Following round five at Croft, the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship headed off for its summer break. On its return, there were a host of new faces, some in new places, and the season really began to hot up. Thorney Motorsport re-appeared for the first time since round two at Donington, with Team-HARD.‘s Tony Gilham at the wheel – American Robb Holland driving his S2000 Honda Civic for Snetterton and Knockhill. At the front, the Hondas returned to the track level on points, with Jason Plato keeping a watching brief…
Round 6: Snetterton – Championship tightens up
Returning from the summer break, it was Frank Wrathall who set the pace in Saturday qualifying, while Redstone Racing appeared with a brand-new NGTC Focus for Mat Jackson. Plato and Newsham passed the Toyota at the start of race one and as the Scot harried the MG for the lead, but Plato went on to take the win, with neither Yuasa Honda on the podium as Wrathall crossed the line second and Jordan edged out Newsham – who was later disqualified for being underweight.
Race two saw the Yuasa pair back at the front. Neal pressured Plato hard as the KX man struggled more with success ballast, and the defending champion turned his long-time rival sideways through the Bomb Hole, taking the lead – but Plato returned the favour, hard, ramming the Civic off the track and running wide himself, and though before got back on without losing too much time, the incident allowed Jordan and Shedden through to finish first and second. In race three, Dave Newsham – starting second after a stirring fight through the field to eighth after his race one disqualification – took the lead early on from Lea Wood, and the two Vectras circulated first and second – until Wood was cruelly robbed of a deserved podium with a mechanical failure. Newsham drove flawlessly to take his first win in the BTCC, while behind, Plato took another podium while Neal fought back from a first lap incident to finish 8th, but his teammate Shedden was disqualified for exceeding boost limits. Heading to Knockhill, the championship was really hotting up.
Stand-out moments: Redstone’s roll-out of the NGTC Focus turned several heads – as did the American Robb Holland‘s debut. Thorney Motorsport were back on the grid in the Inisgnia, while Wrathall’s first pole was very well-received. But first and foremost is Newsham’s win – you’ll rarely find a win for a driver as popular amongst his rivals as it was his supporters.
1.) Neal 255 points
2.) Shedden 247 points
3.) Plato 245 points
Round 7: Knockhill – Plato’s challenge takes a hit
As rain – predictably – hit the Scottish track it was Plato on pole as he sought to continue his impressive Snetterton form at Knockhill. However, his joy was short-lived come the dry race day. As the BMWs of Rob Collard and Tom Onslow-Cole streaked ahead to take a one-two, Plato was embroiled in a controversial accident with Aron Smith – excelling in his best performance in the S2000 Ford Focus. The pair came together in the early stages of race one, Plato ending the worse for wear, beached in the gravel. Post-race, he declared Smith deserved to have his license taken away – prompting a fierce reply from Dave Bartrum in the days which followed. Back on-track, Shedden took a brace of third-places to close in at the top but a DNF in race three, combined with a podium for Neal, opened the gap up slightly. Newsham meanwhile made it two wins from two race threes, a home-soil victory to follow up his Snetterton triumph.
Stand-out moments: The Plato-Smith incidents had reverberations for a long time after the racing had stopped and the dust had settled. Plato’s controversial words immediately after race one were matched tit-for-tat by Motorbase boss Dave Bartrum – who gave every bit as his driver got.
1.) Neal 287 points
2.) Shedden 277 points
3.) Plato 251 points
Round 8: Rockingham – Shedden reigns in the rain
A weekend which looked set for Plato/MG dominance – exactly what was needed after his Knockhill nightmare – ended in a memorable one for Shedden. Plato had put his MG on pole yet again, by some margin, and had coasted to victory in race one. But when the heavens opened, Shedden stepped up. Making the most of an error from Andrew Jordan at the restart in the second race, he assumed a lead he would not relinquish. Then in race three came the defining point in the season. Battling through the field, Shedden’s Civic snapped sideways through the high-speed turn one banking. It looked as though he was done for, but a remarkable piece of car control kept him away from the barriers, back facing the wrong way – and he went on the win. It was a ‘Flashpoint’ of the race, the weekend, and the championship. Advantage Shedden.
