BTCC FINALS DAY: Title On The Plate For Eight At Brands


27 races down, just three remaining to decide the destiny of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. We take a look at the eight looking to clinch the coveted trophy….

It’s unprecedented, as a record eight drivers enter in contention to win the title, with 67 points still up for grabs in the final three races of the season at Brands Hatch’s GP circuit in Kent.

Five of those potential champions already know the feeling of clinching BTCC spoils, while three are looking to add their name to the trophy this weekend for the first time.

Leading the charge is one from that trio, Sam Tordoff, a model of consistency in 2016 for West Surrey Racing which is a trait that sees him enter with an 11-point cushion over reigning champion, Gordon Shedden.

The latter has re-ignited his title defence with three victories since August, while Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal sits a further two points back in third.

Tordoff’s WSR team-mate Rob Collard also has his first chance in 17 years to battle for the overall title with three races to go, while Motorbase Performance have the chance to claim both the Drivers’ and Independent Championships with Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan in contention.

Subaru could even be victorious in their debut season, Colin Turkington with work to do from 37 points adrift, while Jason Plato is again mathematically in the hunt despite a 58-point margin.

34 points is the cushion that WSR hold in the Manufacturers’ Championship over nearest rivals, Honda, while just 33 points separate WSR, Halfords Yuasa Racing and Motorbase in the Teams’ Championship.

Brands Hatch is the destination this weekend for all to be decided, so let’s take a look at the eight that could be lifting the Drivers’ Championship on Sunday….

How It Stands:

Pos.DriverTeam/CarPtsWins
1)Sam TordoffWest Surrey Racing (BMW 125i)2782
2)Gordon SheddenHalfords Yuasa Racing (Honda Civic Type-R)-114
3)Matt NealHalfords Yuasa Racing (Honda Civic Type-R)-133
4)Rob CollardWest Surrey Racing (BMW 125i)-172
5)Mat JacksonMotorbase Performance (Ford Focus ST)-214
6)Andrew JordanMotorbase Performance (Ford Focus ST)-312
7)Colin TurkingtonSilverline Subaru Team BMR (Subaru Levorg GT)-373
8)Jason PlatoSilverline Subaru Team BMR (Subaru Levorg GT)-581

Tordoff5Sam Tordoff

Championship Position: 1st
Points: 278
2016 Wins: 2
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 0

The man holding the crystal ball at the moment is Sam Tordoff, who enters the final meeting in Kent leading by 11 points at the head of the eight-man train.

The Leeds racer could win at just his fourth attempt, leading the championship for the most days so far in 2016 as BMW and West Surrey Racing look to regain the Drivers’ Championship.

While Tordoff has claimed just two wins so far this season and six in his still-young career, consistency has been the key factor that has stood the WSR man out from his rivals, finishing on the podium nine times and in the top 10 on 21 occasions from 27 races.

BMW’s race pace is something that is feared by rivals, Honda, but 75kg of success ballast is the punishment Tordoff carries in the 125i for leading the way – a factor he is fully aware of.

“It’s really exciting”, said the BMW man to TCF at Silverstone, confirming that handling ballast and qualifying will be key to cementing his tag as the favourite.

“I’ve got 75kg to deal with, but I’ve also got an 11-point cushion. I’m sure the other guys would like to have that cushion. Qualifying will be key – I don’t think we’ll struggle as much here.”

Pressure takes its toll on many when in such a situation for the first time in their career, but Tordoff admits it has not crossed his mind in recent meetings.

How relaxed is he? He added to TCF: “I’m pretty chilled out about it all to be honest. It will be what it will be. I just think that there’s no pressure on me; nobody expected me to be in this position, so the pressure is on the champions.”

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Photo Credits: BTCC Media, West Surrey Racing

15a50117-8639-4d26-9b4e-7d35ff8f0570Gordon Shedden

Championship Position: 2nd
Points Deficit: -11
2016 Wins: 4
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 4

2016 has been a rollercoaster season meanwhile for reigning champion, Gordon Shedden.

The Scot began his title defence strongly with a race victory in the second race of the season in the opener at the same Brands Hatch circuit, signalling the intent of Halfords Yuasa Racing immediately.

Shedden’s charge was hit by a glitch-filled four meetings following the Kent opener, the 2012 and 2015 champion at one stage slipping to ninth in the title race and 52 points adrift of Tordoff.

