Team RAC (West Surrey Racing) saw what could have been a terrible weekend turn out almost as well as it could have, after the complexsion of the BTCC title race changed almost every lap at Rockingham on Sunday.
Race 1 pole-sitter Jason Plato was ambused by the BMWs of Jonathan Adam and Stephen Jelley at the start, but early pace setter Adam started to lose his pace around Lap 8, and on Lap 9 was passed for the lead by Jelley. He would also fall behing the other Racing Silverline car of Mat Jackson, and also his own team-mate Rob Collard on the final lap.
As usual, Turn 1 saw another shunt, this time with Matt Neal, making his 400th BTCC start, ploughing straight into the passenger door of Johnny Herbert‘s Honda Civic, taking both of them out of the race.
Fabrizio Giovanardi drew first blood in the title race, scoring 6th place, while Colin Turkington starting from 14th struggled from the start. He did make it into the points midway through the race, only to smash into the back of James Nash‘s misfiring Chevrolet Lacetti and spinning out. He did make a recovery to 10th place however, thanks to passing team-mate Anthony Reid and the SEAT of Gordon Shedden on the last lap.
Meanwhile Turkington’s other team-mate Jelley took his first ever BTCC win ahead of Plato and Jackson in the Lacettis.
Race 2 saw Plato score his 50th career win ahead of team-mate Jackson. Jelley had lead from pole, but was shoved off the road after a forceful move by Jackson, with Plato following his team-mate through. Plato then pulled a similar move on his team-mate later in the race to take the race win.
Turkington made a much better start this time, carving his way through the pack to sixth come the end of Lap 1. He later passed Adam and Jelley to finish 4th, directly behing Giovanardi.
TH Motorsport caused plenty of trouble after both John George and Matt Hamilton went off-roading mid race, with George smashing his Integra and Hamilton beaching his Civic at the Tarzan hairpin. This caused the two safety car periods of the race which helped bunch the field back up.
Two drivers to miss the race were Rob Collard at Matt Neal, with Collard pulling in after the formation lap with a mechanical failure, and Neal’s car still wasn’t completely fixed before the start of the second race from his altercation with Herbert earlier.
Race 3 saw the title race turned on its head several times in just a handful of laps. Stephen Jelley won for the second time, but all eyes were on his team-mate Turkington and Giovanardi.
Giovanardi was struggling all race, and was passed by Jason Plato early on. Plato eventually came up behind 3rd placed Turkington, only to whack him into a spin at Tarzan hairpin. Plato duly tried to straighten out the BMW before it managed a complete 180, only to take out team-mate James Nash in the process.
That ended any title aspirations Plato had, after being forced to pit afterwards. Turkington too, looked as if his title could be severely under threat, after being passed by Giovanardi and Herbert. The trio all went into the final chicane side-by-side, with Herbert and Giovanardi bumping into each other several times. This allowed Turkington and Jackson to slip past Giovanardi, and the Italian’s Vauxhall Vectra sustained damage after the incident, falling further back as the race wore on.
Turkington survived what could have been a costly accident to finish 4th, ahead of Jackson, Adam and Herbert. But Giovanardi’s woeful race wasn’t quite over yet. Martin Johnson‘s ancient Vauxhall Astra Coupe started to catch the ailing Vectra on the final lap, and slipped past at the final turn of the last lap to steal the final point for 10th place.
Conversely, Tom Chilton was ecstatic after taking Team Aon‘s first ever podium position in the new Ford Focus ST, exclaiming it “was like winning the race”.
Vauxhall looked like they had the upper hand after qualifying, but WSR really turned the tables on them come race day. Stephen Jelley winning two races, plus Turkington actually extending his championship lead by two points, despite starting the day in 14th place. Plato still has an outside shot at the title, but really needs three wins and a dire performance from the leading duo to have a real chance of snatching the title from under their noses. But then again, this is Touring Car racing…