Matt Neal

BTCC 2016 – Knockhill – Reviewed and Rated

The annual trip to Scotland produced some fantastic racing, especially amongst the front runners, which hopefully now means we can forget about the driving standards furore of Snetterton.2016 BTCC Knockhill (C) BTCCThree of the most experienced drivers on the grid came to the fore with a win apiece, demonstrating outstanding defensive driving and a classic charge through the field. At the front, consistency was the key for Sam Tordoff as he regained the championship lead from Rob Collard.

Race One (1st Plato, 2nd Goff, 3rd Turkington)
Jason Plato started his 500th BTCC race from pole position after an incredibly tight qualifying session. Tom Ingram took 2nd ahead of Tordoff, Jack Goff, Colin Turkington and Andrew Jordan. The championship leader, Collard, once again qualified poorly, down in 18th.

As the lights went out, the top 6 all got away well from the line, but there were echoes of Snetterton at the third corner as Matt Neal barged Adam Morgan off the track, which left Morgan well down the pack and Neal with a post-race verbal warning. This allowed the top 6 to pull out a gap on the rest of the field. Jordan was looking competitive in the opening laps and he was soon ahead of Turkington after a sweet move at the hairpin, but Turkington kept pace and re-took the position mid-race.

Ingram found himself under immense pressure from Tordoff and Goff, before the pair switched positions over the start-finish line. Goff continued his pursuit of Ingram and after a long, late lunge on the brakes into the hairpin, he succeeded in taking 2nd. Tordoff then set about Ingram too, but his challenge was halted by a safety car to recover Warren Scott’s stricken Subaru following an incident with Dan Welch.2016 BTCC Knockhill (C) Subaru UKAfter the safety car period ended, it was a quick sprint to the finish, but it was just enough time for Turkington to make a couple of brilliant moves to jump from 5th to 3rd. His first victim was Tordoff, who was almost overtaken by Jordan too, and then Ingram at the hairpin. However, it was Turkington’s teammate, Plato, who celebrated his 500th race with his 95th victory and he also became the 11th different winner of the season, equalling the BTCC season record. (more…)

EngageSportMode Awards 2015 – Part Two

The EngageSportMode.com Awards for 2015 continues. No, we still don’t care that it’s now 2016, so just sit back and read which people and things caught our attention over the preceding twelve months. If you need it, you can find part one here.

2015 Awards p2

Person of the year – Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen 2015

You don’t need EngageSportMode to tell you that Formula 1 in 2015 was a pretty dire affair. Whether it was the comically tragic debacle of McLaren-Honda, the constant money worries for Lotus, or Lewis Hamilton wrapping up the title virtually unchallenged, there was little to be positive about. Apart from one young Dutchman in his debut season. Yes, Max Verstappen was by far and away our highlight of F1 in 2015.

Having a father like Jos Verstappen clearly helps, and it meant the rookie Toro Rosso driver wasn’t flung blind into the F1 arena. He topped the list of most overtakes in a season, making some quite astounding manoeuvres to pass 49 cars in total. For comparison, the driver average was just 26.8 passes. His only major mistake came at Monaco when he tangled with Romain Grosjean, but rare is the young driver who manages perfection throughout an entire season.

At ESM we hope Max manages to maintain the same momentum in 2016, as he clearly has a huge amount of raw talent. Whilst saying he is a potential championship winner might be a little too hasty, with his youth and the correct management, there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it one day. Providing the Red Bull driver programme doesn’t spit him out the other end with no seat, as has happened to others before.

(C) Ferrari Media

We also had to tip our hat to a previous winner of this award: Sebastian Vettel. Having suffered a torrid 2014 at Red Bull, the four-time World Champion joined Ferrari and instantly seemed revitalised. Taking three wins and a host of other podium finishes, he outshone teammate Kimi Räikkönen substantially, whilst also looking to be actually enjoying himself again.