Stand-out moments: Howard Fuller was mighty impressive on his touring car debut, particularly as he had never turned a wheel in the rain, and Aron Smith’s first few laps at the front of a BTCC race was good to see. But Shedden’s 120mph save through the turn one banking could well be what won him the championship in the end – look out for it on the ITV season review, and hold your breath.
1.) Shedden 336 points
2.) Neal 333 points
3.) Plato 304 points
Round 9: Silverstone – Plato and Jackson share remarkable wins
Plato out the title race? Somebody forgot to tell him. A stunning double, sandwiched by a maiden win for Redstone Racing’s NGTC triumph, meant it would go down to the wire. On Saturday, Dan Welch stole a few headlines in second practice, setting the fastest time in his returning Welch Motorsport Proton, but come qualifying Plato was back on top with a remarkable fifth pole of the season, his third in a row. He led for much of race one and eventually took the win – but only after a throttle problem cruelly robbed Mat Jackson of a debut triumph in the new Focus – though Redstone were compensated in some fashion as Aron Smith claimed his maiden BTCC podium. In race two, a stunning fightback from 18th meant Jackson was not to be denied – though he received a helping hand when Plato retired while leading in a mirror of the first race. Then, in the reversed grid third race, Plato came to the fore – charging through from 20th to take a stunning double – setting up a mouth-watering finale.
Stand-out moments: Jackson retires, gifting Plato the race one win. Plato then retires, handing Jackson a remarkable race two win – the first for the NGTC Focus. It was a double-success for Redstone as Aron Smith took his first BTCC podium. Elsewhere, Neal’s non-score and race two fire all-but-ended his title charge – while there was a welcome return for the Welch Motorsport Proton as Dan Welch went fastest in free practice two.
1.) Shedden 364 points
2.) Plato 349 points
3.) Neal 333 points
Round 10: Brands Hatch GP – Shedden wraps it up
Wet weather hit the historic Kent track, swinging in favour of Gordon Shedden. In qualifying, Onslow-Cole set the cat amongst the pigeons by setting the fastest time ahead of Andrew Jordan. In race one, Onslow-Cole led in the early stages but Neal began to work his way through as Shedden passed Plato. Victory meant Neal was right back in the title fight but Plato’s chances now looked slim – and so it proved. As the field poured into Druids at the start of race two, Plato nerfed the back of Shedden’s Civic, sending him into Collard and spinning the BMW round – a sitting duck which was collected by Will Bratt and Adam Morgan. It ended Collard’s race on the spot, crowning Andrew Jordan Independent’s Champion. As Onslow-Cole and Aron Smith, continuing to excel in his debut season, broke away at the head of the pack at the restart, Shedden worked his way past Jordan and Neal moved over to let his team-mate through – third enough to crown the Scot the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion. Two places ahead, Smith took his first ever BTCC win, to cap a very impressive debut season.
Second-place in the series was still up for grabs, as was the Independent Teams’ title. It was a slightly depleted field – rookie Aaron Williamson and Morgan would not take the start following heavy damage in a race two incident which also involved Neate and Onslow-Cole, who had run wide at Surtees and dropped down the field – but it was a fitting end to the season. Frank Wrathall, who had been quick all day but blighted by bad luck, assumed control when Mat Jackson – in a similar position in his NGTC Focus – dropped out with a recurrence of his Silverstone problem. The popular Toyota driver went on to take his maiden victory while Jackson’s retirement handed Pirtek the Independents’ title.
The Civics – Shedden, Neal and Jordan – took the flag in formation, capping a remarkable year for Honda. The Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ titles, along with both Indy titles and runners-up spot for Neal in the main championship, left little dispute over which car was the best – and Shedden, with eight wins from 30 races, left little dispute that the best driver had won the title.
Stand-out moments: Brilliant first wins for Aron Smith and Frank Wrathall, an impressive eighth for Aaron Williamson in his first ever BTCC qualifying session made Brands a weekend to remember – oh, and Shedden’s maiden title success of course.
You can read Part I of the 2012 BTCC Review here. Next up: The top five drivers from 2012 – but not as the standings suggest…