BTCC Knockhill Preview: Will It Be Home Soil Success?

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returned in typical fashion with an action-packed weekend in Norfolk, from Gordon Shedden’s pitlane fire to Dave Newsham’s first ever BTCC win, and fans should expect more of the same as Knockhill prepares for its 20th anniversary of Touring Car racing by hosting Round 7 of the championship.

Do we really have four genuine contenders following Andrew Jordan’s first win of the season in race two at Snetterton? Or are Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato too far ahead of the young pretender?

Shedden will be particularly fired up heading into his home race following a weekend which can only be described as ‘trying’, at best.

The Yuasa Racing ace overcame a pitlane fire in first practice, missing the second session while his Honda Civic was repaired, an electrical glitch ending his qualifying early and causing him to start last on the grid, to come through the field to finish seventh. He made the most of the Neal/Plato drama to steal second in race two before taking the championship lead – briefly – with a podium in race three, until he was thrown out of the results for exceeding boost limits.

If ever a driver was to have bad luck or no luck in the BTCC, it is certainly Flash. But the Scot will be eager to reclaim top spot from his teammate on home soil, and certainly seemed the racier of the two last time out, even if Neal was evidently suffering from success ballast – and being punted off in two of the races.

Last year, the Hondas were on top form in Scotland, both drivers on the podium in race won before Shedden took victory in race two, while Plato toiled in the Chevrolet, a couple of sevenths and a DNF paltry return for the long trip.

But it also saw the emergence of one Frank Wrathall on the podium – a feat the youngster was delighted to repeat at Snetterton last time out after claiming his first BTCC pole on the Saturday. Certainly, with the DynoJet UK team seemingly on top of the Toyota Avensis, there is no reason he cannot have a big say in the weekend’s proceedings once again. Jordan’s now in winning form and confident of a late title push, but could Mat Jackson, who shone in the Redstone Racing NGTC Ford Focus ST on its debut, get on to the podium and even challenge for wins? It could means we could have six NGTC runners battling for the win on Sunday – but the list of potential winners doesn’t quite end there.

Lest we forget our third winner of the day at Snetterton, the aforementioned Newsham. The Scot drove out of his skin all weekend as the S2000 Vauxhall Vectras shone in the Norfolk sun – remember Lea Wood’s strong race three showing before retirement – and he will be desperate to repeat that winning performance on home soil.

Snetterton suited the Vauxhall but Knockhill may be a different story – both James Nash and Andrew Jordan struggled in their respective Vectras in 2011 – though you can be sure Newsham will give it everything in the ES Racing machine.

Another S2000 runner dying to take the flag in 2012 is Tom Onslow-Cole. The eBay Motors BMW man was another in top form at Snetterton, running strongly all weekend before capping it off with a second place in race three. He’s repeated and repeated the fact that the team are at the limit with developing the car – but it should have good pace in Scotland once more; last season teammate Rob Collard enjoyed a very competitive weekend with two fifths and a second.

Plato and Neal came to blows at Snetterton. Photo: Chris Gurton Photography

“Really looking forward to it,” he said to “It’s a track most drivers really enjoy visiting – it’s the Brands Hatch of the North! A real action-packed circuit.

“He [Rob] did have a good run there last year considering the power deficit they had but I think we’re more concentrating on the form we found at Snetterton and the advantages and small tweaks we made in the summer break. We hope to be competitive wherever we go and really dial the car in.”

The Scottish track is definitely a different challenge to Snetterton – it poses some of the toughest corners on the calendar and is in parts quite narrow, which is a worry for all those concerned by the poor driving standards last time out.

When Neal and Plato came to blows on the penultimate tour of the second race, the build-up was a case of when, not if, the two would collide. Throughout the field there was plenty of panel-bashing, a by-product of the new, artificial 300 layout which places two hairpins at the end of two fast straights.

Newcomer Robb Holland and Adam Morgan came together  early on in race one, both out on the spot, while Andy Neate seemed to attract more attention than most, and Tony Gilham, Rob Collard, Chris James and Dan Welch to name a few had their races compromised because of contact.

The likes of Welch will be hoping to avoid any more damage from the long haul north of the border as the wear, tear and financial strains of the BTCC begin to take their toll. What was most encouraging from Snetteron was how close so many different cars were, and we could well see a repeat this weekend.

Speedworks’ Morgan was one driver with more reason to be aggrieved than most, qualifying the Toyota Avensis an impressive fifth – remember, this is a man outside the top 20 in the standings – before a spin of his own making dropped him down the order, followed sooner after by contact with Holland, and suffered another incident in race two as well.

“Very pleased,” he told when asked how he felt after his qualifying performance. “After all the troubles we have had at the beginning of the season it was great to finally get the car at the front end of the grid.

“Three top ten finishes at Knockhill would be great. We now know we have a quick car as proved at Snetterton but Knockhill is a very different track with all the bumps, undulations and off camber corners. For the rest of the season I am just aiming for finishes now. I know I’m quick and I know the car is quick, we just need that breakthrough weekend.”

Two men who will not be racing at Knockhill are Tony Gilham and John Thorne. The former’s seat is occupied by Holland while the latter’s team battles funding issues. Rob Austin is also at risk, having told TCF he may not be able to afford to attend, though this is not yet confirmed.