Honourable mention – Sebastian Vettel

BTCC Driver of the year – Matt Neal (chosen by ESM’s BTCC Correspondent)
BTCC 2015 Snetterton

ESM’s BTCC driver of the year is, once again, not an easy decision or clear-cut. There were many stand-out drives over the season that caught the eye, but consistency was naturally the key. Drivers deserving a place on the shortlist include Josh Cook, with a staggering 22 JST wins out of 30, and Tom Ingram. Both had outright podiums of their own including a brace of seconds for Ingram. Despite their final championship standing only being 2 places apart, Ingram scored significantly more points so you would favour him as ‘young gun’ of the year, although he doesn’t claim driver of the year. (more…)

BTCC 2015 – Croft | Reviewed and Rated

With the British Touring Car Championship at ESM’s home circuit, there was never any doubt as to whether we would be in attendance. But, would it be a Sunday to remember, or another snooze-fest like Oulton Park? Our BTCC Correspondent tells the story below:

BTCC 2015 Croft Race One Podium

After Oulton Park, things could only get better for the BTCC and they certainly did at a BMW dominated Croft. There was a win apiece for each of the WSR members and a historic 1-2-3 for the team in the opening race. The championship lead has changed hands following the weekend’s action and Gordon Shedden heads the way into the summer break. However, it was the return of ‘racing’ that meant it was a good day for BTCC fans.

BTCC 2015 Croft

Race One saw the winner from last time out on pole, Sam Tordoff, followed by his teammate Andy Priaulx, Gordon Shedden, Rob Collard, Colin Turkington and Matt Neal. The championship leader going into the weekend, Jason Plato, was down in 12th. Unbelievably, it was the first time since Silverstone 2006 that Plato hadn’t qualified in the top 10. By my rough calculations, that’s about 90 meetings which I find astonishing. However, Plato wasn’t happy with his position and he came up with a cunning plan, within the rules, to set himself up for a better weekend.

2013 Champion Andrew Jordan had a tough weekend

2013 Champion Andrew Jordan had a tough time at Croft

Plato came into the pits at the end of the green flag lap to re-join the race from the pit lane in clear air to set a fast lap for a good grid position in the second race. Another advantage of his plan was that he’d lose his weight as well, leaving him with a good grid positon and no weight. You could say his plan worked as he ended up third for the second race. However, we can, of course, question the morality of it all. Technically, he did nothing wrong, it was within the rules, but do we want drivers doing this every weekend? No, definitely not. As a one off, I think we can just about justify it and hope that Alan Gow can find a way to stop this loophole.

BTCC 2015 Croft

Rob Austin had his best weekend for what seems a very long time.

Race One saw Tordoff get away cleanly as the BMWs roared into the first 3 positions in a race that started under dark clouds. However, on lap 6, Priaulx was able to take the lead from Tordoff with a move up the inside of him at Tower. Priaulx held on for the race win and was followed home by Tordoff and Collard after the latter failed in his bid to get past Tordoff despite good pressure. It was amazing to see an all WSR podium! (more…)

BTCC 2015 – Thruxton | Reviewed and Rated

EngageSportMode’s BTCC Correspondent returns with his take on all the action, or lack of, from Thruxton.

BTCC 2015 - Thruxton 00

A year ago, ESM visited Thruxton for not a particularly enjoyable experience and although ESM weren’t there in person this year, the action hardly set many viewing pulses racing. That’s not to say the racing was bad, it just wasn’t great, as we had three different winners.

Plenty of action happened before the races on Sunday. Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing have ditched Richard Hawken, after just one race meeting at Donington, and replaced him with ex-F1 driver Martin Donnelly. From driver changes to track changes at Thruxton… Following last year’s big smashes at Church involving Simon Belcher and Nick Foster, Thruxton have finally installed more substantial barriers at the corner and luckily they weren’t tested during the BTCC races this season.

However, there were plenty of damaged cars on Saturday. Dan Welch took no part on Sunday due to damage and Hunter Abbott sustained damage too, although he was able to race 24 hours later. Belcher must be wondering what Thruxton has against him, as he was unable to race after a big shunt with Mike Bushell in qualifying. Bushell was left on crutches following a leg injury and although Belcher was fine, his car was not. This meant that the grid started with a mere 25 cars for Race One.

