Snetterton, in Norfolk saw the resumption of the 2009 season after a seven week summer break, and the break saw a shift of performance towards the Silverline/RML run Chevrolet Lacetti's.
Cartridge World had replaced Dan Eaves with former Team Dynamics driver Gordon Shedden for Snetterton and Shedden's home round, Knockhill.
Qualifying saw Jason Plato take pole with the Team RAC BMW of Turkington alongside him on the grid, and Plato didn't fancy his chances of leading into Sear, the first corner.
Plato was right to feat Turkington from the start. As the lights went out, Turkington went straight past Plato and into the lead at Riches, the first corner. At the Esses though, Plato tagged the back end of the BMW which spun Turkington. Plato was then spun out by Jordan as he tried to recover from spinning out Turkington.
Jordan led the race after these incidents but was soon passed by Giovanardi, then let Mat Jackson into second after a spin while Jonny Adam followed through, but lost third as the inspired Paul O'Neill passed him for third at Russell. At the end of the 19 lap race, cue tears for the sunshine.co.uk driver O'Neill, as he finished third and took his podium since his full time return. Fabrizio Giovanardi and Mat Jackson completed the podium, both of them having avoided the mayhem on the opening lap.
Race 2 saw Giovanardi and Jackson break away from the rest of the pack in the opening laps, before Jacksons bad luck returned as he suffered engine problems. This promoted Adam to second but this was lost at the Bombhole as Turkington and O'Neill got past. Meanwhile, race one retirements Jason Plato and James Thompson were on a recovery drive and both solidly inside the top 10, and by the end of the race had climbed upto third and fourth, having passed Adam and O'Neill.
The race 3 grid draw saw the new Bamboo Engineering Lacetti of Harry Vaulkhard drawn on pole position with the RML Lacetti of James Nash alongside.
Off the line, the second row starters of Rob Collard and Jonny Adam made blistering starts with their rear wheel drive advantage to pass the two Lacetti's, James Nash retook second from Adam further round the lap. Nash then set about chasing down Collard for the race lead. Behind them, Vaulkhard and Thompson made contact which saw the Lacetti in the Coram tyre barrier.
Lap 6 saw the safety car deployed to recover Chiltons Focus which had retired at the Esses. The safety car went in on lap 10 and 3 laps later it was deployed for a second time to clear up the Collard/Jelley accident, which was caused by Nash touching the back of Collards BMW and putting him into a spin on the grass. Collard then spun back on the track and collected the unlucky Jelley, although it could have been any of 5 or 6 others. There was also action as the Safety Car came out: a late call for it saw Paul O'Neill tag the back of Turkington and spear off towards the barrier. He just kept the Integra out of the barrier.
Once the Safety Car was withdrawn again, Nash went to win the race on the track but was later excluded, thus handing the win to Turkington with Giovanardi second and Neal in third.
Knockhill: the BTCC's annual trip across the border and into Scotland at the tight, twisty and technical track in Fife. This weekend saw the start of an incredible run of form for Racing Silverline's Mat Jackson.
Jason Plato took pole for the opening race of the weekend for Racing Silverline but had local drivers Gordon Shedden and Jonny Adam for company in second and third place on the grid.
As the lights went out, Plato made a great start which repelled the attack from both the Cartridge World Seat of Shedden and the BMW's behind, which saw Turkington and Adam switch around.
As the opening race developed, Plato was able to pull away with Shedden settled in second, the Seat Leon excelling around the twisty parts of the track. Behind, however, saw the positions changing almost every lap, and by the midway point of the race, Turkington had been as high as third before being shuffled down to seventh. A lap later saw Mat Jackson brave it out with one of the toughest guys on the grid, Rob Collard. It was Jackson who won that battle for third, and worse was to come for Collard as on the following lap (lap 16), he went for a slide out of the John R Weir Chicane, which caused team mate Adam and Matt Neal to swerveout round him. Unluckily for Collard, he got taken out by a wayward Neal and both cars ended up in the gravel.
