Rockingham Motor Speedway hosts the eighth meeting of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, Colin Turkington leading the championship with nine races remaining despite a recent scare at Knockhill.
The Corby circuit is often a hard battle ground to enter, a place that has witnessed many championship-changing moments and almost a bout of fisticuffs at the infield layout that invites more than plenty of overtaking opportunities.
Knockhill two weekends ago meanwhile produced some incredible racing, among a smattering of questionable incidents that took place early in Scotland that Sunday as Turkington went from being extracted from the gravel trap, to joining team-mate Rob Collard on the podium in race three having held onto his 23-point series lead.
The dramas of Knockhill took one twist after another as that particular Sunday progressed, Turkington ending the weekend saying that he will apply maximum attack from here on in a bid for a second BTCC title.
Turkington Still In The Box Seat
A noticeable stat about Turkington related to Rockingham is that no win appears next to his name around the Corby circuit, albeit he has only participated in the BTCC during five of the eight meetings that have took place at the venue.
In fact, former West Surrey Racing team-mate Stephen Jelley has two more victories at Rockingham than Turkington himself.
Turkington’s luck has often tried to desert him at Rockingham, such as very messy 2007 visit that included an incident with Matt Neal and a midfield charge in his championship-winning 2009 season from a poor qualifying session. The BMW man collected two podiums on his return here last year however, and had held the lead for much of a famous wet final race back in 2008 before slipping to ninth in the closing stages on that occasion.
The comfort for Turkington this weekend is that he has a 23-point championship lead, enters without a grid penalty unlike at Knockhill and with a BMW 125i that is currently in a purple patch of performance in 2014.
The qualifying pace of the Northern Irishman himself was once again sublime at Knockhill, team-mate Collard admitting afterwards he was left ‘amazed‘ by Turkington’s performances.
The long run around the banking into the tight Deene hairpin is one of the most enticing passing places on the entire calendar, so Turkington would want to make it a third pole position of the year to increase his chances of leading into turn one, despite the start advantage of rear-wheel drive slightly negated this year.
In fact, the entire Rockingham circuit is one that produces vast overtaking possibilities due to its flowing, technical nature – just look at 2009’s final race antics to prove that.
Plato The Spoiler At The Rock?
One man in particular that will aim to stop Turkington from running away in Corby is Jason Plato, who holds the most wins at Rockingham with five and has always featured at the front here at some stage.
Plato struggled for pace at a Knockhill circuit MG have in fact never thrived at, although the double champion collected strong points to end the Fife meeting 39 points adrift of his main rival.
The talking point that weekend however was his clash with Turkington in race one. It appeared a simple racing incident, Plato saying he was ‘cannoned’ into the BMW man in the concertina effect having defended very sternly prior to that.
Plato often enjoys leading from the front here at Rockingham, and has done so in an MG only once back in 2012 fairly comfortably before the rain came that day. Victories have come in four different machines for the man who lies third in the championship, and he is certain to mix up the championship situation from this point onwards.
Plato has been no stranger to incident here at Rockingham either, he and long-time rival Matt Neal having once needed separation from a potential pit lane brawl after a 2011 qualifying session that spiraled out of control.
Team-mate Sam Tordoff meanwhile was unlucky at Knockhill, having inherited pole position only for his opening race to be destroyed by an electrical issue. Tordoff has never won around Rockingham, and his best result in just his one BTCC visit last year was a pair of top-six finishes.
Shedden Needs To Hit Back
Gordon Shedden expected a lot more at his home circuit two weekends ago in Scotland, but still ended the weekend 23 points behind Turkington after both were facing the wrong way at some stage at Scotsman corner.
The clashes with Andrew Jordan and Rob Austin hit his weekend’s points tally well and truly in the pocket, but Rockingham is very much a circuit that will suit the Civic Tourer in its own way, the stable chassis sure to help in the flowing sections just as much as the rear-wheel drive traction of the BMW 125i will be coming out of the tighter, slower corners.
In a weekend where he must outscore Turkington, Shedden has always featured at the front at the Motor Speedway down the years, and holds four wins to his name here – as does Honda Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal.
Both will work together from this stage on to ensure Shedden can lift the trophy, Neal finally returning to the top step of the podium last time out at Knockhill after evading the race one dramas around him.
Last season’s visit to Rockingham however was a haunting one for the triple champion, seventh place the best result in a weekend that ended his title charge on the spot as everything that could go pear-shaped, did.
