An energy-sapping and bruising 2013 British Touring Car Championship has now reached it’s half-time interval as the teams and drivers head into a lengthy summer break, after an opening five rounds that sees no clear favourite emerging prior to what will be an equalliy exciting second half of the year…
The season has so far produced five different winners from the first 15 races, unsurprisingly four of the these being the four BTCC champions gracing a packed and mostly NGTC-converted grid, with Matt Neal leading the championship by just 19 points thanks to four wins and 10 top-five finishes so far in 2013.
Three different manufacturers meanwhile – Honda, MG and BMW – have all shared those spoils, making it doubly hard to predict a champion due to each of the trio having had a weekend to shine at some point.
Honda are currently the leaders of that particular tally, as well as the manufacturers championship with eight triumphs to their name ahead of MG on four, with BMW emerging from the latest encounter at Croft as the newest force to be reckoned with three wins for eBay Motors and their new BMW 125i M-Sport machine.
Neal leads the way as former champions show their class
BMW’s success has been boosted largely by the nostalgic return of 2009 champion Colin Turkington, the Irishman giving the impression that he had never been away from the series as he claimed pole and his second and third wins of the year in a weekend at Croft that almost became the third triple victory in BTCC history, officially announcing himself and West Surrey Racing‘s new NGTC Beemer ones for their rivals to now be lookin over their shoulder for when racing resumes in August.
The equally strong performances from his team-mates Rob Collard and Nick Foster at Croft also proved the car is now improving, Turkington having lead the team and now finally admitted that the squad are almost on target with the outright pace they hoped to achieve.
The man in that lead position is triple champion Neal, who holds the half-season lead after 15 races thanks to an enviable show of consistency so far in 2013, picking up the points and keeping his nose cleaner than those around him to emerge with four wins, largely helped by a near-perfect Sunday during the third round at Thruxton where Neal picked up two wins and a second place in a puncture-attracting weekend.
Shedden and Plato looking for some luck
Trouble has found his team-mate Gordon Shedden more often however, the reigning champion lying joint third in the championship with Jason Plato and 36 points behind his Honda Yuasa Racing team-mate after mechanical problems and a disqualification started his season off with terrible luck at Brands Hatch.
Shedden has since shown his title-winning credentials with wins at Donington and Thruxton, although the Scot has looked more ragged than in his brilliant championship year of 2012, a well-documented race one tiff with Plato at Thruxton costing him vital points also as the duo briefly forged out a new BTCC rivalry.
Plato meanwhile will be a man on a mission heading into the second half of the year, and he will possibly enter Snetterton in the best shape of anyone on the grid. The double champion is a master at the Norfolk venue and often shines after the traditional BTCC summer break, and will enter it with an MG6 that appears a much more homed package this season.
Plato started the year in fine style with a double victory, but since had to wait until Oulton Park for a taste of more victory champagne where he and the Triple Eight squad were unstoppable at the Cheshire circuit. Plato should have added a fifth win of the year in the final race at Thruxton also, but suffered from a race three puncture while leading the race, costing him a healthy 20 points.
The MG6 has also recently shown signs of overcoming a big trump card that went against them last year – their wet weather pace. Despite a weather gamble that cost Plato crucial points at Croft last time out (Team boss Ian Harrison dubbing himself as the Michael Fish of motorsport afterwards), race three’s sodden washout hinted that the chassis is handling wet conditions better than last year – when it arguably prevented Plato from fighting the Hondas at the Brands finale – indicating further signs that the car has developed into a more competitive package in its second season.
The spoiler – Andrew Jordan
As mentioned, there has been four winners in 2013 so far – the other lying second in the championship with big ambitions ahead of him this season, Andrew Jordan.
The reigning Independent champion has now matured into championship-contending material over the last 12 months, and after two pole positions, two wins and seven podiums thus far in 2013, the Eurotech Honda driver has continuously stated that this year is all about playing a long game.
Jordan has always been a rapid driver, and has homed himself into one of the quickest and most spectacular to watch around the BTCC circuits, but this year he has now realised that to win a championship you need consistency to match. Whereas the 2012-spec Jordan would have had a go and more than often come off with a scarred nose not often by his own accord, he is now looking wiser of who is is dealing with, and is now a genuine title contender as he lies just 19 points behind Neal in the points, although he too was crushingly denied a race win to a puncture on the last lap of Thruxton’s first race.
His two wins of the season have been very classy however, pulling off a near-perfect race-winning pass up the inside of Shedden into Regate at Donington’s second race, while Oulton’s third race was a manic BTCC encounter, Jordan coming through the field carefully before taking advantage of his own team-mate Jeff Smith losing control in front of him.
