Preview: Tight BTCC Field Heads To Donington


Photo: btcc.net

The much-anticipated 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season rumbled into life at Brands Hatch with the sense of unpredictability being matched during a close opening round, a theme set to continue at Donington Park this weekend.

The trio of season-opening races at Brands Hatch saw nobody have a perfect weekend within the field, but reigning champion Andrew Jordan lay down a serious reminder as to why he carries the number one on his windows, a perfect pole position followed by a pair of hard-fought victories on the Sunday afternoon in Kent.

The Pirtek Racing driver kept his Honda Civic at the head of the field by soaking up pressure from Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden, before 2009 champion Colin Turkington grabbed the race three spoils to kick-start the WSR driver’s campaign in substantially better fashion that 12 months prior.

Both Jordan and Turkington were winners at Donington Park last season, the national circuit being happy hunting ground for the former who also tasted success in a Vauxhall vectra back in 2011, Turkington too with a pair of triumphs at this circuit after a return victory last season added to a 2006 last-corner steal on Fabrizio Giovanardi.

As a bonus, Turkington has the luxury of carrying only third-placed penalty ballast for Donington in a much-developed BMW 125i machine that was briefly part of a WSR 1-2-3 at Brands Hatch, team-mates Rob Collard and Nick Foster battling for the top positions also throughout an encouraging season opener for Dick Bennetts‘ squad.

Photo: btcc.net
Jordan leads the way…having done so for much of Brands Hatch (Photo: btcc.net)

Second place weight will be carried by Matt Neal, who was imperious while staying clear in a consistent front-running weekend that leaves him just two points behind Jordan after a hugely rewarding debut for the Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer that gathered so much attention over the winter period.

Gordon Shedden came closest to earning its first win as he tracked Jordan throughout race two at Brands Hatch, the Scot no stranger to Donington glory with seven wins to his name since a 2006 double, one of those coming last year following pole position.

The works MG squad came away from Brands Hatch with Jason Plato having had his weekend stymied by an unfortunate mechanical gremlin leaving him stranded on the grid in race two, the double champion – a five-time Donington winner – proving the biggest threat to Jordan up until that moment.

Alain Menu returns to a venue he claimed his maiden BTCC victory at in a Renault 19 in 1993, the six-time Donington Park BTCC race winner showing his true colours with a spectacular charge through the field in the final Brands Hatch encounter to claim a top-five finish for BMR Restart.

The Swiss ace recovered from a difficult start to his BTCC comeback when he pirouetted out of contention on the opening lap of race one at Paddock Hill Bend, but the team had plenty to smile about heading home from Kent as their Volkswagen CC showed flashes of speed throughout the weekend.

Aron Smith demonstrated that pace with consistent top-10 showings, his weekend only marred by incidents along the way. The Irishman however told The Checkered Flag: “I didn’t expect that Brands Hatch would suit our car as well, so to be as quick as we were was great. The car is really quick, and it has been getting better ever since we started testing it.

Adam Morgan showed fine pace in the WIX Racing Mercedes A-Class at this circuit during the pre-season media day, and will be looking to repeat his 2013 performances that saw him very much a spoiler to the big guns all weekend.

...but Turkington and Neal are in hot pursuit (Photo: btcc.net)
…but Turkington and Neal are in hot pursuit (Photo: btcc.net)

Rob Austin will also return to the Donington circuit he made his first outing at with the Audi A4 in 2011, but in much more refined form than that instance after a strong charge to fifth in the opening race and a surge from the back of the field in the final encounter to 11th, showing the pace of the Rockingham 2013 race winner and the Exocet Racing machine.

Giovanardi and Motorbase Performance however had a difficult start to their season, the returning double champion entering the Donington Park event 16th in the points following a relatively quiet weekend which ended with a lurid moment at the opening corner of race three at Brands Hatch. Giovanardi battled with Jack Goff for much of the weekend, the former Renault UK Clio Cup champion impressing again at Brands Hatch en route to an eventual best of eighth place in the latter encounter.

Of the BTCC rookies, graduating Ginetta GT Supercup champion Tom Ingram impressed mightily for Speedworks Motorsport by fighting within the top 10 throughout the weekend, an unfortunate accident in the final race with Menu ending a strong debut in the barriers, but with the 20-year-old having made his case as a spoiler for the experienced hands to keep in their sights.

The 30-car grid at Brands Hatch was unfortunately missing Dan Welch as he awaits the completion of his squad’s second Proton Persona, Ollie Jackson the man effectively using the opening event as a shakedown in the sole representative while Welch commented that his machine was “about 99% complete”.

Only one Proton appeared for Welch Motorsport at Brands (Photo: btcc.net)
Only one Proton appeared for Welch Motorsport at Brands (Photo: btcc.net)

Donington Park’s shorter 1.96-mile layout is a personal favourite with fans and drivers alike, its flowing, undulating sections producing more than enough opportunities to overtake as well as make a mistake, aided by Donington keeping its roots with grass and gravel traps being the destination for those getting it wrong.

A place famed in touring cars for many iconic moments, from Nigel Mansell binning a Ford Mondeo into the bridge parapet in 1993 or fighting for the win in a damp 1998 thriller, last corner dices such as Neal and Turkington snatching victories in 2005/06, to title showdowns down the years being decided at the Leicester venue, Donington often throws up many a classic.

Last season saw Morgan claim the updated circuit’s fastest lap during three entertaining encounters, Neal’s 1m10.129s qualifying effort of 2011 the time which could be lowered on Saturday based on the competitiveness of the season opener.

Qualifying for the second BTCC meeting of the season on Saturday (19 April) at Donington will commence at 15:40, with Sunday’s trio of races getting underway at 11:37, 14:27 and finally, 17:15.

You can keep up to date with all the action and news from the weekend here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk, and via our Twitter account at @tcfBTCC.