After an energetic opening two meetings of 2015, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this weekend heads to the fastest circuit in the country as Thruxton hosts rounds seven, eight and nine of the season.
With drivers reaching speeds of up to 160mph and an average lap speed of up to over 111mph, the 2.34 mile-long Hampshire track is the quickest in the UK, one not for the faint-hearted as shown by the frightening accidents of Simon Belcher and Ollie Jackson among others last season.
Once the scene of a famous hat-trick by Dan Eaves back in 2005 for Team Dynamics, his then team-mate Matt Neal heads into the 2015 visit to the same Thruxton circuit this weekend leading the championship by just two points from reigning champion, Colin Turkington
Neal will have to cope therefore with the unhealthy 75kg of success ballast in both qualifying and the opening race of the day on Sunday, as Honda’s latest Civic Type-R continues to shine after a third win in six races was earned at Donington Park – Neal winning race three of both meetings thus far in 2015.
Thruxton A Happy Honda Hunting Ground
It is apt therefore that we start with Honda, who have also claimed a total of nine victories at a circuit which has been very kind to the various Civic models raced since the championship’s NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) regulations were first enforced in 2011.
Above Photos: Craig McAllister
Points leader Neal himself has claimed four wins in his BTCC career around the Hampshire strip of tarmac, while team-mate Gordon Shedden holds more wins at Thruxton than anyone else on the 2015 grid with six – including one in the Civic Tourer here 12 months ago.
Both Neal and Shedden have started the season with a bang and have been more consistent than their rivals after just six races in 2015, although consistency may be tougher to achieve than in recent seasons, with the combination of increased success ballast and greater degradation of the softer compound tyre already creating unpredictable results.
The softer tyre in question will not be used at Thruxton however, reasoning behind this being due to the high-speed circuit’s demanding nature. Instead, Dunlop will bring their special harder compound to the meeting, banishing the split decisions through the field.
Maintaining enough rubber to play with in the weekend’s three 16-lappers will be vital, as seen down the years when drivers have fell off the road from winning positions on so many occasions due to punctures – the left-front Dunlop in particular taking heavy punishment around the circuit.
MG, Volkswagen To Threaten Them
With the tactic surrounding tyre choices now irrelevant this weekend, canny driving and a good set-up will be key to a good weekend at Thruxton, the venue a personal favourite of 2013 champion, Andrew Jordan.
The Triple Eight man moved from 11th to fourth in the championship thanks to a strong weekend at Donington Park, now chasing a fourth consecutive Thruxton pole position and MG’s first win at the circuit since Turkington triumphed back in 2006.
Jordan’s lightning speed at the Hampshire circuit has been clear to see in years gone by and 2015 may well be Triple Eight’s best chance yet to break the MG6 GT’s win duck at the circuit. His new team-mate Jack Goff is another man who has shown good form at Thruxton in the past, hopeful of putting his disappointing Donington meeting behind him and return to the front-running form shown previously at Brands Hatch.
Volkswagen first showed their CC’s front-running credentials here back in 2013 when Tom Onslow-Cole fought at the front for Tony Gilham Racing, but their 2015 line-up appears much better equipped for potentially the car’s first Thruxton success.
Last year’s race three winner Turkington clinched his first win in the CC at Donington most recently, just one race after new team-mate Jason Plato broke his Volkswagen duck in the same weekend at Leicester.
The pair, along with the flying Aron Smith, already look capable of fighting for the championship with the BMR Racing squad after just two meetings, plus their slippery machine will offer strong straight-line speed around the rapid Hampshire circuit.
Plato has previously claimed five wins at the circuit, albeit unfortunate not to hold six to his name after a bout of team orders when at Vauxhall arguably denied him another victory back in 2000. Plato’s last Thruxton win came with Chevrolet back in 2011, the double BTCC champion’s recent Donington win for BMR jumping him up to fifth in the standings.
BMW have only claimed four wins since 2007 around this circuit, one which has not often favoured the rear-wheel drive cars. Andy Priaulx, Rob Collard and Sam Tordoff will aim to pick up safe points with the trio of relatively light BMW 125i machines to remain in contention, ahead of a run of meetings that will suit their car much more handsomely.
Turkington (l) and Plato (r) both won for BMR at Donington Park (Photos: btcc.net)
Underdogs Stake Their Claim
A star performance at Donington Park came from the vastly-improved Power Maxed Racing squad, Adam Weaver‘s team jostling at the sharp end of the field as drivers Dave Newsham and Josh Cook showed that there is still plenty of life left in the Chevrolet Cruze.
In fact, victory could well have gone the way of rookie Cook in the final race of the day had there not been a safety car interruption, the former Renault UK Clio Cup vice champion already laying down the gauntlet to the experienced runners, as well as leading the Jack Sears Trophy by 17 points over Team HARD‘s Kieran Gallagher.
Mercedes had plenty to grin about also as Ciceley Racing’s Adam Morgan bagged his first podium of the year, backed up by a career-best finish of fifth for the sister Mercedes A-Class of stable-mate, Aiden Moffat.
Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing will field a pair of Q50 machines at Thruxton this weekend, Derek Palmer Jr telling TCF that Infiniti are already showing promise at such an early stage in their BTCC venture. Although Palmer Jr’s Donington visit was halted early by engine problems, he will join team-mate Richard Hawken at Hampshire in what will be the latter’s second outing of the season.
A troublesome start to the season has already been endured by Welch Motorsport, the squad’s pair of Proton Gen-2 machines encountering yet more reliability woes as they persist with their in-house powerplant.
Dan Welch added: “We really want to achieve something at Thruxton, which remains my favourite circuit, and there’s a lot of positivity and belief within the Welch Motorsport camp that our reliability issues are now in the past. Both engines are back in our Proton Gen-2s following three days on the dyno. We still need to extract a bit more power from them.”
A grid of 28 cars will compete this weekend, with Team Parker Racing rookie Alex Martin missing out to undergo an operation on a long-standing back issue.
Timetable And Weather Reports
Early weather reports predict a dry, sunny weekend for the third event of the season, with Sunday’s forecast in particular insisting that bright skies will greet all at the Hampshire circuit (this forecast as of Wednesday 6 May).
Thruxton has been welcoming the BTCC for almost half-a-century, its first race taking place back in 1968. Although 2003 BTCC champion Yvan Muller is the man that holds the overall race lap record, last year saw Jordan break the outright record with a qualifying pole position time of 1m16.192s – recording an eye-watering average speed of 111.31mph.
Free Practice one – 10.00 (40 mins)
Free Practice two – 12:45 (40 mins)
Qualifying – 16:05 (30 mins)
Race One – 12.12 (16 laps)
Race Two – 14.32 (16 laps)
Race Three – 17:17 (16 laps)
TCF’s Dan Mason and Simon Paice will bring you all the action from the BTCC and support championship paddocks at Thruxton, which you can keep up to date with right here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk, or via Twitter at @tcfBTCC.