The BTCC this weekend makes the trip down to Norfolk and the Snetterton 300 circuit, a venue that has always been one that produces a classic Touring Car race almost every season it seems. So we at thecheckeredflag decided to recap some of those thrillers to whet your appetite for this weekend’s action…
And we start with a look back at one particular weekend which trips across one of the great rivalries of the modern BTCC era, when two of the championship’s most renowned stars fought hard over the same piece of track at Snetterton in 2006, sparking a famous divide between these two champions.
In the orange corner, looking to extend his title lead in the quest for a second championship, Matt Neal.
And in the yellow corner, looking to close up a 54-point gap in his own quest for a second BTCC title, Jason Plato.
The 2006 visit to Snetterton was without debate one of the most the most memorable in terms of controversy, where the two championship rivals and big BTCC enemies at the time came to blows in spectacular fashion during the weekend’s second of three races.
Neal had opened out a reasonably healthy championship lead by this stage, but little did he know that he would have possibly his roughest weekend of the season at Snetterton, Plato and SEAT meanwhile looking very strong as James Thompson joined his team-mate on the front row for a wet race one, Neal qualifying fifth .
Plato won from lights-to-flag, while Thompson had the best seat (no pun intended) in the house as he followed a tail-happy Vauxhall Astra of Fabrizio Giovanardi around the damp track, the Italian eventually losing it at the final corner and gifting a 1-2 finish to SEAT.
The Honda Integra of Neal meanwhile languished down the field, and eventually crawled home a distant sixth place in a battered Honda Integra that at times appeared to have the durabilty of a tank, despite having survived a spin along the way and a brush with the tyre barriers in the process.
Neal was determined to make amends in the drier second race however, and charged up through the field to second place before mounting a chase of runaway leader Plato over the final handful of laps, amazingly trimming a four-second lead to nothing as they entered the last lap.
With the championship lead not being damaged too significantly due to problems for his nearest challenger, Colin Turkington, Neal may have been wiser to elect not to get into a barging match with Plato, but he suddenly found himself out-dragging the SEAT exiting the complex, where Plato stood firm and eased the Integra onto the grass leaving Neal broadside across the track at the Bombhole.
Amazingly, Neal saved the spin and remained right on Plato’s bumper through the following bend with two corners to go, where the red mist descended. Neal rubbed his way through on the inside of the SEAT under braking for the chicane, but his was the car that spat off the circuit and spun down to eighth place as Plato bounced across the chicane for a controversial win, one that left Neal speechless afterwards.
The Dynamics man went on to take victory in race three later that day, passing Tom Chilton for the lead early on after the Vauxhall driver made a lightning start to squeeze past both Neal and Gareth Howell‘s Integras when the start lights went out, Neal taking the win as Chilton was soon overpowered also by Thompson for second place.
Plato on the other hand had a more eventful race in the midfield this time, part of a thrilling scrap for fifth place that was eventually won by Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden. The Scot swept around Turkington’s RAC MG ZS with mirror-discarding effects before making a fine move on Plato shortly afterwards to limit the points damage for the Halfords-backed Dynamics squad.
A weekend of survival in the end did not turn out too shoddy for the title contenders, but it will still be forever know in BTCC memory banks by fans for its brusing encounters.