The second meeting of the season saw the BTCC return to Donington Park. The three races produced some exciting racing, but at the end of the day, the championship had a familiar look to it. ESM’s BTCC Correspondent passes judgement.
Race One (1st Jackson, 2nd Cook, 3rd Ingram)
Ashley Sutton secured pole in only his second-ever BTCC qualifying session that was made livelier by a drying track. Teammate Josh Cook secured a MG lockout with Mat Jackson 3rd and defending champion Gordon Shedden 4th. Sutton’s joy was short-lived on Sunday as he made an awful getaway from the line, allowing Jackson to squeeze through between the MG duo for the lead. Jackson never looked back as he secured victory despite a couple of safety car periods at the beginning and end of the race. The race saw the Subarus struggle, Martin Depper off and missing wheel, Jack Goff in the thick of the action and Dan Welch and Matt Simpson in an avoidable collision that sent polystyrene everywhere. Simpson later admitted responsibility. The safety car was called for to recover the stricken cars, but the drama was only just starting as a well alight Subaru of James Cole pulled up at the end of the pit lane. Cole managed to escape the barbecue, but the race ended with a red flag and Cole’s weekend immediately.
Race Two (Collard, Jackson, A Smith)
Jackson made a good start off the line with Ingram moving up to 2nd but, as in the opening race, the safety car was needed at the end of the lap to recover Ollie Jackson’s Audi from the gravel at the first corner. As the race resumed, there was plenty of close action down the field, as it was almost 6 abreast over the finish line at the beginning of lap 6. However, as Turkington became sandwiched at the end of the lap, he spun off at the chicane and needed rescuing under another safety car period. As the race re-started, Jackson didn’t quite have it all his own way at the front as Ingram, Collard and Goff were in close attendance. Collard moved forward and took the lead with a few laps remaining, as Ingram fell well down the pack and Goff less so. That allowed Aron Smith to move up to the podium, despite Shedden’s best efforts.
Race Three (Neal, Shedden, Tordoff)
Sam Tordoff nearly secured a lights to flag victory after being drawn on pole, but his soft tyres gave up with a few laps remaining, allowing Matt Neal and Shedden to take full advantage to secure a Honda 1-2. The race contained plenty of passing moves up and down the field, with Goff notably overtaking Neal for 2nd on the 2nd lap. The BMW pair looked to make the most of their early soft tyre advantage, but the early hard pushing ultimately proved their downfall as the Hondas eventually clawed them back and secured the top positions. The race changed just after the half way point as the many cars running on soft tyres started to suffer. That allowed the cars on the medium tyres to take full advantage and it resulted in various drivers dropping down the field. Neal’s win meant that we’ve now had 6 different winners in the first 6 races of the season.
Like Brands Hatch in the preceding rounds, this certainly wasn’t the worst action we’ve ever seen at Donington. This bodes well for the remainder of the season. We’ve always been accustomed to close racing, but this season seems closer than ever with more cars seemingly closely matched. I watched the third race of the day, especially, with great intrigue as the cars on the soft tyres made a great start, but fell away badly. Some will argue that this forced running of soft tyres is interfering with the racing too much, but I think it adds great excitement to the championship. We will certainly need as much excitement as we can get further down the field, as Honda continue to dominate the standings.
Championship Standings after Round 6 of 30:
|1. Matt Neal||78 points|
|2. Gordon Shedden||73|
|3. Jack Goff||66|
|4. Rob Collard||64|
|5. Mat Jackson||61|
|6. Sam Tordoff||56|
Subaru Team BMR – Subaru Levorg GT (Cole, Plato, Scott, Turkington)
Not a great weekend on the track with Scott suffering several issues in addition to Cole’s barbecue. Turkington secured 10th in the opening race for the team’s only points all weekend. When was the last time we went through a whole weekend with Plato hardly being mentioned and being so far off the pace? The car seems desperate for an engine upgrade. 3.5/10
WSR, Team JCT600 with GardX – BMW 125i M Sport (Collard, Tordoff)
WSR, Team IHG Rewards Club – BMW 125i M Sport (Goff)
An excellent weekend for the BMW trio with a high number of points scored by all of them on a track that is perhaps more suited to front wheel drive cars. All the drivers are in the top 6 of the championship too. 9/10
Halfords Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Type R (Neal, Shedden)
It’s back to as you were with just Neal and Shedden in the team following Andy Neate’s decision to withdraw from the championship. No great loss. Honda played a great strategic system this weekend, taking the hit with weight and soft tyres in the opening race and then they progressed to the front over the next 2. They’ll have better weekends, but still a very good showing. 7.5/10
MG Racing RCIB Insurance – MG6 GT (Cook, Sutton)
Another positive showing from MG at Donington. I can’t remember the last time it was a MG lockout in qualifying. I’d have said that Cook had the upper hand on Sutton this weekend, although they both scored a similar amount of points overall. 8/10
Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST ( Jackson, Jordan)
A fantastic weekend for Jackson with a 1st and 2nd, but Jordan found it harder going after a poor qualifying session with 10th in the final race being his best return. Jackson has the experience in the car and he is showing it so far. Jordan will get there, no doubt. 8.5/10
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Morgan)
Not such a great weekend for Morgan as he slipped from 3rd in the championship to 10th at this early stage. Couple of low points finishes. 6/10
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Austin)
Austin seemed up for the challenge this weekend and made some good moves. He was certainly in the thick of the action. He seems to be doing well with the switch to front wheel drive. 7/10
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis (Ingram)
A similar weekend to Brands Hatch in a way: A good result in the opening race and then poor results in the second and third races. He’s looks to have improved this season all the same. 7/10
Notable mentions: There was more great work from Aron Smith and Team BKR this weekend. Smith secured his second podium of the season in the second race and is up to 7th in the championship. A notable mention for Hunter Abbott too. He looked to be out of the BTCC this season but managed to secure a late drive with Chevrolet and it’s good to see him battling in the middle of the pack.
Next up: Thruxton, 8th May.