The fifth round of the British Touring Car Championship sees the drivers head further North to Croft in North Yorkshire, the home circuit of Jason Plato who enters the round hot off a purple patch of form last time out…
Local MG boys head up North on a high
Newcastle-born Plato heads to Croft hot off the back of a strong showing at Oulton Park two weekends ago that sees him only seven points off the series lead, the MG KX Momentum Racing man having claimed pole position and two victories despite his weekend ending in blazing style – literally – when his car caught fire in a feisty final race in Cheshire.
The weekend was one to remember for KX Momentum Racing/Triple Eight squad, Plato and Sam Tordoff heading to what will be the home track for both drivers having showed that the MG6 has stepped up a gear in terms of performance by taking a first front row lockout, followed by their first one-two finish in fairly emphatic style.
Leeds-based Tordoff again proved that he can match his experienced championship-winning team-mate blow-for-blow, performing a perfect wingman job for Plato at Oulton Park by keeping his rivals away from the lead MG, before recovering from a race two slump akin to a soft tyre gamble by fighting from 21st to seventh in the weekend’s final race to continue the rookie’s strong season so far.
MG shouldn’t have it all their own way though…
Plato – who won here last season – will very difficult to beat at Croft, although the track has historically been one that has proved tough to call a winner at, with Honda and BMW having been very rapid over the previous seasons, Ford also adding themselves to the winners list in 2011.
With the new tyre rule having successfully shaken up proceedings at Oulton Park, it is worth noting that BMWs have traditionally proved very quick at this track in the latter half of the races once the rear-wheel drive cars have reached optimum temperature in their rubber, Rob Collard having narrowly missed out on victory here on several occasions over the past three years despite late charges.
eBay Motors will therefore still be a threat with their still-developing 125i, Colin Turkington having scored a podium and proved a nagging interloper at the front throughout the Oulton Park meeting last time out. Turkington is also the man who holds the most victories at this circuit in BTCC since they first visited Croft in 1997, with six currently to his name ahead of Plato and Matt Neal on five.
Croft has often been famed for many late charges that have produced a photo-finish, Honda drivers Neal and Gordon Shedden having both been in such a situation in the past number of years, both often very strong at Croft, especially in recent years as team-mates.
Neal is a fan of Croft, the double champion having won here five times including once last season. “I do like it yeah”, he told us, “because it’s a very technical circuit and it’s not for the faint hearted. You do have to hang on, wet or dry. I wouldn’t say it’s been one of the best hunting grounds for me, the racing gets very physical round here because it’s quite tight so it always ends up an interesting first couple of corners!”
Honda’s NGTC Civic was very quick here last year, filling five of the weekend’s nine podium places, including the works Dynamics/Yuasa Racing squad picking up a 1-2 finish along the way. Neal is always quick here and will be a threat, but may have to focus on consistency like he did at Oulton Park as a compensation for having to carry the maximum 45kg of ballast for leading the championship by four points.
Jordan returns to scene of first win looking for points lead
Andrew Jordan is the man lying those four points further back after picking up his second win in the manic third race two weekends ago, and will be a favourite this weekend once again having picked up his first ever BTCC race win at this circuit in a Vauxhall Vectra back in 2010.
Jordan is looking a more controlled man focused on matching consistency with his proven speed, and his Eurotech team also look like a team focused fully on the overall title this year after their Independent title joy last year, Jeff Smith having briefly lead a 1-2 for the team in Oulton’s third race until he spun off twice in the dying laps of the thrilling encounter.
Jackson hoping to repeat Croft magic, Caine returns with Motorbase
Mat Jackson will also hope that he can relive some of the classic performances that he has put in over the previous years at this track, having narrowly missed out on victories in 2008 and 2011 after memorable charges through the field in the damp, only to finally seal a maiden win in the final Croft race in 2011. That came in a reverse-grid race, which currently appears to be the best chance for Motorbase to get their first win of the season, although Jackson showed an encouraging improvement in race pace for the NGTC Ford Focus ST last time out.
He and Aron Smith will also now have a third driver in their squad this weekend, as British GT reigning champion Michael Caine will make a one-off appearance in a striking NGTC Ford Focus, the 43-year-old having raced with the team-mate briefly in 2011.
Toyota also looked strong in Cheshire, Adam Morgan‘s strong start to the season being rewarded with a maiden podium in the final race at Oulton Park, while Dave Newsham secured a personal best fourth place in qualifying for Speedworks. Rob Austin also shone at Croft in 2012, picking up a podium finish, and could even create another stir like he did two weekends ago if the Wix Racing Audi A4 continues that trend at North Yorkshire.
Neate looking for official return, Jake Hill to make Motorbase debut
This weekend should now finally see Andy Neate return to BTCC in his IP Tech Race Chevrolet Cruze, the man who lead at Croft for much of the third race here last year having had his planned Oulton Park debut delayed by an 11th hour issue with the Cruze that means it will reach the grid this weekend instead should no further dramas fall his way.
Harrogate’s James Kaye will make a welcome return to Croft and the series in the AmDTuning.com Volkswagen Golf meanwhile, after Aaron Mason deputised for him last time out in the car – which had its Sunday ended earlier than intended thanks to an engine problem. Lea Wood leads the Jack Sears Trophy by a single win from Liam Griffin after picking up two successes last time out, the pair having fought it out all weekend at Oulton Park in the so far thoroughly entertaining S2000 class.
However, Griffin will not be appearing at Croft due to business commitments, meaning a BTCC debut has been handed to former Ginetta Junior and GT Supercup race winner Jake Hill this weekend in the Addison Lee-backed S2000 Ford Focus.
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