After a long summer break the Dunlop BTCC series emerged for three races at Snetterton. Controversy over driving standards followed a dramatic set of races. What did ESM’s BTCC Correspondent make of it all?
Snetterton sees the return of the Ford
After the midseason break the British Touring Car Championship returned to Snetterton for Rounds 16, 17 and 18. During the 6 week break, the teams have had the opportunity to practise running and develop their understanding of the soft tyres at Snetterton itself. It is fair to say that the MG duo of Jason Plato and Sam Tordoff were definitely the quickest on the test days, but would that testing dominance transpire into race wins? One team that looks to have made vast improvements over the break is Airwaves Racing. In the first half of the season, they were by far my most disappointing team, but if their performance is anything to go by at Snetterton, things are on the up!
Race One saw a first ever pole position for Tordoff, with Plato in second. It certainly looked like their dominance was set to continue. I would like to note admirable season best qualifying positions for Aron Smith (6th), Jack Goff (8th) and Dan Welch (10th). As the lights went out, Tordoff made an excellent getaway to lead into the first corner from Plato, Shedden and Turkington who had made an early move on Jordan. The train of cars inevitably spits out one unlucky sole, this time it was Welch’s turn to be the fall guy.
In all honesty, this was one of the most boring races of the season so far with very little incident to comment on. However, we did have the excitement of Will Bratt’s Audi bonnet popping opening and obscuring his vision, Frank Wrathall’s poor season continue as he retired, where he was later joined at the side of the road by Liam Griffin. The race did contain a few neat overtaking manoeuvres, notably Matt Neal with an uncharacteristic clean move on Goff and then later Mat Jackson with a great pass around the outside of Neal for 8th. There was a hint of possible drama at the end as Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan, running in 4th and 5th, caught 2nd and 3rd placed Plato and Gordon Shedden but were unable to find a way past. This all meant that Tordoff was able to take his first ever BTCC win, and much deserved too on his form this year.
The second race provided the levels of entertainment that we have become accustomed to in the BTCC. Tordoff, one again, appeared to get an excellent start, but it was his teammate Plato that was in the lead after the first couple of corners. Turkington’s BMW made the usual good start and at Turn 3 he made a fair move on Tordoff to squeeze up to 2nd. Lap 2 brought the first safety car of the day as Griffin’s S2000 Focus ended up in the gravel trap, following a 3-way collision. David Nye and James Kaye, now racing an old Team Dynamics Honda Civic rather than that Golf, had a small coming together at the first corner which meant Nye tagged the unfortunate Griffin who was on the outside of them both and he ended up in the gravel.
After a few laps behind the safety car, Plato made an excellent attempt at a restart and made good headway from Turkington as he crossed the line. Turn 3 saw an unusual event; Jordan making a completely clean move on Shedden. Why doesn’t he do this more often? Shedden was soon back on Jordan however to take the place back, but Smith was prowling in the background. Jordan’s clean passing didn’t last for even a lap as he re-took the place from Shedden with a shove in his back that meant Shedden fell down the pack. At the end of the lap there was a change of leader, as Plato’s MG seemed to suffer some sort of engine issue and he slowly rolled it back to the pits.
Turkington wasn’t able to pull out much of a lead and Tordoff was soon on his back followed by Jordan, although the chasing pair soon swapped places. The two Fords of Smith and Jackson were doing well in 4th and 5th. Lap 8 saw more contact as Adam Morgan went wide and while people were avoiding him, notably Jeff Smith and Rob Austin they ended up tagging. The damage sustained by Smith was terminal. Tordoff had also dropped well down the pack by this stage as it appeared he was suffering from a braking issue which continued until the end of the race.
Lap 9 saw Jordan close on Turkington as all of the top 5 were close. Neal had made it up to 4th with a good move on Jackson at Brundle and Shedden followed him through. The following lap it was becoming clear that Turkington was working harder than ever to retain his lead as there was a train of 8 cars behind him, all racing fairly. The fair racing of course only lasted a couple of minutes as Jordan, once again, used his car as a battering ram to take the lead from Turkington, who fell down the pack as a result of a small spin. Lap 11 also saw Collard spinning out as he had collision damage which appeared to break his rear axle.
The last lap saw a good move on Smith by Neal to take second place, but a podium for Smith and a 4th place for Jackson meant it was an excellent race for Airwaves Racing. Jordan took his 3rd victory of the season, with his earlier victim Turkington managing to finish 6th, just behind a good result for Morgan in 5th. Lea Wood took his second Jack Sears Trophy win of the day with an impressive 13th overall.
Race Three saw Dave Newsham drawn on pole for the reverse grid race from Shedden, Turkington, Morgan and the 2 Fords. Plato was starting the race in 23rd on soft tyres, while Kaye and Warren Scott didn’t even make the grid. The start saw Turkington zoom off the line between the top 2 as Newsham got massively mugged, but there was a brilliant start for Austin who jumped from 14th to 6th.
The safety car was soon out again after a couple of incidents on the in-field. The first saw Newsham tag Neal, which sent them both spinning, although the damage to Newsham’s car was enough to see him out of the race, but Neal was able to continue further down the pack. However, the second incident was a little bit more dramatic. Plato may have been tagged from the back by Bratt, although he admitted he didn’t know himself, and was sent sideways towards the barriers where the impact was enough to send the MG into a hefty roll. Plato was lucky enough to walk away unharmed.
The restart on Lap 5 saw Neal down in 22nd and Turkington leading but after only a few corners of racing there were more incidents as Bratt’s car went flying into the tyre wall following contact with Welch and Ollie Jackson. Welch suffered a puncture and Jackson continued once he got his car pointing in the right direction.