Further wins at Snetterton, Rockingham and Silverstone at the summer break have since revitalised the Honda man’s challenge, putting him level with Jackson on the highest tally of race wins this year with four.

Honda’s latest Civic Type-R has kept the experienced Dynamics outfit a force again in 2016, although both Shedden and team-mate Neal have battled a straight-line performance deficit during the season which made their Silverstone results very rewarding.

Brands Hatch is a circuit that Shedden has fond memories of with four wins in his 12-year BTCC career to date, including a brace of titles and victory in the final race of the season on two occasions.

With the gap narrowing at the head of the field, Shedden tells TCF: “We’re trying! I’m not giving up on this yet and I’m still going hard at it.

“We were 40-points off the lead two rounds ago and now we’ve halved each deficit at both weekends. The problem is I can’t just halve it next time, I need to get in front!”

Shedden saved his best until last 12 months ago to climb from 19th to fourth to clinch a second BTCC title in a nerve-jangling final encounter, bu he expects BMW to be tougher opposition this weekend.

[BMW] are always good over a race distance; I’ve certainly seen the true pace of them with no weight at Rockingham.”

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Photo Credits: BTCC Media

Neal2 (1)Matt Neal

Championship Position: 3rd
Points Deficit: -13
2016 Wins: 3
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 14

When it comes to experience in title fights, Matt Neal is one of the BTCC’s most hardened veterans.

Having taken 15 seasons to lift the trophy he so dearly craved, he now enters the 2016 season finale 11 years later hunting title number four with the same Dynamics outfit.

13 points adrift of Tordoff, Neal’s Honda Civic Type-R will carry 18kg less than his rival’s BMW at Brands Hatch GP circuit, a slight advantage over his two main rivals heading into qualifying and the vital opening race of the weekend.

The circuit has also been kind enough to warrant 14 wins for Neal in his BTCC career to date, a tally which he is more than capable of adding to at the age of 49 and certainly not out.

Three battling victories – a Knockhill charge the highlight – in 2016 have been backed up by a consistent tally from seven podiums and 20 top 10 finishes, so Neal expects Honda to be serious threats for victory this weekend.

“We should be good round Brands”, the triple champion told TCF after ticking over 600 BTCC races. “I guess we’ve got two strings to our bow now as well with Shedden back in it. Sam’s got to carry full weight again, so it’s game on.

Both Neal and team-mate Shedden have the luxury of experience on their side when it comes to a title hunt with three races remaining, both in equally tense circumstances, even against each other in the case of Neal’s 2011 triumph.

“We’ve got nothing to lose”, the latter added. “We’ve got to go and do the best we can in qualifying and go from there really. It’s a case of throwing caution to the wind on both our accounts.”

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Photo Credits: BTCC Media, Honda Yuasa Racing

Collard winRob Collard

Championship Position: 4th
Points Deficit: -17
2016 Wins: 2
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 4

Another BTCC stalwart, Rob Collard now has his chance to make his mark potentially on the Drivers’ Championship.

The 2003 Independent champion enters the final weekend 17 points adrift of team-mate Tordoff, fourth overall and in contention with three races to go for the first time in his 17-year BTCC career.

Collard admitted at Snetterton that he thought 2016 could have been his last season, something now forgotten in a year featuring two wins, six podiums and persistent climbs through the field that have impressed even himself at times.

“To close on the title fight is brilliant”, he tells TCF. “This is the most competitive year I’ve ever known in touring cars and I’m pleased to be a part of it. Last year incidents dropped us away; this year, we’ve maintained that fight so let’s get to Brands Hatch and have a good one.”

Brands Hatch is also a venue that holds fond memories for Collard, four of his 13 top-class BTCC wins coming at the Kent circuit.

“I think the BMW is very strong at Brands”, said Collard. “The boost equalisation is up for review in the final round, so hopefully we can gain a bit and it could be game on.”

The WSR driver insists however that, for him to overhaul his rivals, a strong qualifying is a must during a season where Saturdays have provided him with plenty of grief. Much of Collard’s daring charges through the pack have been brought upon through a qualifying average of 16.7, his best race one grid position being sixth at Donington Park.

He says: “I’ve got to really focus on my qualifying. Qualifying 20th is going to be no good at Brands Hatch GP. We have to get in the top 10 so, if I can qualify eighth or something like that, I know I’ve got a very good car for the rest of the weekend.”

