The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s annual trip north of the border awaits this weekend, as Knockhill circuit in Scotland hosts the seventh round of a gripping season.
The small, yet active 1.2-mile strip of tarmac in Fife is one that greets the BTCC competitors with a challenge of their own commitment, with its undulating nature and fast sections creating a spectacular image for the fans and a rollercoaster ride for those in the driving seat.
The man who will receive the most gracious welcome of all is Scotland’s 2012 BTCC champion, Gordon Shedden, who heads into the seventh meeting of 2014 now 23 points behind West Surrey Racing‘s Colin Turkington after a Snetterton visit earlier this August that he felt was more a damage limitation exercise.
Knockhill is less reliant on straight-line speed which, along with boost debates, is a topic that Shedden and his Honda Yuasa Racing squad were discussing afterwards as it proved a visible hindrance at the Norfolk venue three weekends ago.
Shedden holds three wins at his home circuit, alongside an enviable tally of 11 podiums in just 24 top-tier BTCC races in Fife. The former champion commented that a stable chassis is a huge advantage in terms of finding your confidence around the Knockhill circuit, the latter being something the Scot has in spades with his experience around Knockhill.
Turkington To Pay Penalty?
While Honda have traditionally gone well here, it is difficult to pick a front-runner in terms of manufacturer around Knockhill, although one has certainly staked its claim for that honour.
BMW have enjoyed the most recent success with four wins in the last six races, which will please championship leader Turkington who took his first and second ever wins in Scotland here last year in a strong weekend.
The Northern Irishman remains in the driving seat of the title fight after three rostrum visits at Snetterton, and the WSR team’s BMW 125i threatens to be a much more dangerous prospect than even last year’s visit based on tremendous 2014 form thus far.
Turkington’s weekend however starts on the back foot, as he must recover from an eight-place grid penalty following a clash with Matt Neal in race three at Snetterton.
The advantage in the WSR camp in qualifying would therefore shift towards Rob Collard, who is no slouch at Knockhill having won his first ever BTCC race here in 2005 driving then squad’s then MG ZS, and also wrapped up a dominant double here in 2012 for BMW.
Fifth in the championship, the rejuvenated Collard still needs to improve on his qualifying trim, something which would otherwise surely gift him the chance to claim his first win since that memorable visit two years ago.
However, the problem for Collard is that he starts at the back for race one, after picking up a third offence of the season for overtaking under yellow flags at Snetterton.
Plato And Pressure-Free Jordan Lead The Chase
The real threat in the championship now comes from the chasing Jason Plato, just 43 points adrift of Turkington’s title lead after beating his fellow champion twice in the straight fights of races one and two at Snetterton.
Confidence will have been improved despite Plato’s qualms about the rear-wheel drive rivals, and the Triple Eight squad need another strong performance at a track that certainly did not suit the MG last season.
Plato holds the most victories from the current grid at Knockhill says the history book however with eight, and you can bet that the double BTCC champion will ensure the title fight goes down to the wire as it so often does.
Behind them, a rotten meeting at Snetterton for reigning champion Andrew Jordan left him 78 points away from the series lead, now facing a huge task to retain the #1 on his car for next season.
The practice accident in Norfolk left the Pirtek Racing driver at the back of the grid after he was forced to miss qualifying following medical advice, before only a single point went against his name 24 hours later after he was advised to miss the third race of the day as a precaution from lasting exhaustion relating to the same incident.
A fit and fresh Jordan however now effectively has zero to lose from this point. A Knockhill winner last year, the pressure this time is well and truly off, so we could potentially now see the best and brilliant of the current champion as he likely throws caution to the wind from here on in – a sight always enjoyable to marvel over.
Scots To Receive Rapturous Welcome
Scotland’s hopes rest on Shedden for success, but Inverness ace Dave Newsham also holds a win next to his name from the 2012 visit here. The Amd Tuning Ford Focus driver could spoil the party in the midfield for several, as could the increasingly spectacular Glynn Geddie, who appears to be getting to grips more and more with United Autosport‘s Toyota Avensis in his rookie season.
