Scotland is the next stop on the 2013 British Touring Car Championship calendar, with Knockhill the venue for Matt Neal to defend his nine-point championship lead at a circuit that his team-mate knows like the back of his hand.
The 1.27 mile Fife circuit is the home ground for reigning champion Gordon Shedden, a man who has turned more laps around this circuit than he could possible calculate due to his work commitments around the track. Shedden will without doubt be the favourite for success this weekend in that case, as he bids to further trim the 22-point lead of Honda team-mate Neal after a strong meeting at Snetterton last time out.
A three-time winner at Knockhill since joining the series full-time in 2006, Shedden has always been rapid around his home circuit although, amazingly, the Scot is yet to hold a pole position at Knockhill to his name, something he hopes to put right this weekend.
Shedden was one of the three winners from Snetterton earlier this month in the sixth round of the 2013 season, claiming the final race in slightly controversial circumstances after he tapped Colin Turkington into a spin and out of the race lead, leaving Shedden £500 lighter in the wallet and collecting three penalty points.
Jordan to pay the penalty?
The winner of the second race – already the race of the season so far – also recieved a telling off after Sunday’s Snetterton antics came to a close, an incident with Shedden seeing Andrew Jordan start off a supreme charge through from fifth to win the race with a determined drive.
It showcased Jordan’s aggression as well as his title credentials for this season, but it may prove costly for this weekend initially as the Pirtek Racing/Eurotech Honda Civic driver will recieve a six-place grid penalty for his bump with Shedden along the way, meaning Jordan must keep his nose clean before he can attack on Sunday, also carrying the burden 36kg of ballast.
It was a good weekend for Jordan at Snetterton however barring the aftermath, closing a 19-point gap from Neal down to only nine heading into rounds 19, 20 and 21, while Neal himself had a messy one that he would rather forget.
The maximum penalty ballast hindered the triple BTCC champion down the long straights at Snetterton, Neal also very vocal about the boost levels which he felt hindered the straight line performance of the Honda Civic.
Neal could only qualify 11th, but came away with a cannily-earned podium in race two to prove he is still the man to beat despite that result being sandwiched by disappointing finishes of ninth and eighth.
Title race down to three?
The star of Snetterton was initially Sam Tordoff, who finally broke into the BTCC winners circle at the Norfolk track with success in race one of the weekend, just a day after also grasping a maiden pole position.
The MG6s of KX Momentum Racing flew around the 300 circuit, but Knockhill will be a different story, the Fife circuit being very tight and often relying solely on the driver’s ability to find time safely over the track’s many bouncy ‘sausage’ kerbs such as through the blind and undulated chicanes – corners that Shedden in particular thrives on.
Tordoff’s team-mate Jason Plato is an eight-time winner around Knockhill, however he enters the weekend really on the back foot after a shoddy visit to Snetterton where luck simply refused to fall the MG man’s way.
Second place should have been followed by a win in race two, but a fuel pump issue ground his MG6 to a halt while leading, only for his weekend to end with a bang – not in the way he planned – as he spectacularly rolled out in race three.
Plato’s chances of winning a third title now appear slightly long odds as he fell to 50 points behind Neal in the championship chase, but Plato will fight all the way until the final corner of the season and can take comfort that he has possibly the fastest package for the remainder of the season, Plato also the man that grabbed pole at this Knockhill visit last year.
BMW looking for repeat of 2012
Colin Turkington should have been rewarded with a lot more than the fourth and pair of sixth place finishes that he eventually left Snetterton with, but again he proved that the eBay Motors BMW was strong at a track the WSR team were unsure about their chances at.
This weekend could however be another big opportunity to showcase their new 125i machine, as the rear-wheel drive machines came to the fore last season with two dominant wins in the hands of Rob Collard that left the rest of the field scratching their heads.
If the wet weather stays clear – something which often is not the case at the Scottish circuit – then watch for the three Beemers being up towards the sharp end, Turkington of course still very much in the title hunt lying 37 points adrift of Neal.