BTCC 2015 - Thruxton 002

None of the races were particularly exciting; yes there were good parts and bad parts, but a fairly average weekend all in all. Aron Smith secured his first ever pole position, but he made an awful start (due to not seeing the lights because of his advertising strip on his windscreen) and the Hondas of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal powered through and stayed there for the duration. Smith was still having a strong race until the curse of Thruxton punctures struck, meaning he eventually finished 21st. Smith certainly had the pace to win and was showing great race craft with close racing, but it wasn’t to be. (more…)

BTCC 2015 – Donington Park | Rated and Reviewed

Although we’ve already discussed ITV’s coverage of the BTCC, our Touring Car Correspondent gives his opinions on whether the races at Donington Park were worth getting so worked up over.
2015 BTCC Donington Park 001
After 5 rounds of the BTCC, I still didn’t have that excitement about the championship that I’ve had in previous seasons. However, in one race that all came flooding back. Race Three was everything you could have possibly ever wanted from a BTCC race. Finally, I have my BTCC excitement back and I can’t wait for the next meeting!

Race One can be quickly disposed of to the back of the BTCC drawer. Not a great deal happened after Jason Plato zoomed through into the lead, ahead of Gordon Shedden and pole sitter Colin Turkington, and he subsequently took a dominant race victory. Shedden and Turkington provided the ‘entertainment’ as they battled for second and that was that. A point of note is that Matt Neal, championship leader, really struggled with the ballast and soft tyres. I guess that is exactly what Alan Gow wants, to make the championship interesting. Hardly fair though. Adam Morgan, in 9th, was the best placed finisher on soft tyres in the opening race. It was cold, but have the rules gone too far in making drivers use the soft tyres three times in races one, two and three?

2015 BTCC Donington Park 003

Race Two saw a fifth different winner in 5 races as Turkington took his first victory of the season in car number 1 and his first victory in a front wheel drive car for a decade. (more…)

BTCC 2015 – Brands Hatch Indy | Rated and Reviewed

After a long break, the British Touring Car Championship was back this weekend for the first rounds of the new season. What did our BTCC Correspondent make of proceedings? Read on for his views and driver ratings.

2015 BTCC Brands Hatch Indy 001

As the dust settles on the first BTCC weekend of the season, it has certainly raised a few interesting points. Matt Neal leads the championship, level on points with Jack Goff, from Aron Smith and Andy Priaulx after a Sunday that saw three different winners. Several sections of the media have described the action as ‘sensational’ and ‘brilliant.’ I wouldn’t go as far as that, solid, perhaps being a more apt adjective.

The Brands Hatch Indy Circuit has traditionally produced close racing and this weekend was no different. I will no doubt continue to complain every year until we don’t race on the Indy Circuit, but I just don’t enjoy a lap that is less than 50 seconds long with only 10 sections. There are other circuits out there that would be able to host a BTCC meeting, meaning we wouldn’t have to visit Brands twice, not that I have anything against Brands itself.

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Andy Priaulx might not have raced in the BTCC at Brands for many a year, but he has of course visited since his last BTCC visit. It was evident from his pole qualifying position and his subsequent performances that he’s not here to make up the numbers, but he’s going to be a title contender. Many people, me included, may not have had him in our immediate contender thoughts, but this has obviously changed over the weekend. It’s hardly surprising considering his record of racing BMW touring cars and the fact he’s in last year’s title winning machine. (more…)

BTCC 2014 – Brands Hatch GP – Rounds 28/29/30 – Review

Slightly later than planned*, our BTCC correspondent gives his take on the final rounds of the 2014 season.

Turkington Crowned Champion

2014 BTCC Brands Hatch GP 000

Colin Turkington was crowned the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion at Brands Hatch after a fantastic final round of racing. Turkington, ironically, had his worst weekend of the season, but still came away from the Kent circuit as the happiest man of the day after taking his second drivers’ title.

Saturday saw Turkington’s nearest rival, Jason Plato, take pole position from his teammate Sam Tordoff, Gordon Shedden, Turkington, Adam Morgan and a season’s best for Fabrizio Giovanardi and James Cole in 6th and 7th. It was yet another poor day for Matt Neal, and his Sunday wasn’t going to go much better, as he qualified in 22nd.

