So we are a third of our way through the BTCC 2015 season, with 3 rounds and 9 races under the belt the season seems to be as mixed as we predicted in our pre season review.
We have had 6 different top podium places so far and as it stands there are only 34 points between the top seven on the overall driver’s standings.
The first round of the season was at Brands Hatch on the Indy Circuit, (there is a return to Brands for the GP Circuit for the last round of the season) and kicked off the 2015 season in fine style but no one could have predicted how the weekend would play out.
Not many people would have had their money on Jack Goff and Matt Neal leaving Brands Hatch on Sunday evening as joint championship leaders. No one expected the brand new Honda Civic Type-R to take victories around the Indy circuit – but that’s what happened, and it was only half the story in what was an unpredictable season opener.
Making a return to the BTCC, Andy Priaulx took the first pole of the season, 13 years after he first took to the front of the grid, and although throughout the race he fell down the pack there is no doubt he is a serious contender and not just there to make up the numbers.
Honda came into the event with high hopes but no expectations, two race wins shared between Shedden and Neal later they are really beginning to show what these new cars can do and why they changed from the tourers last year.
Team BMR made a clear statement to the rest of the field at Brands Hatch too. Aron Smith claimed a well deserved double podium and headed to Donington Park as the highest placed Volkswagen driver, sitting in third position.
Jason Plato took third in the opening race and then went onto show what BMR are capable of in the second race. Building up a four second lead, the former double champion was in control despite carrying 57kgs of ballast.
As previously mention Jack Goff left Brands Hatch as the joint championship leader. P4, P9 and P2 amassed a total of 37 points for the MG driver and could have secured a maiden win in race three if he had been a little more aggressive.
All in all, Brands Hatch saw a huge crowd pour through the gates and those who attended were rewarded with one of the best opening rounds for a while.
Round 2 took us to Donnington Park and saw three former champions take victory with Team BMR, who won two of the three rounds, overtaking Honda Yuasa Racing in the Teams Championship standings.
BTCC veteran Jason Plato drew first blood by taking the chequered flag in race one and earning his first victory for Team BMR. The double champion started third on the grid, but managed to pass Shedden on the start and then took the lead from teammate and defending champion Colin Turkington by the end of lap one. Here he stayed building up an impressive lead to take the victory.
With Shedden securing the fastest lap in race one, he started at the front of the field for race two, but was beaten off the line by Turkington. The two swapped positions again a lap later at Redgate after their cars exchanged paintwork, with contact being made again at Craner Curves which saw Shedden collide with the MG of Andrew Jordan and fall back to 14th allowing Turkington to go on a secure the win.
The third and final race of the weekend turned out to be a cracker, with Matt Neal taking his second win of the season in dramatic style. The reverse grid saw Josh Cook’s Chevrolet on pole. However the WSR BMW’s Rob Collard led the field into the first turn after getting ahead of Cook off the line. Cook was soon back on the rear of Collard’s BMW and on the third lap he got ahead of Collard, who was clearly looking after his soft tyres.
On lap seven, the MG of Jack Goff and WSR BMW of Sam Tordoff left the track at speed and crashed after making contact, which brought out the safety car. At the restart, Smith used his initiative to go around the outside of Collard at Redgate and eventually making a daring move on Cook, but both ran wide Smith going across the grass, and rejoining in sixth place.
Three laps later, with Rob Collard briefly leading, Matt Neal got up the inside of his WSR BMW and Jordan held on to the rear of the Civic Type-R, to jump into second place. Despite Neal carrying 66kg of ballast to Jordan’s 48kg, the Honda driver managed to hold off the MG of Jordan under severe pressure to take the win by just 0.157sec.
And so on to Round 3 at Thruxton, the fastest track on the BTCC circuit and the scene of a number of high speed incidents last year. A number of safety improvements had been made to the track over the year, but these in no way made the racing any less exciting.
There was plenty of headline news even ahead of the racing 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. The team stated that they feel as he has recovered from some horrific injuries sustained during his F1 racing, he fits in with the ethos of the team.
There were plenty of damaged cars during free practice and qualifying on Saturday. Dan Welch took no part on Sunday due to damage and Hunter Abbott sustained damage after colliding with the barriers, although he was able to race 24 hours later. Simon Belcher was once again hit by the curse of Thruxton in qualifying, when he was involved in a collision as Mike Bushell was exciting the pits. Bushell was air lifted to hospital with a suspected broken leg, but later returned on crutches with ligament injuries. Although Belcher was fine, his car was not and he had to sit and watch a reduced grid with a mere 25 cars for Race One.
Race 1 saw Team BMR 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 with Shedden take the top spot. Smith continued to have a good race until suffering a puncture, meaning he eventually finished 21st.
Race 2 saw Jason Plato on pole after achieving the fastest lap in race 1and he showed everyone how to defend and win. Rob Collard pushed Plato all the way in the race and it was Collard that started the better, using his rear wheel drive advantage. However, a superb move by Plato on the second lap, around the outside, approaching the chicane secured him the victory.
The final race of the day brought a little bit more action and intense racing compared to the other two races. Mercedes privateer Adam Morgan completed a fairly comfortable ‘lights to flag’ victory after being pulled out for pole on the reverse grid. It was Morgan’s first time across the chequered flag as a leader because his previous victory came courtesy of a Plato 20 second penalty at Brands Hatch at the end of last season.
The top four of Morgan, Andrew Jordan, Sam Tordoff and Colin Turkington all had fairly easy races to hold on to their positions.
The results of Thruxton’s three races leave Honda’s Shedden in the championship lead after three of the championship’s ten events, but with the mix of results seen so far we can see this changing a few more times as we move through the season.
Next time out, in four weeks, the BTCC are in the North at Oulton Park where the cars will be back on the Island Circuit layout after last year’s experiment back to the International Circuit which didn’t really work out. We’ll give you another update after the next three rounds.
Mr & Mrs Stig