It was north of the border again for the British Touring Car Championship’s annual visit to Scotland.
Forceful manoeuvres, close racing, safety cars and three different winners were just some of the things witnessed at Knockhill in the latest rounds of the BTCC. The championship top 5 contenders are now closer together thanks to a poor weekend for Team BMR and a good one for Honda Yuasa Racing.
As Tim Harvey pointed out during ITV’s coverage, the circuits are starting to become car specific, hence we are seeing some teams doing well at one circuit and not others. I quite agree with Tim, but I would also add that it isn’t the first time we’ve noticed this. For example, at Croft we always know the BMWs will go well and likewise at Snetterton we know it suits a long wheel based, front wheeled drive car, such as the Volkswagen CC. However, this season, perhaps more than others, due to the great ability of the leading championship contenders it is becoming, or has become, more of a relevant issue. Despite this, I would still suggest the best drivers have risen to the top of the leader board. Jason Plato and Colin Turkington have 2 other team mates, but they’re not in top 10, nor are other Honda Civic drivers.
The remaining circuits of Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch (GP) will favour the VW CC over the Honda Civic, or at least there will be parity between the two cars as the season reaches its climax. The racing won’t solely focus on them, of course, because we don’t want a situation like the early noughties where one Vauxhall team basically raced another Vauxhall team, as the BMWs, MGs, Fords and so on will make a valuable impact on this season’s championship.
Plato will no doubt be delighted we visit Knockhill only once a year as this weekend really was a case of damage limitation for him. He still leads the championship, but now with a margin of 11 points from Gordon Shedden down from 16 points from team mate Turkington. Plato’s poor weekend started with a disastrous 22nd in qualifying and he elected to start from the pit lane, like he controversially did at Croft. His tactic worked and he was able to set a fairly quick lap time in the first race that pushed him up the grid for the start of the second race.
Qualifying belonged to Andy Priaulx who lined up on the front row of the entertaining first race next to Sam Tordoff. Mat Jackson took 3rd, having been at the front of qualifying for a long period, 4th was Rob Collard, 5th Gordon Shedden and 6th Rob Austin. Jackson made an excellent start and was leading at the end of the opening lap with Priaulx in 2nd and by lap 3, he had built up an impressive 2 second lead in a car that was only starting its 4th race of the season. Lap 4 brought a couple of incidents, the first involving Aiden Moffat and Jack Goff, with the latter receiving his 3rd warning of the season and subsequent demotion to the back of the grid for the second race. The second incident saw a coming together of Dan Welch and Kieran Gallagher, again with the latter being punished. The result of the incidents was debris on the track and the safety car was needed for a couple of laps.
Jackson made a great re-start and started to build his lead again, although it may have been ruined by a spin from Derek Palmer, but he managed to move his car from the gravel alleviating the need for another safety car. Austin had pressurised Shedden heavily throughout the race and he made his move on the start/finish line, but Shedden stood his ground stoutly and Austin had to take evasive action to avoid running into the back of the much slower Stewart Lines who was trying to get out of the way.
On lap 14, Jackson found that his big lead had been diminished with Priaulx and Collard, who were having their own battle, soon on the back of his Focus. Jackson held them up for several laps, but when Priaulx tried for the lead, he was pushed wide by Jackson, hit an advertising board, and Collard was able to find a way past for 2nd. It didn’t take long for Collard to take the lead, finding a way down the inside of Jackson. Tordoff had a fantastic final few laps reaching 4th after overtaking Shedden, Matt Neal and Austin. Collard took his third victory of the season, from an impressive Jackson and Priaulx. Austin was punished post-race for running into the back of Neal on the cool down lap.
Jackson’s impressive pace in the opening race meant that he was on pole for Race Two, which turned out to be a race of two halves. Shedden lined up 2nd, Austin 3rd, Collard 4th with Jordan and Tordoff completing the top 6. The front row zoomed off as the lights went out, as the majority of everyone behind stayed in position too, although Tordoff retired shortly afterwards. Shedden soon closed up on Jackson and took the lead on lap 5. Austin, who had Collard and Andrew Jordan close behind, tried to capitalise on the situation too, but despite a couple of great efforts on the start/finish line, Jackson remained in 2nd. At the half way point of the race, Lines beached himself in the gravel and Turkington had to retire with rear suspension damage. Shedden’s 6.5 second lead came to an end as the safety car was needed to remove Lines’ stricken car.
Following the safety car, the battle for 2nd continued, but after Austin ran wide he lost 3 places to Collard, Jordan and Priaulx and Collard eventually took 2nd from Jackson with a lap or so remaining. This was a dominant victory for Shedden and it helped him claw back more points to Plato in the championship, although Plato secured 7th.
Race Three saw an all Mercedes front row for the first time as Adam Morgan was drawn on pole for the reverse grid with Moffat 2nd courtesy of his 9th position in the earlier race. Neal lined up 3rd, Plato 4th, Austin 5th and Priaulx 6th. The top 8 remained in position for the opening laps as Morgan built a sizeable early lead. A safety car lap, to reposition the barriers, compacted the field and there was plenty of close racing down the order. Tordoff, in particular, was on a charge from the back of the pack with a favourable car and no weight.