Safety car deployed – and it was withdrawn 6 laps later. Just before the re-start, Plato backed everyone up. Shedden went into the back of the Lacetti and damaged the rear bumper. By the end of the lap, Turkington had recovered to fifth, which became fourth by the end of the race, which Plato won from Shedden and Jackson.
Race 2 – No Plato, an electrical fault with the Lacetti sidelined him, which meant that local hero Shedden started by himself on the front row, with Jackson having a clear run to the first corner, Seat Curve. Shedden was able to repel the attack from Jackson off the line, and further back saw the BMW's of Turkington and Adam fighting it out.
Later into the race saw Giovanardi first pass Jackson for second before taking advantage of a Shedden slip up to grab the lead, with Jackson following Giovanardi through to grab second. This was the start of a tumble down the field for Shedden, who would end up ninth. Giovanardi took the win from Jackson with Turkington taking third.
The grid draw for the third race saw James Thompson on pole, in his final BTCC race of the season, with Paul O'Neill alongside him. Jason Plato started 17th and dead last, while Fabrizio started 7th and Mat Jackson 6th. It was all set to be a classic touring car race.
By the end of the opening lap, Thompson had built up a substantial lead over the rest of the chasing pack, but this was negated a couple of laps later as Shedden and Collard collided and Shedden ended up in the gravel trap.
Once the Safety car had been withdrawn, Thompson set about defending his lead from Turkington at first, then Neal after lap 10. Neal made his move for the lead on lap 17, which put both Thompson and Neal off the racing line and Mat Jackson, who had followed Neal through when he passed Turkington, took the lead. From there on, Mat went and drove a smooth race to claim his second win of the season and his third podium of the day, and for Mat, it was his first 3 podiums in a day result.
Further back – team mate Jason Plato was flying, ballast free and fired up after the electrical problem from the second race. By lap 19, Plato was fourth with 2 hard Vauxhall drivers ahead of him. Jason then set about passing first Giovanardi for third then Neal for second and followed Jackson home for the first Silverline 1,2 in the BTCC. On the final corner, Neal conceded third to Giovanardi but very cleverly defending as well, so not to let Turkington pass.
Silverstone – a circuit expected to suit the Silverline and RML prepared Chevrolet Lacetti's. Silverstone also saw the BTCC debut of former F1 driver Johnny Herbert, who was signed by Team Dynamics to replace the Aussie V8/WTCC/DTC bound James Thompson.
Qualifying proved that expectation right, with 3 Lacetti's in the top 4, Mat Jackson taking his first pole of the year. The qualifying surprise was from the Airwaves BMW of Rob Collard, who stuck his car second on the grid to the surprise of everyone. Jason Plato started third while James Nash had his best qualifying session by starting fourth.
The opening race saw the BMW's customary start, which meant that Collard took the lead from Jackson with Plato slotting in behind Jackson with Nash in fourth place. The order at the front stayed like this until lap 4, when Mat forced his way past Collard at Brooklands, with a slight touch for good measure. Behind the lead battle, Team RAC's latest recruit, hard man Anthony Reid and Team AON's Tom Onslow-Cole collided and brought out the first of two safety cars, the other caused a few laps later by Martin Johnsons Vauxhall Astra Coupe.
After the second safety car period, Jackson led home a Chevrolet 1,2,3 with Plato taking 2nd and James Nash taking third, making up for the exclusion he suffered at Snetterton. Both of them passed Rob Collard cleanly, Plato opening the door for Nash to follow through at Copse.
Race 2 – and as its Silverstone, there has to be a wet race. Race 2 was the wet race, however it didn't start off wet. Jackson led away from pole with Plato in second, while Nash messed up the race start and dropped back. 7 laps in and the race lead changed as Plato got a run on team mate Jackson to take the lead and set about pulling away from the 9 kgs heavier Lacetti. Just after the half distance mark, Giovanardi took advantage of the weather to pass Turkington, the Silverstone track was getting wetter and with less grip available, the BMW's started to struggle. With 4 laps remaining, Giovanardi took second away from Jackson and set about chasing down the other Lacetti of Plato. Plato took the victory from Giovanardi with Jackson taking his fifth consecutive podium finish.
