BTCC: New Champion to be Crowned on Legendary Brands Hatch GP Circuit
This is it. The nation is less than a week away from finding out who will be crowned 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion as four drivers – Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato, Matt Neal (still nursing a broken hand) and Andrew Jordan – prepare to do battle in their nail-biting final three races of the season around the legendary Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in Kent this Sunday 21 October.
Fife’s Shedden is currently on c
ourse to lift the title for the first time in his career and also become the first Scottish winner of Britain’s premier motor racing championship since John Cleland in 1995. The factory Honda Yuasa Racing Team ace will go into the event – which starts with timed practice and the crucial half-hour qualifying session on Saturday – holding a 15-point advantage over nearest challenger Plato at the top of the table.
However, with 67 points still up for grabs – 20 for a win plus assorted bonuses – Plato, who won both his previous titles in 2001 and 2010 at Brands Hatch, is the man in form. The Oxford racer, who yesterday turned 45, won twice at Silverstone just over a week ago in his MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 as Shedden, team-mate Neal and Pirtek Racing’s Jordan all struggled in their Honda Civics.
But Worcestershire’s Neal, who won the title for a third time 12 months ago, is not giving up on a fourth title – a feat achieved only once since the BTCC’s first-ever race, at Brands Hatch in 1958, by Andy Rouse (1975, 1983, ’84 & ’85). Neal, bumped to third in the standings by Plato at Silverstone having led the championship for much of the season, is 31 points adrift of Shedden…
Staffordshire’s Jordan, from Lichfield, is the big outsider. The 23-year-old is 61 points behind leader Shedden but were he to somehow miraculously lift the title he would become one of the youngest champions in the BTCC’s 54-year history. Here is what they have been saying in the run-up to the weekend.
Shedden: “I’m feeling relaxed and actually quietly confident. Silverstone was our car’s bogey circuit and we came out of it still ahead. I’d rather have the points in the bag any day of the week. As championship leader it means I’ll have to start the weekend (qualifying and Sunday’s first race) with maximum success ballast in my car but the Civic’s chassis around Brands’s high-speed corners should really come into its own.”
Plato: “We’ve had some rotten luck along the way but our persistence eventually paid off at Silverstone when finally we split the Hondas in the points table. People have to remember, even with a great team like Triple Eight Race Engineering behind our car, it is still MG’s first season back in the BTCC for nine years. I believe we have an even better chassis than Honda. Fifteen points is a big ask but I missed the title by five points on the Brands GP track three years ago having gone into the day 28 behind. Hello, Gordon…”
Neal: “There’s no way I’m giving up on defending my title and, after a tough time at Silverstone which we didn’t deserve, I’m really fired up. I’ll have less success ballast in my car and hopefully that might give me a small edge. Our chief objective is to get a Honda over the line first and Gordon should be the priority because of his stronger position.”
Meanwhile Jordan – as well as being the outsider for the overall crown – is a hot favourite to win the Independent Drivers Trophy. eBay Motors pair Robert Collard and Tom Onslow-Cole and Redstone Racing’s Mat Jackson can still deny him but nearest challenger Collard is 28 points behind with only a maximum of 60 available. Those three teams, eBay Motors, Pirtek Racing and Redstone Racing are also embroiled in a fierce battle for the Independent Teams Trophy – just ten points separate them with, again, a maximum of 60 on offer at Brands Hatch.
Jordan said: “As a team we are only in our fifth season so to go into the final round with a chance of winning the big prize speaks volumes for how we’ve matured. I’m not even thinking about the outright drivers’ title, though – that’s between Gordon, Matt and Jason. My focus is a winning the Independent trophies. If we get those sewn up then, as a fellow Honda driver, maybe I’ll try and help Gordon and Matt beat Jason but until then I won’t be thinking about that. You can only juggle so many balls…”
Notably Brands Hatch is Wrotham-based Redstone Racing’s home circuit and it arrives high on confidence after Jackson gave its new Ford Focus a maiden race win at Silverstone (where he also shattered the lap record) and team-mate Aron Smith was on the podium for the first time in his career. Other locals to Brands and aiming to end their seasons on a high are Dartford racer Tony Gilham and his Team HARD. squad plus West Thurrock outfit AmD Tuning.com.
A 24-car grid – with nine different car manufacturers represented on it – is expected to contest the climax to what’s been another thrilling BTCC season at Brands Hatch on Sunday.
Adding to the thrills and spills will be no fewer 11 more races for the supporting Ginetta GT Supercup, Ginetta Junior, Renault Clio Cup and Porsche Carrera Cup categories. Both Ginetta crowns as well as the Clio title will all be decided at Brands Hatch… Formula Renault BARC single-seaters also get their ‘winter series’ under way with a guest slot on this weekend’s action-packed bill.