Similarly to Race Two, Turkington didn’t have the pace to pull away from the chasing wolves and after several attempts by Shedden to take the lead, which Turkington had defended well, came the inevitable smack from the rear after a late lunge by a Honda. Turkington had already started turning into the corner as Shedden decided he was going to attack after closing on the brakes, but in reality there wasn’t a Honda sized gap.
The following laps saw Austin off the track, a good clean battle between Morgan and Aron Smith and Tordoff making his way through the pack with no ballast on board. Tordoff was able to take 5th from Jordan as he clearly had the fastest car on track at this point in the proceedings, but he was running out of laps and had to settle for a final place of 5th. The penultimate lap saw Turkington get some small revenge on Jordan following their earlier incident with an excellent clean move firstly around the outside and then up the inside of him – Jordan take note.
Shedden was fairly comfortable in the lead of the race after his pass on Turkington and it was the Honda driver who secured victory ahead of superb drives from Airwaves Racing pair Jackson and Smith with Morgan again finishing a strong 4th. Wood had a perfect weekend in the S2000 class as he was able to complete a hat-trick of wins in the trusty old Vectra.
After an unusually quiet opening to the racing, races two and three were much more of what we expect from the BTCC. Sadly, it was also more of what we expect from Shedden and Jordan as they both continued to use their Civics as battering rams, mainly at the expense of the unfortunate Turkington. However, retribution was not far away as they were both punished for their driving post-race as Shedden was given 3 penalty points and a fine following his driving in Race Three and Jordan points and fine for his driving in Race Two. As this was Jordan’s third punishment of the season he now faces a six place grid drop at the next round. Personally, I’m not for all these points and fine punishments but I would rather have seen Shedden excluded from the results if his driving standards were regarded as being poor. This would have hurt him more championship wise than a fine.
One man who I am now going to say is out of the championship race is Plato. He lies 50 points behind leader Neal with 12 races left. Yes, anything can happen in the BTCC, but I can’t see Plato making up a gap of 50 points when he seems to be having such rotten luck and overtaking the other drivers ahead of him too should Neal have issues. MG will leave Snetterton with mixed emotions. They clearly had the fastest car at the circuit, but other than a 1-2 in Race One didn’t have a lot else to show for the day. Tordoff’s victory will now give him more confidence for the future, but perhaps Plato’s biggest challenge will now be keeping his young-gun teammate behind him.
To conclude the review of Snetterton, I must give a huge pat on the back to Airwaves Racing and their drivers. Traditionally, I’ve always been a fan of Fords back to the days of Paul Radisich and Will Hoy but Ford fans haven’t had much to shout about recently. Their start to this season has been undoubtedly poor, but Snetterton showed good promise and it remains to be seen whether they continue this form for the rest of the season. I hope it will because they will now be going to tracks where Jackson drove the NGTC car on the remaining tracks last season so hopefully they will have data to inform them for this season. Next stop: Knockhill.
Championship standings after Round 18 out of 30:
1. Matt Neal 256 points
2. Andrew Jordan 247
3. Gordon Shedden 234
4. Colin Turkington 219
5. Jason Plato 206
6. Sam Tordoff 182
Summary of the teams:
Honda Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic
A decent weekend for Honda. Neal will be upset to have seen his lead cut, but Shedden will be pleased his battering ram survived another weekend.
MG KX Momentum Racing – MG6
A mixed set of results for MG. Tordoff will be the happier of their drivers, but Plato’s championship chances seem to be slipping away.
eBay Motors/WSR – BMW 125i M Sport
A fairly decent weekend for eBay Motors. Turkington is still the strongest driver, but Collard and Foster are still showing signs of improvement. Not as strong as Croft, but getting there.
Airwaves Racing/Motorbase – Ford Focus
Super weekend for the Fords, can they continue this form next time out?
Pirtek Racing – Honda Civic
So now both Pirtek drivers have had the 6 place grid penalty this season, with Smith having it at Snetterton and Jordan to receive it at Knockhill. Mike Jordan- have a word.
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis
Ollie Jackson was fairly anonymous this weekend and Newsham did ok, it was a shame he got mugged on the start line in Race Three.
Dynojet – Toyota Avensis
Ditto from Croft- 2013 doesn’t seem to be Frank Wrathall’s year. Another poor weekend for him.
Ciceley Racing – Toyota Avensis
Adam Morgan had another strong weekend, well done to him.
Wix Racing – Audi A4
The Audis didn’t do too badly, but they are still struggling to challenge for the top 10 regularly. Austin and Bratt had a couple of spins each this weekend.
Kraftwerk Racing/Team HARD. – VW Passat CC
TOC was sniffing around the lower reaches of the top 10.
RCIB Insurance Racing/ Team HARD.- Vauxhall Insignia VXR-R
Goff had a decent qualifying and result from Race One. Robb Holland was back but was fairly unspectacular.
Team 44 Club – Chevrolet Cruze
Andy Neate was there and racing! I think that in itself is an achievement.
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)
Decent qualifying from Welch, but again fairly poor races. Just not as good as last season.
Addison Lee/ Motorbase – Ford Focus MK III (NGTC) and Ford Focus MK II (S2000)
No Michael Caine this weekend, and Liam Griffin ended up out of the races too often.
Wheel Heaven/Houseman Racing – Vauxhall Vectra
Lea Wood will be delighted with a hat-trick of victories. Super!
M247 Racing – Chevrolet Cruze
Team BMR Restart – VW Passat CC
Scott has changed cars from the Leon to the Passat, but had the same bad luck.
AmD Tuning.com – Honda Civic
The return of Kaye and Honda didn’t really have the desired effect- still somewhere around the back. I’m sure they’ll get it sorted though.