The final race of the weekend saw an all Airwaves BMW front row as Collard and Adam started as 1 and 2 and both would have fancied a win. Collard and Adam led away the rest of the pack when the lights went out for the start of the race, with Turkington up to third and Jackson making a mega start to finish lap 1 in fourth place, and by the end of the fourth lap of 22, Jackson had climbed his way up to second place and left to chase down Rob Collard, and the decisive move was made at Brooklands again, like in race one. Collard wasn't prepared to accept defeat that easily and fought back and the last few laps saw Collard reel Jackson in, but Jackson held on for win number 2 of the day, his third win in the last 6 races and his sixth podium on the trot.
Further back, another decisive move was made – Stephen Jelley had been closing in on the Vauxhall Vectra of Giovanardi, and passed the Vauxhall at Luffield and then did the perfect rear gunner job for Turkington who took third behind Jackson and Collard.
Rockingham, with its banked turn one and scene of some of the best touring car races in recent history. 2009, it didn't disappoint and the BTCC saw a new winner.
Pole position for race 1 went the way of Silverline's Jason Plato, his fourth pole of the year, with a qualifying best for Jonny Adam. Plato's team mate started third while Stephen Jelley started 4th. Championship leader Colin Turkington started 14th on the grid after a troublesome qualifying session.
Race 1 – held in perfect conditions saw Jonny Adam take the lead straight off the line, using the BMW's superior traction to great effect, and by the time the dust had settled at Deene, Plato, who had started second was down to 4th as Jelley nabbed second at Deene then Collard took third at Yentwood. Up at Deene, Matt Neal had just taken out Johnny Herbertâ€¦ not the way Neal wanted to celebrate his 400th BTCC start.
5 laps in and the Silverline charge for the podium had begun, with both Plato and Jackson getting past, and just after half distance they were starting to chase down Jonny Adam, who'd been passed for the lead by Stephen Jelley. Towards the closing stages and the Silverline train had arrived at the podium positions, Plato having passed Adam for 2nd then Jackson taking 3rd a lap later.
At the end – Jelley had taken his first BTCC win and finally proved that he was worthy of his RAC Drive, while Plato and Jackson again couldn't be separated, Mat taking his seventh consecutive podium finish, which is a new record for the current format of the BTCC while Plato closed the gap to Turkington by 12 points.
Race 2 – Jelley uses the rear wheel drive traction to lead away from pole while Jackson passed Plato for second, and just before the half distance mark, Jackson forced Jelley wide to take the lead and set about building up a gap to Plato, who had also passed Jelley. In total, Jelley went from first to sixth in one lap. 3 laps from the end, Plato took the race lead away from Mat and with it the extra points. Mat then did the team game and defended and took his 8th consecutive podium, and Silverline took their third 1,2 of the season. Giovanardi completed the podium.
Pole for race 3 went to the ever improving Tom Chilton in his Team AON Ford Focus, after a 9 switch for the grid. This race was to live long in the memories of all BTCC fansâ€¦
Chilton was able to hold on to his lead as the field entered Deene hairpin on the opening lap with Andrew Jordan in second, James Nash third and Stephen Jelley fourth.
Mat Jacksons incredible run of podium finishes came to an end as he got punted off at Deene by an over eager Giovanardi, who admitted he missed his braking point. While the front 3 were pulling away and having their own battle for the lead, the Championship protagonists were all at it, and all fighting their way forward. 5 laps from the end saw a very decisive moment in the destination of the title. Plato had a run on Turkington as they entered Gracelands, Plato on the inside, Turkington on the outside. As they exited Tarzan, the second hairpin, Plato tagged the rear of the BMW and spun him across his nose, while contact with James Nash straightened up the BMW.
Giovanardi was also in the wars, this time with Johnny Herbert who was getting stuck in. Heading into the Brook hairpin side by side, neither driver would give an inch and a banging match ensued, which benefited Turkington and a recovering Jackson, both who went pass. Giovanardi would finish in 11th after being passed by Martin Johnson on the run to the line.
