Last weekend saw the long awaited return of the British Touring Car Championships. With everyone desperate to see what the season brings and who would set the pace in round one, the weekend wasn’t to disappoint.
The first shock of the weekend came in qualifying. It was Dave Newsham in the Team ES racing’s aging Vectra that claimed pole position against the likes of the new Honda Civic and the established teams of Ebay Motors BMW and Redstone Racing, formally Motorbase. With the new MG taking to the track without prior testing before the weekend, expectations were low, even from within the camp, but with the superb team of Triple eight and the highly experienced Jason Plato behind the wheel, there was always the possibility of a shock result. A solid sixth place on the grid for the first race showed this to be a real chance of good results. Despite its good looks, new team and driver pairing of John Thorne in the Thorney Motorsport in the new Vauxhall Insignia, struggled for pace and a huge off at paddock hill in practice meant there would be no qualifying session for the team and doubts were cast on the chance of seeing it take to the grid for the races. However, the team did well to get it repaired in time for race one the following day.
Rob Collard got the best start from race one and took the lead early on. Newsham had dropped to third behind Matt Neal with Plato doing well to gain places to reach fourth. But the main talking point from the first race came on lap 15. With places swapping throughout the race in the top few positions, an audacious move was to change the race in a big way. Newsham was doing well to stay in the front pack and on the start straight he had got the run on Neal to edge ahead for the lead. As the pair braked for Paddock Hill bend, Plato, who was third decided to try and take the lead and go up the inside of the pair from some way back. A move that just wasn’t there as Newsham was turning in. Plato inevitably made contact with the rear quarter of the yellow Vectra sending him into a spin and off into the gravel finishing his race.
Rob Collard went on to win the first race of the season, with Neal second, Tom Onslow-Cole third and Plato taking fourth. Collard was to receive a fine and points on his licence for celebrating with some doughnuts near pit entry, which seems excessive, but perhaps it was the fact that the doughnuts were, well, a bit rubbish that he got the fine. As for Plato, when asked about the earlier incident, he said he saw a gap and went for it. Well, yes, he may have saw a gap, but it was a long way away and was closing rapidly. He then stated that it was all part of racing. Maybe so, but the move ended Newsham’s definite chance of a podium. Do silly moves like that deserve to be part of racing? Hardly fair is it. No stranger to voicing his opinions on various aspects of the BTCC, I would have liked to have known what Plato’s response would have been had the roles been reversed. I think I could guess though and I am certain it would be an opinion that was very different. After the weekend, Plato was to be fined £750 and slapped with 3 points on his racing licence for his move on Newsham, but I couldn’t help feel that a drive through or time penalty would have been more of a punishment.
On to race two which again proved to be a close affair out front with Neal, Andy Jordan, and Plato tussling for positions. Plato did actually take the lead at one point. Very impressive for MG on its return to the championship. But eventually, Plato settled with third step of the podium behind the two new Civic’s of Jordan second and Neal first. Further down the field, Newsham fought back well from the back of the grid to claim ninth. Rob Austin took a very good fifth place in the Audi on a weekend when team made Mark Hazell announced his withdrawal from the championship leaving Rob Austin racing with a spare Audi. Many BTCC fans would love a certain likeable Liverpudlian to fill the vacant seat if a budget can be found. Lea Wood, shone in race two, also in a Vectra, running in the top 10 before a drive through penalty saw him drop down the field and Dan Welch in the Proton did well to recover after being tapped into an early spin to take 12th place. Nick Foster was also lucky to walk away unscathed from his BWM after losing control out of Druids and hitting the tyre wall on the run down to Graham Hill bend before coming to a rest in its roof.
Race three was also set to cause a major talking point and plenty of excitement. It was Ollie Jackson in the VW Golf starting from pole thanks to the reversed grid. Unfortunately he was to drop down a few places on the early laps. Then, a few laps in Mat Jackson ran wide at paddock hill which was to trigger some unbelievable consequences. Running through the gravel before making it back onto the track, Jackson had caused damage to the front of his Ford Focus which left a trail of fluid on the way up to Druids. Ollie Jackson was to find this fluid and lost control under braking sending him spinning into the gravel at the hairpin right infront of me. Ducking to avoid the shower of dust and gravel, I peered over the tyre wall to see a number of other cars follow suit. Protecting myself and my equipment, it wasn’t until the dust had settled before I saw the full extent of the incident. There now seemed to be a carpark in front of me with seven cars stuck in the kitty litter all in various states. The race was stopped while the Marshalls worked tirelessly and quickly to recover the cars and sweep the track.
From the restart it was Collard who took the lead before falling back behind the battle between Andy Jordan and Jason Plato, now for the lead. Jordan did well to keep Plato behind for a few laps despite constantly being put under pressure with a number of nudges from the MG6. It was eventually at clearways when Plato squeezed up the inside of Jordan pushing him wide and taking the lead to go on to take a victory that few would have thought possible from the new car on its maiden race weekend with no testing. Jordan was left very disappointed with his second place, despite it being his second visit to the podium during the day. Meanwhile, Dave Newsham was a man on a mission set to prove a point and after a superb drive, took third place and eventually got that podium place that was cruelly taken away from him in race one much to everyone’s delight. Jeff Smith took a solid fourth ahead of Rob Austin in fifth.
It certainly was an action packed start to the BTCC season which also saw carnage in the Clio Cup race involving a number of cars, which no doubt saw the Renault spare parts division working overtime on Monday, as well as a huge accident in the Ginetta GT Supercup which thankfully everyone walked away from. Usually, it’s the Ginetta Junior races that see the most incidents, offs and impacts but they were very well behaved in their close fought races.
As the Touring Car circus heads to Donington for the next round, there is still no clear favourite for the championship title and there are still a number of questions to be answered. Will the ES Racing Vectra still be on pace or was it a one off performance? Will Jason Plato in the MG be a real title contender? Can Gordon Shedden get used to the new Honda sooner rather than later after a poor weekend? And who, if anyone, will take up that spare seat at Audi? Only time will tell, but BTCC is certainly back with a bang.