The summer break is finally over, and the waiting stops here as the British Touring Car Championship rolls back into life this weekend for it’s second half, the always-entertaining visit to Snetterton commencing the final 15 races of the 2013 season.
Plato and MG enter as favourites
The summer break featured a two-day official test held by Dunlop in July at this very circuit, and those that left Snetterton with most to smile about proved to be the MG KX Momentum Racing squad, topping both days emphatically.
The MG6 looked very rapid here last season as Jason Plato took a win at the Norfolk circuit on the car’s debut season, Plato and rookie team-mate Sam Tordoff showing a clean pair of heels to their opposition as the MG flew in the two-day test.
More reason to make them favourite is the fact that Plato is the championship’s most successful driver around Snetterton with 11 wins, six more than fellow double champion James Thompson, and the Snetterton ace has a history of starting the second half of BTCC seasons in fine style.
Tordoff meanwhile has one thing on his mind – to become a BTCC race winner. After admitting that he does not require any special treatment and is not there as of yet to roll over for his vastly more experienced team-mate, his Snetterton test pace challenged Plato, and let us not forget that Tordoff dominated here last year in the BTCC-supporting Porsche Carrera Cup GB.
Neal and Plato prepare for latest Snetterton duel
The team that were most notably missing from the official test were Honda Yuasa Racing, electing to miss the visit for personal preferences. Matt Neal will enter the sixth round of the season looking to maintain his 19-point championship lead, one that he has earned not just through speed, but more so from consistency and patience while his other rivals have had their bad luck and scrapes.
Neal will obviously be a threat at Snetterton, although the circuit has not always brought him the fondest memories in his BTCC career, with only two wins to his CV at the Norfolk venue. The memories that will stick in his mind more than those triumphs in 2003 and 2006 are the many spats that he has been on the recieving end of around this circuit, Snetterton at times being a motoring boxing ring for Neal and Plato down the years gone by.
2006 was the season that saw the pair stage one of the most memorable last-lap duels in BTCC during race two, when two collisions saw Plato head to victory while Neal was spun out as their dice took to the final corner. Since then, Neal and Plato have continued their trend with scrapes in 2011 when a first corner collision left Neal spinning across the track, and last season when the pair put their bumpers to good use during a race two thriller.
Those two will continue their dice this weekend as Plato bids to trim the 36-point gap between himself and Neal, although they will have company like last year once again from Gordon Shedden and Andrew Jordan, the latter being a winner at the venue last season in the fiesty second encounter.
Jordan has a title to fight for this season however, so he needs to keep his run of solid consistency going to keep Neal looking over his shoulder. Shedden has often been hit by his share of bad luck at this circuit, a fire on the Saturday last year being one of the most dramatic images of his 2012 championship-winning season.
Shedden and Jordan will make it six cars potentially scrapping over the spoils this weekend, but they will have many extra rivals to contend with from all angles…
BMW now title contenders?
BMW’s success around Snetterton has been relatively quiet compared to their manufacturer rivals on the current grid, Colin Turkington in fact being the last man to win in the German machinery back in his title-winning campaign in 2009. That was in fact the Irishman’s last win before his Donington success this season, a whopping 1358 days separating those triumphs.
Turkington and WSR however come into this round with the most success on the table to build on from Croft, where the Irish ace almost completed a hat-trick of victories at the North Yorkshire venue that proved his own words that the eBay Motors BMW 125i NGTC machine is now very close to its ultimate title-contending potential, Turkington now fully expected to be a spoiler for the title fight as he lies just 40 points off the series lead.
Turkington, Rob Collard and Nick Foster not only performed supremely at Croft, but the car again showed signs of solid pace at the Dunlop test, so all will fancy their chances at mixing it with the Hondas and MGs at the front, especially with the car appearing to handle the softer compund tyre well over the longer distance.
Onslow-Cole and Goff to go HARD at Snetterton
Another man on the grid to have previously won with WSR at Snetterton is Tom Onslow-Cole, his 2007 win in Team RAC colours being the first of his BTCC career when he partnered Turkington in the BMW team.