Teenager Aiden Moffat made history on his 2013 debut here as the youngest driver to take part in a BTCC race meanwhile, and came away from the post-Snetterton Dunlop tyre test with a smile across his face.
The Chevrolet Cruze squad – teamed with Ciceley Racing now also – improved massively on their times from the weekend in the test, second only to points leader Turkington to show promise heading into the Scottish racer’s home event at a track he knows well at a still tender age.
Speaking of Ciceley, Adam Morgan also left Norfolk brimming from a solid weekend that inched him closer to the podium than all season for the Mercedes squad – a result he feels will finally come his way in the remaining four meetings of the 2014 season.
Shedden, Moffat, Geddie and Newsham will also be among five Scottish drivers who will cross the Forth Road Bridge on Thursday (21 August) in their BTCC machines to mark the bridge’s 50th Anniversary ahead of the Knockhill visit, while double BTCC Champion John Cleland will take the wheel of an iconic car formerly driven by fellow Scottish motorsport legend, Jim Clark.
It will also celebrate the Knockhill 40th Anniversary as well as 50 years since late Formula 1 legend Clark won the BTCC title himself back in 1964, and a total of six famous machines formerly raced by the man himself will be present, including two Formula One and Tasmin Championship single seaters, a pair of iconic Lotus Cortinas and his first race car, a DKW.
Toyota have had mixed results at Knockhill, the most competitive showing coming from Paul O’Neill back in 2012 for Speedworks. This year their hopes may rest with Tom Ingram, the impressing rookie having finished no worse than second in the Ginetta GT Supercup’s visit to Knockhill last season.
Smith Stays For More At BMR
Aron Smith made his BTCC debut at this very circuit with the Triple Eight squad back in the team’s final Vauxhall Vectra days in 2011, and three years later he heads to the Fife circuit on the back of his third ever BTCC win, plus the peace of mind that he has already signed a contract with the BMR Racing team into 2015. This comes after his second win of the current season at Snetterton, more impressive following a testing accident setback in the run-up to the triumph.
Volkswagen’s performance step-up has been impressive in 2014, and results of 13th place last year will surely be bettered by Warren Scott‘s squad this season.
Alain Menu is a three-time winner at the Fife circuit, while Jack Goff adapted very well the new change in machine at Snetterton.
Ford and Airwaves Racing meanwhile came agonisingly close to that first victory of the year last time out. Mat Jackson chased Smith all the way to the flag in the third race Snetterton thriller earlier this month, as both the 2008 runner-up and double champion team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi continued to show Ford’s hand in the front-running pack, despite heading to a circuit they struggled at last season.
The visit to Knockhill last year was one that brings a sweet taste in the mouth for one of the championship’s characters, Rob Austin, who famously snatched a maiden pole position in his BTCC career before reaching the podium the following day in a making weekend for the former F3 driver. 2014 has not been as kind to the Audi man, but the rear-wheel drive machine and Austin’s commitment will be shown to their potential this weekend.
The weekend’s weather forecast currently does not show signs that rain will tamper with Saturday or Sunday’s entertainment, although the Scottish weather can often throw a curveball to the action.
The weekend timetable – Saturday:
Free Practice 1 – 9:40
Free Practice 2 – 12:10
Qualifying – 15:05
Race One – 11:45
Race Two – 14:17
Race Three – 17:07
Knockhill’s rollercoaster venue has been host to many of the BTCC’s most memorable races of the past decade, including a race-long dogfight won by Giovanardi in 2006, a title duel hitting its most serious phase a year prior, as well as an infamous accident 20 years ago for a former BTCC champion.
We at TCF therefore look back at some of those classic BTCC races, which you can feed your nostalgia from right HERE.
You can follow all the happenings including race reports, interviews and news as it comes from Knockhill with us at thecheckeredflag.co.uk, as well as all the support race action from the weekend. You can also keep up with us on Twitter via @tcfBTCC.