The British Touring Car Championship returns to England this weekend with just nine races left until the end of the season, but with 15 drivers still mathematically capable of becoming champion.
More realistically the 2011 champion is likely to come from the half dozen drivers currently at the top of the points. Mat Jackson held the points lead before the previous round at Knockhill, but three retirements have dropped the Airwaves Racing driver back to third behind the two Honda Racing Team drivers, Gordon Shedden heading the points from Matt Neal.
“Sure, we're getting to the business end of the season but, for me, it's business as usual,” said Shedden. “I need to keep scoring the big points. Settling for three safe results at Rockingham would be suicidal because the others would eat me up in no time.”
“With the championship in mind some people's tactics on and off the track might change. I know from last year, when I came close to the title, that this is the hardest championship to win and that if you want to win it you have to be hard enough to put up with all sorts of games.”
Defending champion Jason Plato lies fourth, despite claiming his title defense was “over” following the accident that put him out of the final race at Knockhill.
Vectra drivers James Nash and Andrew Jordan lies fifth and sixth for Triple Eight and Pirtek Racing – both men are among a number of drivers and teams who can claim this weekend to be their home round. Among them are RML – the team behind the Chevrolets of Plato and Alex MacDowall – who are based in nearby Wellingborough and will hoping to return to the winning ways they most recently showed at Snetterton.
As well as being a potentially vital weekend for the championship contenders fans at Rockingham will also see the largest BTCC grid for nearly twenty years, with a total of 27 cars due to contest the three races on the Northamptonshire track.
The debut of Michael Caine in a third Airwaves Ford Focus ST, plus the return of Tony Gilham and Geoff Steel Racing have swelled the field to a size not seen in the two-litre BTCC formula since the 1994 season. The size of the 27 car field has, in fact, only been eclipsed once since two-litre engines became the norm, at the support event to the British Grand Prix in 1993.