Honda have also claimed the most victories here at Rockingham in the past, holding nine wins compared to Vaxuhall’s five, BMW and Chevrolet’s three and one for the trio of Audi, MG and SEAT respectively.
Jordan Concedes Title Chances Over
This meeting last year became the defining moment in Jordan’s crowning season, famously drifting around the outside of three cars into Deene hairpin in the damp opening tour of race one to claim the first of what would be two wins here that Sunday, which put him the driving seat for a successful title bid.
Fast forward 12 months, and the reigning champion has publicly stated that he feels this year’s championship has slipped away from him, following a luckless Snetterton and Knockhill brace of meetings.
92 points now is the gap Jordan would have to make up, something which appears to be just too much even for the defending champion following the affects of a practice accident at Snetterton and the clash with Shedden at Knockhill.
The pressure is therefore off, and slipping to fifth in the series means less weight will be dumped into his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic at Rockingham as he bids to end the year on a high in the first of three more travels in 2014.
One man who has not ruled out his title opportunity is Turkington’s WSR team-mate, Collard, victory at Knockhill’s final race ending a two-year drought from the top rostrum step and undoing some of the damage from Snetterton.
The triumph had been a long time coming for the man who lies fourth in the championship heading to Corby, who feels that 89 points could still even be cancelled out if Turkington endures a bad day at the office.
Collard’s biggest need for improvement he added was in his own qualifying performance, saying that more aggression would be the key to placing him at the front.
“My strength is racing – that’s where I’m stronger than Colin – and Colin is strong in qualifying and when he’s at the front”, Collard told TCF. “If I can just push a bit harder in qualifying then I should be in a good position.”
Jackson And Motorbase Back On Song
Another man who ended a race win lapse of almost two years at Knockhill was Mat Jackson. His win had also appeared just a matter of when, rather than if, Motorbase Performance having dialed their Ford Focus to the 2008 runner-up’s liking as he lies sixth in the points, hungry for more success at a track he won at once back in 2008.
Jackson’s team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi did a double back in 2007 when driving for Vauxhall, the Ford proving a different kettle of fish for the Italian to conquer in a mixed comeback season thus far. Motorbase hinted that they may remain with Ford machinery for next season, despite BMW talks still murmuring.
Alain Menu enters with no experience of BTCC action at Rockingham, while BMR Racing team-mate Aron Smith impressed back in his rookie season for Motorbase in 2012 during the deluge that hit the circuit on Sunday afternoon. Smith’s joys of Snetterton were lowered by a messy Knockhill, involved in an incident with Nick Foster along the way that left the Irishman seething initially after his Volkswagen CC was fired into the barriers.
Rockingham brings back sensational memories from last year for one man, that being a certain Rob Austin. The Audi driver broke his win duck here 12 months ago to a rapturous welcome as he passed the chequered flag, and this year he arrives on the back of a double podium finish from Knockhill.
Austin also had plenty to throw off his chest from that weekend’s action however, pointing towards the driving standards of many, in particular the Honda Yuasa Racing duo of Shedden and Neal after two clashes with the former.
Adam Morgan continued to show the pace improvements of the Ciceley Racing Mercedes as he inches closer to a podium finish, something which Dave Newsham on the other hand brilliantly succeeded in achieving last time out at his home meeting in Scotland for the Independent AmD Tuning squad.
His spirited defence of second place for Turkington and Foster wowed the home crowd, and was made particularly special after a tough week personally for the Inverness ace.
Knockhill also displayed an improved performance by Toyota, Glynn Geddie running in the top 10 at Knockhill for United Autosports before he was rudely removed by Foster’s BMW, while Tom Ingram again shone with a trio of top 10 finishes during a season he recently told TCF he is ‘massively enjoying’.
Weather Reports, Timetable:
The weekend weather report currently (Wednesday) expects no rain to hit the circuit, although Sunday hints that there could still be the threat of some spots of rain in the afternoon, heading into the evening.
Here meanwhile is the current timetable for the weekend’s BTCC action:
Free Practice 1 – 9.30
Free Practice – 12.40
Qualifying – 15.40
Race 1 – 11.37
Race 2 – 13.52
Race 3 – 16.40
You can follow all the action from the BTCC and support championships at Rockingham right here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk this weekend, or via Twitter at @tcfBTCC.