At the front, Jelley had taken the lead from Jordan and had gone, and took his second win of the day while Jordan ended a four month podium drought and Chilton took the Ford name back to the podium with third. Turkington survived all of the carnage to extend his Championship lead heading to Brands Hatch while Jackson recovered to fifth from dead last.
Brands Hatch GP; the season finale. History was made in race 1 with the closest ever finish in BTCC history. Turkington arrived at Brands with a 13 point advantage over Giovanardi, in Vauxhall's swansong with Plato the outsider, 28 points behind Turkington.
Pole for race one went to the ever improving Tom Chilton in the Ford, it was Ford's first pole since 2000, when Rickard Rydell took it in a Mondeo.
Race 1 – Plato started second, Giovanardi third, Turkington tenth. The title balance was heading Giovanardi's way. Off the line, Chilton led away from Plato with Giovanardi in third. End of lap 1 saw the Safety Car deployed to clear up the cars of Martin Johnson and Matt Hamilton, which were in the Paddock Hill gravel trap.
The safety car came out for the second time later into the race, to recover the Civic of Johnny Herbert from Druids and Gordon Shedden's Seat from Sheene. The final lap saw the lead change – Chilton's power steering failed in the Focus, and exiting Clearways and heading towards the chequered flag, Plato out dragged Chilton, who hit the side of Plato's car by accident as he struggled to hold the car – Plato claimed victory by 0.015 seconds, the tightest ever margin in BTCC history. Giovanardi claimed third and was backed up by another 2 Vauxhalls while Turkington was down in 8th place.
Race 2 – Plato started on pole, Giovanardi 3rd, Turkington 8th. Championship gap down to 6 points. Race start saw Chilton out drag Plato to Paddock Hill bend and take the lead from the race 1 winner while Giovanardi was busy keeping the 2 Airwaves BMW cars behind him. The safety car was deployed to recover the cars of Matt Hamilton and Martyn Bell.
As in the opening race, all the action was left for the end of the race. Plato was forceful on Chilton at Druids to take the lead which let Giovanardi attacked the Focus into Surtees, Chilton making Giovanardi go the long way round. Giovanardi completed the move exiting Hawthorns while Turkington takes fourth place away from Collard at Surtees and third from Chilton at Westfield. The Championship top 3 in the top 3 positions, just reversed – Plato 1st (3rd in Champ), Giovanardi 2nd (2nd in Champ) and Turkington 3rd (1st in Champ).
So round 30, the season finale, a nail biter. 8 points covering the top 3 and they were back in 6th, 7th and 8th places on the grid. Giovanardi's team mate, Matt Neal, got the reverse grid pole position as the top 8 were reversed.
Off the line – the Airwaves BMW Cars of Adam and Collard made lightening starts but by the time the field arrived at Surtees, Collard was in a barrier and Adam in the gravel after contact with Chilton and Neal. Chilton and Neal then went side by side and contact saw Chilton knocked wide which let Turkington and Giovanardi past. A safety car was deployed to recover the cars left in dangerous places.
Team games came into action as Neal tried to back Turkington into Giovanardi and just after half distance, Turkington decided enough was enough and forced his way past Neal at Druids, forcing Neal off and putting himself in the lead. Giovanardi also slipped past, then at Sheene Plato joined the party after passing Neal. The following lap saw Plato complete the 8th to first charge as he passed both Turkington and Giovanardi into Paddock Hill. From there, Plato drove away while Turkington nursed a damaged car home. Chilton passed a front tyre shot Giovanardi for third and never really challenged Turkington for second. At the end, Plato became only the second driver since the 3 race format was introduced to win all 3 races while Turkington took his first outright BTCC title. Chilton took third and his second podium of the day.
In the end, Turkington won the title by 5 points from Plato with Giovanardi a further four points behind. On the day Plato had outscored Turkington by 24 pointsâ€¦ and taken 49 out of a possible 52. A season of two halves came up with a truly fitting end, the opening 15 races being about Turkington building an advantage while the second half of the season was all about Racing Silverline and Jason Plato. Turkington also took his third independents' trophy on the bounce with Plato second and Mat Jackson third, despitemissing the season opener and having a shocker in the finale.
Roll on 2010.
Photo Credits: BTCC.net