Fresh start for Airwaves at last
The Snetteton round also saw the long-awaited rejuvination of Airwaves Racing, the Ford squad claiming the HiQ Teams award for scoring the most points over the weekend as both Mat Jackson and Aron Smith returned to podium for the first time in 2013.
The pair almost had the opportunity to challenge for a win during the fiercely-competitive second race, but a superb weekend that saw Smith reach the rostrum twice and Jackson finish with a second place in race three left all involved at Motorbase with enormous grins of their faces heading to Knockhill.
They now arrive at a track where Smith really put his name firmly into the BTCC spotlight after he qualified a sensational third on the grid in a damp and tricky-to-read Saturday, where a day later he narrowly missed out a maiden podium finish before going on to score the second-highest tally of points only to eventual champion Shedden over the rest of the season.
Newsham gunning for more home success
Another local driver who will be keeping the front-runners looking over their shoulders is Inverness ace Dave Newsham, who has very fond memories of this circuit.
The former Renault Clio Cup champion brilliantly won the third and final race at Knockhill in 2012 despite driving a Vauxhall Vectra that normally had struggled to find success around the Scottish track. He now returns in a Speedworks NGTC Toyota Avensis wich went very well around the circuit in contrast last year, so Newsham’s chances of home success should not be cast aside by any means.
The man who Newsham beat to that victory in 2012 was Pirtek Racing’s Jeff Smith, who arguably had the best performance of his BTCC career at this circuit last year.
The Pirtek Racing man has improved this season and could well once again shine this weekend if he keeps the form that got him towards the front in the third and final race, where he hopes to finally challenge for that first win.
Return of a fan favourite, HARD debut for Gallagher
The weekend also welcomes back it’s favourite son, Paul O’Neill, returning for a one-off appearance in the Team HARD Vauxhall Insignia which has seen more drivers sit in it than people who have hosted Have I Got News For You it seems.
‘Owy’ will dig every ounce of performance out of the Insignia a year on from his last appearance at this track in 2012 when he fought the Speedworks Toyota into the top six in all three races, O’Neill taking the place of Jack Goff for the weekend after the reigning UK Renault Clio Cup champion unfortunately had to call off his participation in the round due to budget issues – despite a fantastic showing at Snetterton.
The second Insignia will this weekend be driven by another local driver, Kieran Gallagher, the 23-year-old Scottish Legends racer being gifted the opportunity of a lifetime by Tony Gilham having impressed in his two recent APR Volkswagen Racing Cup outings for the HARD squad.
Here’s what Gallagher had to say to thecheckeredflag on his eagerly-awaited debut, where he will join the BTCC for its seventh meeting of the season which gets underway this weekend on August 24/25.
Wood closing in on Jack Sears Trophy
A dominant performance from Lea Wood at Snetterton makes him now the firm favourite to claim the maiden Jack Sears Trophy, a triple win now extending his tally to nine triumphs in 2013, five more than closes rival Liam Griffin who had a rough outing that included a collision with David Nye and new Honda Civic-acquiree, James Kaye.
The weekend in Norfolk however only saw four class entrants, that turnout arriving on the back of rumours that series boss Alan Gow may drop the S2000 class for 2014 should entries not be substantial enough.
Gow recently told AUTOSPORT: “We’ve always said it can only work if there are enough cars. It’s too early to say, but I don’t think there will be enough. I think most competitors are looking to go NGTC.”
The class will however be handed a new entrant as Finesse Motorsport return with their Chevrolet Cruze, 16 -year-old Aiden Moffat making his debut at this home circuit at Knockhill, becoming the youngest BTCC starter as he beats the acolade previously held by Tom Chilton.
– You can keep up with all the news, race reports and general goings on from Knockhill all weekend with us on thecheckeredflag.co.uk, and follow live tweets during the races on our Twitter page @tcfBTCC.