HONDA STILL ON TOP

BTCC HITS DON­ING­TON

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Matt James

Honda is not go­ing to have it easy this year, but still sits on top of the cham­pi­onship pile af­ter the three rounds at Don­ing­ton Park last week­end.

Matt Neal used tac­tics over the week­end to build to a race three win. That had been pre­ceded by a su­perb Rob Col­lard vic­tory in the sec­ond race race in the WSR BMW 125i M Sport, when he had bat­tled with race one vic­tor Mat Jack­son in the Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus.

Those two have shown in­tent – as have their teams – and the MG driver Josh Cook and Team BKR VW CC man Aron Smith con­tinue to be a thorn in the side.

But the Honda is ready to make hay while it can. “We have tra­di­tion­ally been strong at the start of the sea­son,” ex­plained Neal. “Now is the time to cap­i­talise on that.”

Race one

Jack­son had done his home­work be­fore com­ing to Don­ing­ton Park. He knew that the Triple Eight Rac­ing MG driv­ers – Ash Sut­ton and Josh Cook – sit­ting di­rectly in front of him on the grid for the open­ing race, were still get­ting to grips with their new mounts. “I looked at the video from the open­ing rounds at Brands Hatch, and I knew that the MGS had strug­gled away from the start­line,” said Jack­son. “I also knew that the starts were a strong point for us, so I de­cided that was where I would go for it.”

The Ford Fo­cus’ launch was su­perb, while the MGS ahead were slightly slug­gish. It was the only in­vi­ta­tion Jack­son needed. He darted to the left to try and split the MG6S but the two ahead merged towards each other to block him off. Jack­son fired into the side of Cook but still made good his es­cape.

“I picked up a bit of dam­age on the front-left,” said Jack­son. “I was slightly wor­ried about that, but it didn’t af­fect the car too badly. Once I had bro­ken the tow to Cook, I as able to pull away as I wanted.”

Cook’s ten­ure of sec­ond place was ce­mented as rookie pole­sitt­ter Sut­ton got too much wheel­spin – al­lied to the tra­di­tion­ally fly­ing get­away of WSR BMW 125i M Sport man Rob Col­lard, who took to the grass to usurp the MG into Redgate.

Sut­ton wasn’t for hang­ing around, and sliced in­side Col­lard into the Old Hair­pin a few hun­dred yards later to re­claim third. Col­lard was hung out to dry and Tom In­gram, in his Speedworks Toy­ota Aven­sis, pounced to claim fourth.

All hos­til­i­ties were briefly halted at the end of the open­ing lap as the safety car was called for a sin­gle tour with Ol­lie Jack­son’s AMD Tun­ing Audi S3 stranded in the Redgate gravel, al­though the Ger­man sa­loon would re­gain the track un­der its own power.

None of it both­ered the leader, who was quickly 1.3s free. Cook was com­fort­able in sec­ond, but eyes were on the fight be­hind.

In­gram ex­plained: “I could see that Sut­ton was be­ing hard on his tyres, so I was gen­tle on mine to start with. I wanted to pre­serve them. I fig­ured out that the only place I had a real ad­van­tage over him was on the run out of the fi­nal chi­cane.”

On lap 11, he pow­ered along­side the MG and into a podium slot with a brave move down the in­side into Redgate. “I knew it was then or never,” said a de­lighted In­gram, who once again un­der­lined the threat of the Speedworks Toy­ota.

That move pushed Sut­ton wide and al­lowed Col­lard up to fourth, but worse was to fol­low for Sut­ton when Jack Goff (WSR BMW 125i M Sport) also pow­ered ahead com­ing out of Cop­pice.

Col­lard’s softer Dun­lop rub­ber felt the strain over the clos­ing stages and he fell to Goff and the resur­gent Sut­ton too for a sixth place fin­ish. Jeff Smith’s Eurotech Rac­ing Honda Civic Type R, Aron Smith’s Team BKR VW CC and WSR BMW 125i M Sport driver Sam Tord­off – up from 21st on the grid – rounded out the top nine.