Moffat was defending his 2nd position well, but a small error on lap 9 saw him go wide and it allowed Neal through, although Morgan had rebuilt his lead margin following the safety car. There was plenty of action down the field and lots of overtakes were happening, some more forcefully than others. Priaulx’s push on Plato may have raised eyebrows, a move that also allowed Austin through, but Priaulx’s double bash to eventually take 3rd from Moffat may have had eyes popping out.
Towards the end of the race, the BMWs of Collard and Tordoff retired with damage within a lap of each other and Neal had caught Morgan at the front. With a couple of laps remaining, Morgan hit debris on the track as Neal chased him down, although it luckily came off at the hairpin. However, Neal had the bit between his teeth and took the lead with a lap remaining. Neal went on to win the race with Morgan 2nd, Priaulx 3rd, Moffat 4th, Austin 5th and Plato 6th. However, the stewards took exception to Priaulx’s move on Moffat and the positions were reversed, meaning Moffat took his first ever podium.
It was a great day of racing and it now seems like a long time ago since we were complaining about the lack of action at Oulton Park. I hope that this level of action continues for the rest of the season in the remaining rounds. Neal has certainly pulled himself back into championship contention being only 11 points behind Shedden, who himself is 11 points behind Plato. Plato certainly holds the advantage and looking at the tracks ahead, you would still make him favourite, but there’s more than a chance we could be looking at a Honda winner come the end of the season.
Championship Standings after Round 21 of 30:
|1. Jason Plato||249 points|
|2. Gordon Shedden||238|
|3. Matt Neal||227|
|4. Colin Turkington||221|
|5. Andrew Jordan||219|
|6. Andy Priaulx||208|
Team BMR RCIB Insurance – Volkswagen CC (Plato, Turkington, Scott, A Smith)
By BMR’s standards this season, this weekend was a waste of time. The car was never going to suit Knockhill and while Plato managed to limit the damage, Turkington only picked up 7 points. No points for Smith and only a couple for Scott. Plato now hasn’t won for 10 races. Championship form? 4/10
WSR, Team JCT600 with GardX – BMW 125i M Sport (Collard, Tordoff)
WSR, Team IHG Rewards Club – BMW 125i M Sport (Priaulx)
Another strong weekend for the BMWs on a track that suited them. Plenty of points for Collard and Priaulx and although Tordoff didn’t score many points he drove well all weekend. 9/10
Honda Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Type R (Neal, Shedden)
Much better weekend for the Honda duo. Plenty of points scored, including a victory apiece, and that has pulled them both back into championship contention. 9/10
MG 888 Racing – MG6 GT (Goff, Jordan)
Goff didn’t reach the heights of Snetterton, but Jodran scored more good points on a track that doesn’t suit the MG. 7.5/10
Exocet AlcoSense – Audi A4 (Abbott, Austin)
Congratulations to Hunter Abbott on the birth of his son on Sunday which meant he had to leave Knockhill early in the morning. Despite the team’s attempts to bring in Simon Belcher, only Rob Austin raced and he had his best results of the season. In his last 5 races he has interestingly finished 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th and 5th. 4th in the first race at Rockingham? 8.5/10
Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST (Cole, Jackson)
Another really impressive performance to back up Snetterton for Jackson and his Focus. The car seems to have a great, powerful engine under the bonnet and it seems such a shame that they missed the first half of the season. On the form Jackson’s showing, he could have been a championship contender. (64 points from 2 race meetings) No points at all for Cole though and that brings down the team’s rating. 7.5/10
Eurotech Racing – Honda Civic (Depper, J Smith)
A relatively good weekend for both Depper and Smith. Depper was in the points all weekend and despite Smith’s retirement in the second race, he scored points in the other two. 7/10
Welch Motorsport – Proton Persona (Welch)
Dan Welch was back after engine issues at Snetterton and finished all 3 races. No points though. 4.5/10
Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing – Infiniti Q50 (Palmer)
A brace of retirements and a 21st didn’t make for a great weekend. 3/10
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Morgan)
Another good haul of points scored and he was very unfortunate not to win the final race of the day after being drawn on pole. 7/10
Laser Tools Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Moffat)
Moffat will be delighted with his first ever BTCC podium and rightly so. 9th position in race two was also a great result. 8/10
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Holland)
3 finishes for Holland, but he didn’t quite make the points this time out. 5/10
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Ingram)
Retired in the first race, a couple points in the second and just outside the points in the last race. Received a time penalty in the second race too. 5.5/10
RCIB Insurance Racing – Toyota Avensis (Gallagher)
Retired, DNS, DNS. The second half of the season is proving problematic and traumatic. Received penalty points in the first race too. 2/10
Houseman Racing – Toyota Avensis (Lines)
The usual weekend of no points and being nowhere near them. 2/10
Dextra Racing – Ford Focus ST (Horne)
Alex Martin was back, but couldn’t add any points to the ones Horne scored last time out. 3/10
Power Maxed Racing – Chevrolet Cruze 4dr (Newsham)
Newsham’s weekend got better as it went out. Scored a few points in the second and third races of the day. 6/10
#RacingforHeroes – Chevrolet Cruze 4dr (Cook)
Cook seems to have gone quiet in the last couple of rounds. He’s still picking up a couple of points as he goes. 4/10
AmD Tuning – Ford Focus ST (Bushell)
Added another point to his tally in the opening race, but retired in the second. 4/10
AmD Tuning – Audi S3 Saloon (Hamilton) Guest racer
I’d forgotten Hamilton wasn’t due to race here, so I initially wondered where he was. Hopefully back for Rockingham.