Race One took place on a drying track although it wasn’t wet enough to use wet tyres. However, we probably saw the most dramatic start of the season as Plato got off to an awful start meaning Tordoff jumped him, but then Turkington was in the lead just after Paddock Hill bend as the cars headed for Druids. However, after Druids that soon reverted back to Tordoff from Plato and Turkington. (more…)

BTCC 2014 – Knockhill – Rounds 19/20/21 – Review

Trio of New 2014 Winners at Knockhill!

BTCC 2014 Knockhill 006

The British Touring Cars made their annual trip north of the border to Knockhill on August Bank Holiday weekend. There were several strong performances from the drivers and teams, as three drivers won for the first time this season. It was also the first time since soft tyres were introduced, that all three races were won by cars using them.

Championship leader, Colin Turkington, set the fastest time in qualifying but lined up 9th following a grid penalty from Snetterton. Turkington’s teammate, Rob Collard, lined up at the back of the grid, again due to misdemeanours. It meant that Sam Tordoff took pole, from an impressive performance from Sherman and Rob Austin, Andrew Jordan, Gordon Shedden, Matt Neal and Jason Plato. There was BTCC-best qualifying for Glynn Geddie in 10th and Hunter Abbott in 11th.

Race One started slowly, as the front-runners stayed in position off the start line although Turkington did manage to get ahead of Nick Foster for 8th. On lap 4, Shedden managed to pass Jordan at the Hairpin after running closely behind him for a few laps. Lap 7 brought the first major incident of the day as Dan Welch launched into the side of Robb Holland off the curbs, damaging his front wheel and suspension. Welch later received a warning for his part in the incident.

Turkington catches some air

Turkington catches some air

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BTCC 2014 – Croft – Rounds 13/14/15 – Review

You’ve already seen the galleries (one, two), but here’s the review from our Correspondent as the British Touring Car Championship hit the North East.

Turkington Maintains Championship Advantage

ESM BTCC Croft 2014 117

In the latest rounds of the British Touring Car Championship held at Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire, 2009 champion Colin Turkington maintained his lead at the top of this year’s championship. It would have been a perfect weekend for Turkington, had it not been for a retirement in the final race of the day.

Following a superb performance at Oulton Park, Turkington arrived at Croft leading the championship for the first time since his title-winning season in 2009. Despite carrying full ballast, Turkington set a new lap record with his qualifying time to take pole from Jason Plato, Honda Yuasa Racing duo of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, reigning champion Andrew Jordan and Rob Collard. Since Oulton Park, all rear wheel drive cars have had their first gears lengthened, to much discussion down the pit lane, so they have less of an advantage off the start line.

Turkington lined up on pole after a record lap

Turkington lined up on pole after a record lap

However, in race one, nobody was moving off the start line quickly as the red lights stayed on for an age, before the start was aborted. It was decided another green flag lap would be completed, knocking one lap off the final race distance. Lap 1 of the first race, arguably, brought more action than all three of Oulton Park put together. Turkington was sluggish off the line, but he just held position from Plato, whilst Collard made a good start and ended up 4th. A couple of places back, Jordan tagged Neal and sent him sideways, although he was able to control it and continue. Nick Foster found himself taking a huge excursion across the midfield after he was spat out after the chicane, at high speed, and Rob Austin, who’d qualified well in 10th, was turned around by Adam Morgan’s A-Class. In the meantime, Shedden had found a way past Plato to take 2nd.

ESM BTCC Croft 2014 102

Lap 3 saw Morgan’s damage from his earlier collision prove too much as he was forced to retire, whilst Collard started to apply heavy pressure to the back of Plato’s MG. Throughout the entire race, Plato demonstrated a master class in defensive driving and nobody was able to find a way past, which meant Collard was rather frustrated come the end of the race!

Geddie gets in a spin at The Complex

Geddie gets in a spin at The Complex

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BTCC at Croft 2014 – EngageSportMode Photo Gallery 1

The British Touring Car Championship made its annual trip to North East this weekend, and EngageSportMode was there to capture the action. Out correspondent’s full review will follow in the week, but for now enjoy the photos. The first gallery features races one and two.

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 Race One

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