The cham­pi­onship top two com­ing in to the race, Neal and Gor­don Shed­den in the Team Dy­nam­ics Honda Civic Type Rs, both de­cided to take the soft tyre pain in race one. They were run­ning with 75kg and 66kg re­spec­tively, so it was a brave de­ci­sion. The pair were in the lower half of the top 10, but the Dun­lops fell off a cliff with two tours re­main­ing and they fin­ished 11th and 12th.

The event had a sting in the tail for Team BMR. While Colin Turk­ing­ton took the Levorg’s first top 10 fin­ish, James Cole’s ex­am­ple burst in to flames on lap 16 and he parked up at the end of the pit­lane. The driver was lucky to es­cape.

Race two

With Goff lurk­ing on row two and with only 48kg of bal­last aboard, all eyes were on the fourth-placed driver at the start of race two. Even though they have been pegged back, the rear-wheel-drive cars do still have an ad­van­tage off the line.

But there was to be none of it. Front row men Jack­son and Cook crowded out the rear-wheel-drive car and it was Jack­son who reached the apex of Redgate first. In­gram got un­der­neath Cook for sec­ond place as they turned into the right-han­der, while Cook had no respite – the charg­ing Col­lard came steam­ing around the out­side of Goff and Cook to snatch an in­cred­i­ble third place.

From there, the top three set off on a tense fight. Jack­son had 75kg of suc­cess bal­last and was al­ways likely to strug­gle. In­gram had 57kg com­pared to Col­lard’s 33kg, and the weight would be cru­cial – plus the fact the BMWS are light on the tyre wear.

Col­lard jumped In­gram with a strong exit from Cop­pice on lap 12, and then used su­pe­rior trac­tion to leap to the front as the cars fin­ished lap 14.

“I was de­lighted with the moves I made,” said Col­lard af­ter tak­ing the flag. “I might not have many years left in this series at this level, so I am de­lighted I can still do things like this! I took a risk by go­ing around the out­side at Turn 1, but it came off. I am thrilled.”

Jack­son, for his part, could feel the rub­ber waning and could also see a racy Col­lard in his mir­rors. “Of course you want to win, but this is a long cham­pi­onship,” said the race one win­ner. “Rob was on fire and there would have been no way I was go­ing to stop him.”

Dis­cre­tion was the bet­ter part for Jack­son, who fin­ished the race on top of the points stand­ings.

Dis­cre­tion might have been the bet­ter part for In­gram too. The Toy­ota man, Goff and Aron Smith were fight­ing for the fi­nal spot on the ros­trum and went vir­tu­ally three abreast into the chi­cane at the end

of lap 12 and In­gram, on the out­side on the exit, was shoved on to the grass by Goff.

In­gram was cross, as much with him­self as any­thing else. He said: “I messed up. We were all bat­tling into the chi­cane. Jack and Aron were fight­ing and slowed each other up ahead of me. I could have vir­tu­ally stopped to avoid hit­ting them, but I chose to go to the out­side of Jack on the exit of the chi­cane – he came across and I was on the grass. That was it.”

Goff felt that In­gram had com­pro­mised him­self by go­ing for the out­side line: “Both Aron and I had passed Tom, but once through, I felt a tap on the rear of my car. That slowed me and Tom went around the out­side, but I al­ready had the move done on him. It was a bit un­nec­es­sary.”

All that al­lowed Aron Smith to sneak through for his sec­ond podium of the sea­son – al­though he didn’t have things easy. Shed­den was right on his bootlid for the clos­ing laps, but the Dubliner held on.

“That was pretty men­tal,” said Smith. “I picked my way though – I was lucky to be in the right places at the right time – and I had backed off a bit towards the end to look af­ter the rub­ber. I had just enough in hand.”