A certainty is that Collard will enter in a feisty mood at Brands Hatch GP and in arguably the best fettle of his career, so he will be ready to pounce should his opportunity arrive.

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Photo Credits: BTCC Media, West Surrey Racing

JacksonM-02Mat Jackson

Championship Position: 5th
Points Deficit: -21
2016 Wins: 4
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 5

The third and final man not to have a BTCC title to his name of the eight contenders is also one of those on the most wins in 2016, Mat Jackson.

A driver that fans would not hesitate to put in their fantasy team, the ever-reliable and experienced former SEAT Cupra champion enters the final round in contention for a maiden title for just the second time in his BTCC career.

In his most consistent season since finishing runner-up back in 2008 for BMW, Jackson has failed to grab a pole position this season but clinched confident wins at Donington, Thruxton and Snetterton alongside a defensive masterclass in Knockhill’s reverse grid encounter.

The rapid Motorbase Performance Ford Focus ST also took a double win in Jackson’s hands here last year, the man himself hopeful that carrying 36kg less success ballast than Tordoff initially will give him a real chance to trim the 21-point burden.

“I think we go there in a really good position because we carry less weight”, said Jackson to TCF on the season finale. “It’s hurting people. 21 points – that’s a win. As you’ve seen, it can all change.”

Nine finishes outside the top 10 and a pair of non-finishes hurt the Ford man’s charge along the way, but Jackson says he can’t dwell on the situation if he is to break his title duck.

“We’ve had five zero scores and we’re still there, which I think sums up the championship. People have had bad results and are still in the mix. Anything can happen and all we can do is attack.

“I’m sure some of them will have two weeks of misery! We’ll go there with maximum attack and see what happens.”

Photo Credit: Matt Sayle

Photo Credits: BTCC Media, Matt Sayle

289bcb6d-28d3-4a92-a579-34e0413be648Andrew Jordan

Championship Position: 6th
Points Deficit: -31
2016 Wins: 2
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 3

Creeping back into title contention in the latter stages of the season, Andrew Jordan remains a spoiler for a second BTCC crown.

A second victory of the season came in confident style for the Pirtek-backed Motorbase Performance driver at Silverstone most recently, Jordan with fire in his belly heading to a Brands Hatch circuit he enjoys.

It was also the venue he claimed an emotional – not to mention nail-biting – maiden title back in 2013 for Eurotech Racing, but pressure is not on his shoulders on this occasion with 31 points to make up.

20 finishes in the top 10 from 27 races illustrate Jordan’s consistency, the only one of the main eight not to have suffered a DNF or failure to start all season.

All-out attack is his agenda, saying: “We’re still in the mix for the overall title, although a 31 point gap means we’ll need others to have some bad luck on Finals Day. However, all we can do it go out there, do our best and see where it leaves us.”

Is the title on Jordan’s mind? Wins remain his primary target, the title being something that would cross his thoughts should cards fall his way during the final day of the season.

He tells TCF: “We’ll see where we are at the end of the day. Anything can happen, but it is within striking distance.”

Jordan kerbs

Photo Credits: BTCC Media

Turkington-3Colin Turkington

Championship Position: 7th
Points Deficit: -37
2016 Wins: 3
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 4

Colin Turkington has seen many a tense tale unfold in a BTCC finale at Brands Hatch GP, having been on the victorious end on two occasions in 2009 and 2014.

The first of those titles saw the Northern Irishman battle a crabbing BMW 320si after contact in a nerve-jangling curtain closer, but this time it is Turkington very much playing the chasing role.

37 points is the gap to make up for the Silverline Subaru Team BMR man, leading the charge for Warren Scott‘s outfit as they hunt for maiden Drivers’ Championship spoils for both BMR and for Subaru on their debut with the Levorg.

The Japanese manufacturer has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in fortune, winning consecutive opening races at Oulton Park, Croft and Snetterton with Turkington after the BMR quartet withdrew under safety grounds from the Thruxton encounters.

“I think we’ll be OK”, Turkington told TCF ahead of the season finale. “We’ve been strong everywhere really.

“I think we’ll go there with a good chassis and the lottery balls are in the air really. It’s an open field, so it’s hard to tell who’s going to be quick. It’s going to be the same blokes up there.”

