place penalty.

Foster was able to get the jump on Morgan in torrential conditions at the start of the third race and as the cars approached Tower Bend, Wrathall amazingly survived after being tapped several times by various cars as they found it impossible to stop for the corner. It wasn’t the only place where the BTCC train found it hard to stop as at the end of the lap, at least seven cars couldn’t get turned in for the hairpin and went straight on.

The second lap saw some massive slides for Morgan and Shedden after exiting Barcroft towards Sunny In, with them both ending up on the grass before recovering. Their slides allowed Neal and Turkington to take advantage. At the start of lap 3, with things starting to settle down, it was Foster from Neal from Turkington.

Mat Jackson’s dismal weekend continued in Race Three as he got it wrong going into the hairpin and smacked into the unlucky Dan Welch, who in turn knocked into Hill. One man who was having a much better weekend was Foster, but he was overtaken by Neal on lap 3 and then Turkington in a bold move at the Esses where they both only just managed to squeeze through. It was soon the turn of Jordan and Newsham to send Foster back down the field as they chased hard after the new leaders, Jordan in particular pulling off a fine move around the outside of Foster at Tower Bend.

James Kaye had the Golf in trouble once again following a spin at Sunny In, but was able to get going again, albeit a lap down. One man who was soon to be out though was Morgan, who went straight on at Clervaux for the second time in the weekend. Despite the ESM opinion that it was going to be a certain safety car period, it never materialised and the incident was dealt with under waved yellows.

 

 

Race Three saw Plato achieve the opposite to Race Two as he moved his way up the field, rather than down, and by lap 8 he was up from twentieth to ninth after a good move on TOC at Clervaux. His progress started to slow down after this, as did most of the action in the race, but on lap 13 he made it up to seventh and on lap 14 he reached the heights of sixth after Foster went wide on approach to the chicane.

Entering the final lap of a fantastic day’s racing, Kaye left the Golf in the middle of a field and Neal looked comfortable in the lead, although the rain was again coming down heavily. As Neal approached Tower for the final time, he ran slightly wide, but probably caused no great alarm to himself, something that can’t be said 5 seconds later as he exited the Jim Clark Esses. Neal, once again, ran wide hitting the huge puddles and that upset the car massively, but he just held on to it and stroked the car home ahead of Turkington. It was fitting that the last lap gave us drama, like most of the laps had throughout the day. So, Neal secured his fourth win of the season ahead of Turkington, Jordan, Shedden, Newsham and Plato. The battered Vectra of Wood was the sole survivor in the S2000 class and therefore he picked up the victory.

ESM BTCC Croft 2013 (87)

Croft provided some fantastic racing as the season reached its halfway point. Matt Neal will definitely leave Croft a happy man with a 19 point lead at the top of the standings. It will also be interesting to see how the eBay Motors season develops from here. Did they just get lucky at Croft, where the BMW is notoriously strong, or have they found a solution to get all three cars working well? I hope it’s the latter as Turkington’s outstanding weekend has now made the championship a five way battle. Bring on Snetterton in 6 weeks!

Championship standings after Round 15 out of 30:

  1. Matt Neal                      224 points
  2. Andrew Jordan           205
  3. Jason Plato                   188
  4. Gordon Shedden        188
  5. Colin Turkington        184
  6. Sam Tordoff                 148

Here is my usual summary opinion of all the teams and drivers:

Honda Yuasa Racing- Honda Civic

A good weekend for Honda, especially Matt Neal. Shedden will be hoping that he finds a little bit of extra performance from somewhere because he won’t be retaining his title at this rate.

MG KX Momentum Racing- MG6

A poor weekend for MG in reality. They were fairly poor in Race One, by their standards, before the win or lose situation they found themselves facing in Race Two. They lost out big time. Race Three however, showed that MG have definitely found some performance in the wet unlike last year so that may prove vital at some point in the future.

eBay Motors/WSR- BMW 125i M Sport

A brilliant weekend for eBay Motors. Apart from the obvious of Turkington being outstanding, what a weekend for Nick Foster. He really came to the fore again this weekend with some strong performances. Collard was also there or thereabouts, but seemed to find contact with other cars at the wrong time.

Airwaves Racing/ Motorbase- Ford Focus

Disaster, again.

Pirtek Racing- Honda Civic

Jordan will be pleased with his Race Three podium after a steady weekend and he’s still in the hunt for the championship. Jeff Smith was the first man to fall foul of the new 2013 rules, being relegated six grid places after his third driving standards punishment of the year.

Speedworks Motorsport- Toyota Avensis

Dave Newsham achieved a season’s best 5th in Race Three and is definitely the stronger driver in this team. Developing well.

Dynojet- Toyota Avensis

2013 doesn’t seem to be Frank Wrathall’s year. Another poor weekend for him.

Ciceley Racing- Toyota Avensis

Adam Morgan was once again involved in some interesting moments, notably going straight on at Clervaux twice in one weekend.

Wix Racing- Audi A4

The Audis didn’t do too badly, but they are still struggling to challenge for the top 10 regularly. Nice to meet the guys in person though.

Kraftwerk Racing/ Team HARD.- VW Passat CC

TOC will be chuffed with his podium in Race Two as the Passat continues to develop.

RCIB Insurance Racing/ Team HARD.- Vauxhall Insignia VXR-R

Goff was involved in some action this weekend, but still not challenging the top 10.

Team 44 Club- Chevrolet Cruze

The car was built for Oulton Park, but they didn’t race. No idea where they were this weekend.

BTC Racing- Chevrolet Cruze

Are they going to be at any of the rounds this season?

Welch Motorsport with Sopp + Sopp- Proton Gen-2 (NGTC) and Ford Focus (S2000)

Welch Motorsport’s highlight will have been David Nye’s first win in the S2000 class. Well done, sir.

Addison Lee/ Motorbase- Ford Focus MK III (NGTC) and Ford Focus MK II (S2000)

There was no Liam Griffin this weekend, but Jake Hill looked excellent on his debut securing a maiden win. There was also a first appearance of the season for Michael Caine and he did an excellent job in his NGTC Focus. I hope to see more of him now.

Wheel Heaven/Houseman Racing- Vauxhall Vectra

Lea Wood won Race Three, but just couldn’t find a way to pass Nye in Race Two. Still leads the standings in the Jack Sears Trophy.

M247 Racing- Chevrolet Cruze

Joe Girling qualified, before making a right mess of his car and was subsequently unable to race.

Team BMR Restart- SEAT Leon

Warren Scott qualified last, but didn’t compete- not sure why. When I said his car was quicker than mine he replied, ‘Not at the minute it isn’t!’

AmD Tuning.com- VW Golf MK5

James Kaye returned after missing Oulton Park, but endured the same old problems with that Golf. He did however, have the honour of overtaking the MGs in Race Two. That’ll never happen again!

The BTCC now heads off for it’s lengthy summer break (like a school teacher), but ESM will have all the action when it starts again at Snetterton on the 4th August.

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