HONDA STILL ON TOP
BTCC HITS DONINGTON
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.”
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.
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.
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