Smith meanwhile has had a very good start to the year also, and with race-leading credentials at Thruxton and Oulton Park already this year, podiums and possibly a reverse-grid win are on the table for the second Pirtek Honda man to take.
Best of the rest – Tordoff starring, Morgan impressive
The star of the season elsewhere has undoubtebly been the man in the second KX Momentum Racing MG, Sam Tordoff, the rookie adapting instantly to BTCC machinery and has matched his illustrious team-mate Plato all the way throughout the year.
The Leeds youngster has already surpassed Andy Neate‘s entire 2012 points total in the team, and at Oulton Park showed Triple Eight were right to pick the former Porsche Carrera Cup GB winner to back up their number one driver as Tordoff tailed his team-mate all the way in qualifying and race one, and will surely feel confident of his chances of a race win in 2013 when racing resumes as he lies sixth in the championship.
Seventh meanwhile is also held by a standout performer of the first half of 2013 – Adam Morgan. The Toyota driver has learned from his mistakes in 2012 and instead demonstrated his raw speed behind the wheel with new family squad Ciceley Racing, adding consisitency and superbly collecting a podium finish at Oulton and three top-five finishes at Donington to banish the negative memories from his debut year.
Onslow-Cole and VW quick off the mark
Frank Wrathall meanwhile still has been plagued by such bad luck, mechanical issues having stopped his progress on numerous occassions, while Dave Newsham only lies 10th after a troublesome season with new squad Speedworks, although a fifth place at Croft and fourth on the grid at Oulton have given them new-found smiles.
The succss story elsewhere has come from Team HARD and their new Volkswagen Passat driven by the experienced Tom Onslow-Cole, who has quickly got to grips with the mean-looking machine and since claimed a second podium of the season at Croft, backing up a hard-fought maiden podium for the new car at Thruxton during a fiesty fight with Shedden and Jordan.
While his rookie team-mate Jack Goff has been solid but forced to struggle in a Vauxhall Insignia not seeming quite up to scratch, another team that has somewhat struggled to get results in 2013 so far have been Airwaves Racing.
The Motorbase squad have been one of the surprises of the season for a less positive reason, showing pace at times but having mostly been fighting to get their Ford Focus into the top 10 in qualifying in a come-down following such a strong start to the team’s in-house built NGTC car towards the end of last season.
Mat Jackson and Aron Smith have however recently been challenging for the top five during Thruxton and Oulton Park, but the team must now use the summer break and their Snetterton test to their advantage in a bid to extract the pace that they need to return to the front of the pack to battle the MG, Honda and BMW rivals ahead of them, Toyota also giving them plenty of cause for thought.
Jack Sears Trophy – Wood building early lead
The championship’s new Cup specifically for S2000 cars has proved a welcome addition to the BTCC in 2013, producing equally exciting racing between the older machinery and bringing back memories of the old Production class formerly part of the series.
With the trophy based on race wins, Lea Wood currently leads the way in a Vauxhall Vectra with his sixth win of the year at Croft, the pre-season class favourite two victories ahead of Motorbase‘s Liam Griffin on four. Griffin was forced to miss Croft due to business reasons but has given Wood a hard fight all season, the pair’s Oulton Park battle proving that their is a rivalry building up quite nicely already in class.
Another BTCC returnee has acquired two wins to his name, James Kaye having looked competitive in the AmDTuning.com Volkswagen Golf, but has been robbed of more than one extra triumph due to mechanical issues. Team boss Shaun Hollamby is one of the many approving of the ne class, saying: “It’s a very good idea to keep the S2000 cars alive an give us something different to fight for. It’s already producing some good racing.”
The newest man to add himself to that wins list is Welch Motorsport‘s David Nye, who claimed victory in the most exciting S2000 confrontation of the year at Croft in race two by holding off Wood and Jake Hill – another maiden winner – in a thriller within a class which will continue to entertain.
Championship standings after round five of 10:
1) Matt Neal (Honda Yuasa Racing) – 224 points
2) Andrew Jordan (Eurotech Honda) – 205 points
3) Jason Plato (KX Momentum Racing MG) – 188 points
4) Gordon Shedden (Honda Yuasa Racing) – 188 points
5) Colin Turkington (eBay Motors BMW) – 184 points
6) Sam Tordoff (KX Momentum Racing MG) – 148 points
7) Adam Morgan (Ciceley Racing) – 126 points
8) Jeff Smith (Eurotech Honda) – 118 points
9) Tom Onslow-Cole (Team HARD) – 97 points
10) Dave Newsham (Speedworks Toyota) – 80 points