The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship kept people guessing until the final few corners, with Gordon Shedden emerging as champion for the second time in his career for Honda Yuasa Racing.
The Scot was one of five drivers that entered the final three races of the 2015 campaign in with a shout of lifting the trophy at Brands Hatch, pitted against the likes of fellow champions Jason Plato, Colin Turkington and Matt Neal for honours throughout the year.
The works Honda squad also regained their Manufacturers’ Championship crown from MG and Triple Eight, proving that the switch from an unconventional Civic Tourer to the latest Type-R machine had paid dividends.
Seven wins for the new Civic helped the cause in that particular battle, while the fight for overall bragging rights went the way of the Dynamics squad also as Shedden clinched a second BTCC Drivers’ Championship in the most dramatic manner possible with a recovery from 19th to fourth in the 30th and final race.
This for a third season in succession came again at the expense of double champion Plato, the latter bemoaning two punctures during the season as he missed out by just four points despite clinching the most wins of the year with six, compared to Shedden and Turkington’s four.
Drama emerged as early as the winter off-season when reigning BTCC champion Turkington and his nearest 2014 rival, Plato, were both sensationally left seemingly without a drive for 2015. West Surrey Racing‘s title sponsor eBay departing left the reigning champion looking elsewhere, finding solitude at Warren Scott‘s Team BMR outfit alongside rival Plato, setting up a fierce dice between Volkswagen and Honda when the latter joined after departing Triple Eight.
Plato’s former team-mate Sam Tordoff also left the MG6 GT squad to head to WSR, who started the season in the best possible manner when another winter star signing, Andy Priaulx, returned to BTCC for the first time in 13 years with pole position at Brands Hatch Indy circuit in April.
Priaulx was first of many to fall foul of tyre degradation on softer rubber however in 2015, plummeting down the field as team-mate Rob Collard started the year with the first of what would be three victories across the year. Priaulx came just 0.350s from victory on his second attempt however, Shedden hanging on for a crucial first win of the year before team-mate Neal added one of his own in race three.
BMR’s improvements from 2014 showed massively, but one of the defining moments of Plato’s season came at Brands Hatch in fact. A puncture while dominating race two put him into the gravel at Paddock Hill Hend – one of several decisive incidents that the ultimate runner-up was left ruing when leaving the same Kent venue in October.
Turkington meanwhile started cautiously, admitting to TCF throughout the year of struggles re-adapting to front-wheel drive at BMR. Donington saw the Volkswagen CC duo hit back spectacularly after Aron Smith‘s podium double at Brands, Turkington grabbing pole before sharing wins on Sunday with Plato to show their intent.
10 of the 30 wins this season went to Team BMR in fact, compared to the seven of Honda and five for BMW with WSR, while it proved a season of head-scratching for MG and Triple Eight. 2013 champion Andrew Jordan ended without a victory despite finishing fifth in the championship before announcing a switch to Motorbase Performance, unlike his new team-mate Jack Goff who became a winner at Snetterton in his third BTCC season.
Neal added another win at Donington in one of the races of the season in round six, highlighted by the performances of Josh Cook and Smith as both initially battled it out for the lead before contact sent both on a sideways recovery through the grass down the famous Craner Curves.
Despite arguments over a move on Jordan during the race, Neal’s second win of the season confirmed his return to form, but Thruxton would be a critical blip for the triple champion. After trailing Shedden for a first one-two of the season for Dynamics, the second race in Hampshire saw clumsy contact with first-time pole-sitter Smith at the Complex lose the Honda man vital points while in his best form.
Plato’s defensive efforts were challenged to their highest by Collard in race two, the latter’s argument for WSR’s corner being that BMW were suffering with less grunt under the bonnet compared to their rivals in 2015.
Adam Morgan also added a second BTCC victory of his career in the final race of the day, the Mercedes man outlining his future championship-contending prospects in 2015 despite losing out on two more wins that appeared certain at Oulton Park and Knockhill.
Although consistent all season, Honda would amazingly not reach the top step of the rostrum again until the seventh meeting of the year at Knockhill, while BMR and Plato dominated at Oulton Park to move to the top of the championship thanks to a brace of victories for the VW man from the front.
A jump start robbed Morgan of success from pole in race three in Cheshire, Neal also caught out by oil while leading to allow BMW and Tordoff to add a win that set them up to be the summer stars.
Tordoff’s first win for BMW at Oulton was followed by pole position at his home circuit at Croft in North Yorkshire – a weekend to remember for WSR boss Dick Bennetts and his drivers as their trio shared a win apiece. A certain Priaulx also therefore broke his victory duck in 2015, leading home a BMW sweep of the rostrum in race one.
Tordoff’s minor mistake when spots of rain struck cost him the win at the chicane, but he swiftly made amends in race two. Collard endured a more frenetic time in the third BMW, battling with Shedden’s Honda for much of Sunday as the two rubbed panels spectacularly at the Jim Clark Esses before the former won the fight for the final win of the day with his Honda rival.
Collard found himself caught in too many incidents while Priaulx and Tordoff’s consistency put them back into the title hunt behind their Honda and BMR rivals. However, the team cost themselves vital points with on-track incidents at Oulton Park and Snetterton, while Turkington then changed the script after the summer break.
