BTCC Returns To Racing On Unpredictable Weekend

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This weekend's three British Touring Car races at Snetterton not only mark the series' return to racing after the now-traditional summer break, but should give us the best indication yet of where the 2011 title is headed.

The first half of the season was all about the Honda Racing Team. Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were consistently among the fastest, and have swept to the top of the teams' standings and put Neal ahead in the drivers' standings, though by just nine points.

However, the championship leader has described the Team Dynamics prepared Honda Civic as a “wrung sponge”, just as the rest of the grid is coming back from the seven week break promising steps forward after development work on their charges.

Of course, there's always the chance that this is mere posturing – both on Neal's and his opponent's part – by the Honda man seems to be genuinely in fear of his title lead. If any of his title rivals – second placed Mat Jackson or even James Nash or Andrew Jordan can prove they have taken a decisive step forward, and convert pace into a win, or even two, this weekend, then the title is wide open again.

The top six are covered by just 40 points, with defending champion Jason Plato in sixth on 100 points in his Chevrolet Cruze. However, with a maximum of 52 points on offer at each of the remaining five weekends of the season, one slip up in qualifying or the opening race could push a huge swing in the points.

Neal, and the rest of the turbocharged entrants will have to contend with another 0.05bar reduction in boost pressure, as TOCA still seek to level the playing field between the turbocharged and normally aspirated entrants, led by Plato. The impact the change will have is debateable, especially as any summer development threatens to move the metaphorical goalposts the series organisers took aim at after Croft in May.

Then there is the other great leveller of the meeting Snetterton itself – and not just because the former airfield is almost entirely flat.

A comprehensive redevelopment over the winter inserted a infield section and created the new '300' layout – a mile longer and with five extra corners compared to the track the series raced on last year.

“I think the Snetterton 300 will be a great touring car circuit,” Airwaves Racing driver Jackson said. “It's a lot more demanding than the previous layout and MSV have done a fantastic job developing the track. I'm really looking forward to it.”

The new infield section brings something extra to the Norfolk venue. No longer is the track dominated by its two long straights with overtaking moves largely confined to the brave around Riches – the first corner, which remains unchanged from 2010 – or at the Esses – again unchanged for 2011, reportedly at the demand of drivers.

What the new section adds is another certain overtaking opportunity at the Montreal hairpin at turn two, with another potential outbraking location at the wider radius hairpin of Agostini.

More importantly, especially at the start of the second half of the BTCC season, the new 300 layout presents an even mix of fast corners, slow corners and long straights.

Does this make it the perfect track to judge the relative merits of the turbocharged and normally aspirated cars?

Of course, one more great leveller is the weather, and with rain forecast over the course of the weekend and already unpredictable weekend, just became even more so.

Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 3:45pm on Saturday, with the first of Sunday's three races starting at ten-past-noon. The Checkered Flag will have news and reports from Snetterton all weekend.

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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