Onslow-Cole’s newest machine to return to the venue with will be a Team HARD Volkswagen Passat that he raced to the podium with for the second time in 2013 at Croft, the new NGTC car developing faster than even those involved would have imagined as Onslow-Cole lies inside the top 10 in the championship with a consistently rapid car now underneath him.
His new team-mate for the round is expected to be Warren Scott, who will field a second Passat for the team who linked with Scott’s BMR Restart squad suring the summer break. Their Vauxhall Insignia team-mate Jack Goff flew here at the recent official Dunlop test to end the final day third in the times, making the UK Renault Clio Cup champion a one to watch for a possible giant-killing performance at Snetterton this weekend, while the second Insignia will be filled by American Robb Holland who makes his return after his debut here last year.
Underdogs to shine again?
Snetterton attracts the underdogs to showcase themselves it seems, the NGTC regulations making it more of a driver’s track than it ever was. Frank Wrathall has become one of the Snetterton masters in recent seasons, the Toyota man taking his first pole here last year, a year after he brought the still-developing Dynojet Avensis into podium contention for the first time, so watch out for the former Ginetta G50 champion this weekend to cause a surprise.
Another Toyota man with Snetterton success under his belt is Dave Newsham, the Inverness ace making himself a crowd favourite as he became a BTCC winner here last year for the first time with a superb drive in the aging S2000 Vauxhall Vectra under the ES Racing banner. The Toyota often goes well around the 300 circuit, so Speedworks could offer Newsham a chance to shine again this weekend.
Airwaves Racing meanwhile showed promise at Snetterton during the recent test, which will have been massively encouraging to David Bartrum‘s squad as they look to return to podium-contending ways once again.
Aron Smith in particular looked very quick and very consistent on the softer tyre compound and brought himself close to the outright pace of the MGs who set most of the long-running pace, the team returning to the track that their NGTC Focus first made its debut last year in the hands of Mat Jackson, who will be delighted to see the back of a bruising Croft encounter.
Neate to end the wait at last
We’ve been here before, but it is now officially official that Andy Neate – barring any last-minute teething troubles that crop up on the eve of the weekend – will race his Club 44 Chevrolet Cruze for the first time this weekend.
Neate and the new squad tested the NGTC Cruze at Snetterton during the summer break following the Dunlop test, and the shakedown proved trouble-free to signal the green light for the former MG, BMW and Ford man’s return to the championship for his newest challenge this weekend, one that he admitted will be seen as a test as he will be thrust into the deep end for the first time with his newest surroundings.
Jack Sears Trophy – AmD bring Honda to the party
The championship’s secondary title fight to watch out for sees Lea Wood now in the prime seat for the Jack Sears Trophy Cup honours, the Central Racing Vauxhall Vectra driver leading with six wins after another win at Croft last time out.
His closest rival, Liam Griffin, was not present at that round however, but he will now make his return in the Addison Lee Motorbase Ford Focus to take the fight to Wood, Griffin only two wins behind his rival at the moment and driving a quick car, both the Vectra and the Focus having won many races overall at this circuit over the recent years gone by.
Their next rival, James Kaye, enters the sixth round with a new lease of life however, as he will now be driving an ex-Dynamics Honda Civic for the remainder of the season for AmDTuning.com. The car has proven it has BTCC race-winning potential, and will surely make Kaye a threat to close the four-win deficit he needs to claw back towards Wood and become cup-contending material once again.
The move also leaves the squad’s popular Volkswagen Golf now vacant, although team boss Shaun Hollamby says that the team are already in talks with drivers to fill that current seat, Kaye having won two races with the machine that has raced in BTCC since 2010.
Another new winner emerged in the class from Croft, David Nye claiming his first major success during a crowd-pleasing race two thriller. Nye himself said: “It has been a long time coming but it feels great. It was relentless pressure all the way and I really had to work for it. I had a few taps from behind by Jake Hill but it’s great to be fighting with another young driver in the Jack Sears Trophy. The guys at the front don’t know what they’re missing – all the action is at the back with us!”
– You can follow all the happenings from Snetterton this weekend on thecheckeredflag.co.uk, and on Twitter through tcfBTCC.