Goff claimed fifth place from Neal, while Cook strug­gled with tyre wear and dropped to sev­enth.

Tord­off picked his way through the pack to eighth, which was a solid re­sult, from a close group in­clud­ing Ai­den Mof­fat (Cice­ley Rac­ing Mercedes-benz A-class) and Rob Austin’s Handy Mo­tor­sport Toy­ota Aven­sis. In­gram had slipped to 15th at the flag. While Col­lard had the joy in race two, the re­versed-grid draw put Tord­off on pole for the fi­nale ahead of Cook and Neal. While that should have re­sulted in a BMW walkover, there was a sting in the tail. Most driv­ers had left the soft tyre pain un­til race three. Omi­nously, of the top eight, only Neal, Shed­den and Col­lard had the more durable rub­ber. There were many ques­tions to be an­swered.

Race three

And when the an­swers came, it was about the haves and the have nots. Ac­tu­ally, it was about the have nots and the haves: the soft tyres.

The in­for­ma­tion from last sea­son’s races at Don­ing­ton showed that the drop off was quite se­vere. While the soft tyre com­pound is slightly dif­fer­ent this sea­son, there was still a con­cern.

As Tord­off scam­pered away from pole, Neal set­tled in to sec­ond place. He was con­tent to play the wait­ing game. He was slightly star­tled when Goff jumped him go­ing in to the chi­cane at the end of the sec­ond lap, and he thought his wait­ing game plan was up. “I didn’t know that Goff was on the soft tyres, so that was a con­cern,” said Neal. “I was on the ra­dio.”

He needn’t have wor­ried. Goff was on the white-walled tyres and by 10 laps, they were shot. Neal moved ahead at the Old Hair­pin and set off to slash the 1.6s gap to the leader.

He was right with Tord­off on lap 14, and made his move into Sch­wantz Curve. “Once I had got Jack, I thought Sam would come back to me pretty quickly,” said Neal. “But he held on and held on. I was get­ting con­cerned.”

Tord­off knew the in­evitable would hap­pen too. “I had been try­ing to look af­ter the tyres early on, but when Jack got in to sec­ond place, he was push­ing me quite hard,” ex­plained the third-placed fin­isher. “I got on the ra­dio and told the team that we shouldn’t fight, but even though we backed it off, I was fin­ished with three laps to go.”

First Neal steamed ahead, and then Shed­den fol­lowed him through for a sec­ond Team Dy­nam­ics 1-2 of the sea­son.

Be­hind Tord­off, Col­lard coped man­fully with the 75kg awarded for win­ning race two, but he was on the stan­dard tyres. He had been an­other to wait his turn be­fore pounc­ing up the or­der one by one.

Sut­ton had taken the white-walled tyre trauma in race two and that meant he started 13th. There­fore, his climb to fifth signed off his week­end with a pleas­ing flour­ish, ahead of Goff.

Af­ter hav­ing a per­fectly un­der­stand­able mist­imed run in the wet-but-dry­ing qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion, Mof­fat’s run to sev­enth in race three (on nor­mal tyres) was what the team had been build­ing towards all through the week­end. He was fol­lowed by a re­ju­ve­nated Austin in the Handy Mo­tor­sport Toy­ota Aven­sis, which was only sad­dled with 9kg of bal­last and nor­mal tyres.

Round­ing out the top 10 was An­drew Jor­dan in the Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus. He had a try­ing week­end with a qual­i­fy­ing off and a strug­gle to find the set-up. He threw changes at the car for race two and clam­bered to 12th, but a dif­fer­en­tial tweak for the fi­nale “trans­formed” the car and left him up­beat. He man­aged his top 10 re­sult de­spite the softer tyres. ■

Honda worked hard for a 1-2

Tord­off led for most of race three, but lost out with two laps re­main­ing

The Honda pair­ing are still top of the stand­ings

Jack­son holds them off in race one

Col­lard passed Jack­son for race two tri­umph

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