Snetterton pole went the reigning champion’s way, the first man to take that honour more than once before Priaulx and Mat Jackson went on to do the same feat. Two comfortable wins for Turkington launched him onto the tail of his team-mate Plato in the championship, Honda’s biggest blip finally occurring in the second and third races when Shedden and Neal eliminated each other in contact caused by a lap one concertina effect.
Goff added the only win for MG of 2015 in race three to rapturous applause in the paddock afterwards, while the Norfolk round began the return of two of the championship’s stalwarts, Motorbase and Jackson.
The Kent squad introduced an updated Ecoboost Ford Focus ST to the fray after missing half the campaign through budget restrictions in the winter, 2008 runner-up Jackson threatening the flying BMW squad who again took a win with Collard at Knockhill. A string of bad luck for Tordoff destroyed his title ambitions, unlike Shedden who moved back into reach of a struggling Plato with race two victory on home soil.
Neal kept himself in contention with race three honours, denying Morgan who suffered heartache after losing time carrying debris in the closing laps of the race prior to Neal pouncing. Aiden Moffat meanwhile offered more for the Scots and Mercedes to cheer, adding his first podium.
From that moment, the Jackson/Motorbase combination was mighty, three pole positions from three at Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch bringing class ans well as controversy with the Focus’ straight-line performance questioned by rivals. The quality of Jackson shone through on his way to four victories from the final nine races to put himself a fine 12th in the championship despite half a campaign, plus eight podiums from 15 races.
The first came at Rockingham, before Shedden took over the edge in the championship with second and an impressive win in Corby as Plato hit trouble. Contact with Tom Ingram damaged his CC, but not terminally as a remarkable turnaround saw BMR mechanics get the double champion out on track to set a strong enough lap to salvage his race two grid spot.
Plato would then reward those efforts with seventh and an even more remarkable victory in race three, winning for the fifth time but only at the expense of a fighting Ingram after an intense, fair duel for honours between the KX Akademy graduate and his mentor, which ended in graceful words and emotional podium scenes.
Shedden’s defining performance came at Silverstone. A front row start with a whopping 75kg success ballast on board turned many heads, as did results of third, fourth and fifth while Plato suffered a second puncture of the season that cost him more points besides a seventh and fourth place.
This set Shedden up for the title with a 23-point lead heading to Brands Hatch GP, Plato’s favourite circuit. The BMR man needed some luck of his own however, along with their team-mates, Turkington and Neal.
It wasn’t coming for Plato however as team-mates Smith and Turkington would not make it easy, Plato very outspoken of the former after two races where he felt he was held up, while Neal and Silverstone race three winner Turkington fell out of contention after a dramatic race two that saw Shedden struggle to a miserable 19th place.
Honda looked rattled, Plato was closing in, but the Dynamics outfit had the advantage with Neal on the front row alongside Plato and Shedden carrying zero ballast. What followed was a classic finale…
A turn one error from Neal and three safety cars looked to have given Plato the chance to steal the title, but shortened time for the series leader to make progress mattered for little with a storming drive into the top five that had the Honda garage cheering, fourth behind a resiliently-defending Goff enough to gift Shedden a second BTCC title.
11 podiums were enough for Shedden over Plato’s 10, while 19 finishes inside the top five in 30 races came in comparison to Plato’s 17. The telling factor? Six finishes outside the points for Plato, compared to four for the Scot.
Shedden told TCF after a hard season: “I don’t think there’s a harder way to win it!
“Starting towards the back and with Jason at the front I thought, this isn’t going to work. Especially when I saw him leading, I thought I had my work cut out. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could win it. Absolutely unbelievable.”
A gallant Plato said to TCF in defeat: “A thoroughly deserving champion. Full stop. I’m very pleased with what we’ve managed to do with this team as it’s a brilliant outfit now. We are a force to be reckoned with.
“We had too many little bits of bad luck this year if I’m being honest. That’s what I’ll think about because without that puncture here [in April], we could have won it.”
Third in the championship went to Neal, while fourth-placed Turkington’s efforts where enough to beat Plato to a fifth Independents’ Championship as BMR softened the blow by lifting the Teams’ and Independent Teams’ Championships for the first time.
Final Championship Standings:
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Jack Sears Trophy
The Jack Sears Trophy awarded to the most successful rookie of the season was ultimately one-way traffic, 22 wins of the 30 going to Power Maxed Racing‘s Cook as he lifted not just the trophy, but one more for third place overall at Rockingham’s second race as he raised his name to be one of those to watch in the future.
Cook’s consistent top-10 performances were impressive for the Independent and excelling Chevrolet Cruze squad, who also gained the additional edge of testing new-for-2016 RML specification packages.
He also returned the favour on former Renault UK Clio Cup rival, Mike Bushell, who was the one rookie that consistently took the fight to Cook in the JST category with five class wins of his own for AmD Tuning. Although quick, a serious incident in qualifying at Thruxton dented his assault significantly.
A further two wins went the way of Alex Martin in his rookie year for Team Parker Racing, while one win for Kieran Gallagher could not salvage a very difficult season for the Team HARD Toyota Avensis driver.