Turkington remains a relative outsider for the title in seventh place, with just 67 points left for on the table in Kent. The Subaru Levorg driver’s talent is unquestionable however, the man himself saying that the 2016 season has been ‘like no other’ while insisting the pendulum could still swing in his direction.

“You always say the ideal place is to be going in fourth, with reduced ballast, but not too many points away”, said Turkington, who carries just 27kg ballast compared to Tordoff’s 75kg. “It’s anybody’s at the moment….a complete lottery.

“We’ve done really well to get ourselves this close. This whole season has been different to others, because usually there’s three or four guys making a break for it, but everybody’s taking points off each other.”

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Photo Credits: BTCC Media

Plato6Jason Plato

Championship Position: 8th
Points Deficit: -58
2016 Wins: 1
BTCC Wins At Brands Hatch: 26

Many will argue that Jason Plato should have more than two BTCC titles to his name, and once again he finds himself in with a chance to lift the coveted trophy for a third time.

Nobody will enter the final round with more experience of the ‘chaser’ role than the Subaru Levorg driver, who will take pride in his performances alongside Turkington in a car initially intended to be threatening for the championship in 2017.

Plato’s long-awaited opening win of the season arrived at Knockhill as he ticked over 500 races, but closing a 58-point gap with 67 still on the table means Plato will be going out all guns blazing for more season-closing success.

“We have a car which is without doubt the class of the field in the corners. We need more power from the engine in the races”, said Plato.

“My make-up as a driver is to win”, he added to TCF. “I know that I could have won more championships if I didn’t have that. But I would have won far less races.”

If it’s success at Brands Hatch and season finales that you’re looking for however, Plato holds more than enough points to his trump card.

No fewer than 26 of his 95 and counting BTCC victories have come at the Kent circuit since his 1997 debut, a track at which he has won at in each of the last seven seasons and in 13 of his 17 full seasons to date. In addition, Plato has claimed 10 wins in season finales since 2005, including an infamous hat-trick for Chevrolet in 2009.

Interestingly, that occasion almost saw Plato complete a remarkable comeback from being the title outsider. Having entered the weekend 28 points adrift of eventual champion, Turkington, Plato missed out by just five points that evening.

Although 58 points is a much stiffer ask, it could be done, but even a battling tiger of Plato’s caliber would need problems to hit his most distant rivals this weekend….

Plato-02

Photo Credits: BTCC Media

PREVIEW: Brands Hatch GP

The finale will once again be played out at the full Brands Hatch GP circuit, the 2.43-mile layout one that has seen the likes of Neal, Shedden, Jordan and Turkington all claim BTCC crowns at.

None of that particular quartet hold the lap record to their name however, 2008-runner up Jackson clinging onto that accolade with a time of 1m30.685s (96.59mph) on his way to pole position less than 12 months ago.

start5
Photo: BTCC Media

Plato holds the most wins around Brands Hatch comfortably with 24, while the track’s sweeping final Clearways corner has helped produce the narrowest BTCC victory margin of 0.015 – also for Plato – back in 2009.

What of the weather for the weekend?

Mother nature has often struggled to come to a decision when the series visits Kent in October, and the 2016 venture could well be the same.

Of Tuesday, Saturday’s weather forecast hints at temperatures of up to 17°C, but with a 60% chance of rain during a crucial qualifying day.

Sunday’s forecast looks more appealing thankfully, similar temperatures coupled with sunshine and a slim chance of showers for the flocking crowds.

Tickets for the BTCC finale at Brands Hatch on 1/2 October are available in advance from £27, with free entry for under-13s. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or visit www.brandshatch.co.uk.

Those watching from their sofas at home will be treated to over seven hours of live TV coverage on ITV4, with titles still to be decided in the supporting British F4, Renault UK Clio Cup and Ginetta GT Supercup, alongside Porsche Carrera Cup GB and Ginetta Junior action.

Saturday:

Free Practice One: 9:55
Free Practice Two: 12:45
Qualifying: 15:40

Sunday:

Race One: 11:32
Race Two: 14:22
Race Three: 17:09

TCF’s Dan Mason and Simon Paice will bring you all the action from the BTCC and support championship paddocks at Brands Hatch GP, which you can keep up to date with right here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk, or via Twitter at @tcfBTCC.