Many of you will, no doubt, have been tuned in on Sunday to the Singapore Grand Prix, and suffered with Lewis Hamilton as engine failure cost him not only points but a lot of momentum in his pursuit of drivers’ championship leader, and former McLaren teammate, Fernando Alonso.
I, however, was at a motor-racing event of a rather different nature.
Regular readers of TAP’s motorsport section may have noticed that I’m something of a British touring cars fan, and last weekend I got the chance to fulfill a lifelong (okay, year-long) ambition to go to the BTCC event at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire.
As always, the BTCC calendar fully lived up to the expectations. The three races were tense, fraught affairs with battles throughout the pack. Rockingham’s free grandstand seating – which, uniquely in the UK, allows you to see the entire track – enabled spectators to follow tense battles throughout the pack.
In the first race, those tense battles were mostly fought lower down the order, as MG’s Jason Plato romped away from the start to dominate the race and secure a very comfortable victory. Plato, who had set a new lap record in qualifying to secure pole, continued his dominant dry-weather form and his unorthodox lines at certain corners, specifically the final one, gave him an enormous advantage over his more cautious rivals.
The fiercest tussle was for third place, as behind Plato and runner-up Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Honda) there was a race-long fight between Gordon Sheddon (Honda) and Matt Jackson (Motorbase/Redstone Ford), with Rob Collard (WSR BMW) involved until the final laps when his rear-wheel drive BMW began to struggle. The Scotsman eventually pipped Jackson to the final spot on the podium, but the Motorbase man must be encouraged by the continuing strong performances of his team’s new NGTC-spec car.
The third title contender, Matt Neal, who lost ground to both Plato and Honda teammate Sheddon by finishing a lowly sixth in race 1, made the most of the heavy rain which fell at lunchtime to take a much-improved second in race 2, finishing behind Sheddon again in a Honda 1-2. The new, trickier wet conditions cost several drivers chances of points as Andy Neate‘s MG, Rob Austin’s Audi and the BMW of Tom Onslow-Cole all fell victim to early collisions on the slippery infield. Another man robbed of points was ES Racing pilot Dave Newsham, who, along with teammate Chris James, was suffering constant mechanical problems with his aging Vauxhall Vectra all weekend.
By 5pm and the final race of the day, the rain had stopped falling but the track remained slippery. The difficult conditions minimised the usual balancing effect of the reversed grid, with pole-sitter Adam Morgan almost immediately flinging his Speedworks Toyota off-track and burning any slender hopes of serious points. Ollie Jackson, starting from second place in the AmD VW Golf, lasted a lot longer, leading until lap 5 under relentless pressure from Neal. Jackson, who began to fade in the final laps, was deserving of much more than his eighth-place finish.
In the end, the podiums for the second and third races of the day were identical. Sheddon won both races to leave Rockingham with a three-point championship lead while teammate Neal was second on both occasions, twice beating out Plato, who now lies 32 points off the lead in third. With six rounds left, though, there are still over 100 points up for grabs, so the championship is far from over.
The glory of a BTCC raceday, though, is just as much about the support package as the Touring Cars themselves. The Renault Clio Cup, Ginetta GT Supercup, Porsche Carrera Cup and Ginetta Junior Championship may not sound like exhilerating events but with so much potentially at stake – don’t forget, these drivers are all performing under the eyes of British motorsport’s most prestigious series every race – there is a great deal riding on every race. As usual, the support races featured some thrilling action.
Renault veteran Paul Rivett used all his experience to dominate the ever-physical Clio Cup, while the usually unchallenged Michael Meadows faced stiff competition from revelation Ben Barker in the Carrera Cup. The Ginetta seniors [admission: we missed the Juniors... sorry guys] thrilled the fans as usual with their close racing and differing competitions. This is the only event on this package where there are two classes of car competiting in effectively different races side-by-side, Le Mans-style, and it makes for great action when a G55-leading group draws up on a battle at the top of the G50 class.
Another highlight of the day was the open pitwalk during the break at lunch. BTCC allows extensive access to its drivers midway through their weekend of competition, unlike most other motorsport events. I was able to get signatures from no fewer than nine BTCC drivers, including Newsham, Austin and promising younster Frank Wrathall.
With two rounds (six races) of the British Touring Car season left to go, at Silverstone next weekend and Brands Hatch a fortnight later, the title is still wide open. Stay tuned to TAP for all the latest on the finale to what has been another thrilling season.
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