After 27 races, it all hinges on the final three to decide the fate of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, so the top contenders give their views ahead of the season finale at Brands Hatch GP…
Five drivers enter in contention for the championship with just 67 points on the table (any possible penalties aside), Gordon Shedden the man with destiny resting in his hands as the Honda Yuasa Racing man bids to defend a 23-point lead over perennial BTCC sparring partner, Jason Plato.
Behind them, Team BMR and Honda team-mates Colin Turkington and Matt Neal sit on their tail, looking to pounce should any heartache befall the 2012 champion.
Andrew Jordan also remains in contention for Triple Eight Racing, albeit 64 points adrift of the series lead with 67 on offer. A hat-trick and no more than two points for the 2013 champion’s rivals is a must – realistically an impossible task despite the unpredictability of motorsport always waiting to rear its head.
A total of nine BTCC Drivers’ Championships can be counted between the top five contenders, soon to be 10 as those in contention give their thoughts ahead of next weekend’s crucial visit in Kent…
The Main Contenders…
The ball lies in the court of 2012 champion Shedden, who has used his consistency to best effect in 2015 to head into the final round 23 points clear.
On the final round, Shedden told TCF: “You’ve got to try and score points wherever you can. Obviously, I’m not going to roll over but I’m also trying to finish.
“I’m happy with what I’ve got in the car, so it’s going to be close with so many points still on offer. I’m under no illusions and all I can do is the best job that I can.”
The man nearest to him in the title hunt remains two-time champion Plato, who has thrived with Team BMR in his maiden season with the Volkswagen CC squad on his way to the most wins of 2015 so far with five.
The final meeting at Brands Hatch GP circuit is however a hugely happy hunting ground for the Newcastle-born BTCC stalwart, who has won two races at the Kent circuit finale in each of the last two seasons. A famous treble victory back in 2009 with RML almost netted him the championship from an outsider position, so Plato will still think it can be done.
A puncture at Silverstone most recently hurt Plato’s points tally, telling TCF: “Will it be enough? I think Gordon is going to need some bad luck and have a DNF or something, because with the pace they’ve got and ability, they look good and are not going to be far away.
“I could win all three races and he can sit behind me to win the championship”, he said of Shedden’s position. “That’s the reality of it all. Honda has definitely improved in the engine department and we haven’t. We haven’t gone slower, so we’ll try and optimise the performance of the car at Brands and we’ll see what we can do.”
In a switch from his position 12 months ago, third in the championship sits Plato’s BMR team-mate, Turkington, the reigning champion still in contention but 32 points back of Shedden.
That gap closed after his fourth win of the year also at Silverstone recently, the Northern Irishman telling TCF: “I’m not ready to give up just yet! We’ll keep grafting away and see what’s possible.
“I’m in the mix. There’s still a lot of points up for grabs and obviously 32 points is a lot to recover in one weekend, but we can keep trying.”
The final realistic contender for the championship remains triple BTCC champion, Neal. The second Honda Civic Type-R will enter 37 points adrift of the #52 machine, the works outfit looking to repeat their one-two finish of 2012.
Neal has emerged from three title-deciding finales victorious in the past, albeit all of those saw him enter in the box seat for honours.
Ahead of the 2015 season’s curtain-closer, Neal commented: “[BMR] thought they would be breathing down our necks going to Brands Hatch, but as it is, we’ve pulled further away.
“We had strong pace in all three races and the car felt fantastic throughout. We scored good manufacturers’ points again and now we go to Brands Hatch fully focused on finishing the job off.”
The fifth and final contender still in contention remains Triple Eight’s Jordan. The 2013 champion would need a maximum score and no points for Shedden from the entire weekend in Kent, lying 64 points adrift with just 67 available.
Jordan admitted: “I had made it my target this weekend to finish the season third in the points, but I really don’t think that will be possible now.
“I’ve been happy with the MG, that is the most I could have achieved and I feel we made another step forward from Rockingham.”
Honda v Volkswagen
Both the top two in the championship will still have the luxury of internal support, thanks to their team-mates who sit right on their tail should anything go array for either.
Shedden and Neal have always held a strong bond in their partnership at the latter’s father’s Dynamics squad, the series leader himself knowing that getting a Honda over the line first is important for both.
Shedden added to TCF: “Without a shadow of a doubt we need to work together and get a Honda across the line first. It would be nice to get a one-two, but obviously Colin scored a lot of points in the last race.
“Matt’s going to be pushing like hell too and be a bit lighter at Brands. I expect him to have an awesome weekend.”
Plato and Turkington understand the same situation lies at Team BMR, reigning champion Turkington admitting that both must use their heads to overturn Shedden’s deficit once and for all.
Turkington commented to TCF: “It’s going to be interesting and of course Jason is a fighter – he’ll not give up that’s for sure. I think we’re both going to be gunning to take points out of Gordon.
“There’s not much point scrapping between each other because it’s him we’re trying to hunt down.”
What About Lady Luck?
The rollercoaster of sport is often intensified by one final factor that plays its role time and time again – the simple matter of lady luck.
It affects motorsport more than most, with technical and mechanical dramas out of a driver’s hands often turning championships on their heads. Incidents are also part of the game, particularly in BTCC as has once again been the case in 2015.
Surviving a rough visit to Snetterton in August, Shedden knows all about the concept of fate intervening having emerged as champion back in 2012, hoping that luck will be on his side at Brands Hatch once again.
“We know how much the championship can twist and turn, whether it be a puncture, a bad race or something and that lead has gone”, he says.
“You need the luck and the cards to fall your way; that’s the one thing that you can’t control. You can plan with the car, team and set-up, but somewhere along the line you need a little bit of luck.”
Plato himself has been stymied by a brace of punctures during the season, one most recently at Silvertone while the first came ironically at the same Brands Hatch circuit back in April – made more critical by the fact that the BMR man was leading comfortably at the time.
“We’ve just not had the rub of the green. It puts you on the back foot”, Plato told TCF.
“That said, Gordon may have some sh*t luck in the last round”, Plato adds. “The one thing we can’t predict is that it can all turn on a sixpence. We’ve got to go to Brands trying to do the best that we can.”
Despite both drivers having endured their battles with lady luck at some stage this season, Shedden adds that he would prefer to win it the hard way, adding: “You want to win it fair and square and win it the hard way. You’ve just got to try and get points.”
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The BTCC title decider will take place at the full GP layout of the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent over the weekend of 10/11 October. TCF’s Dan Mason and Simon Paice will be present with all the news from the paddock, including support championships.