Rounds four, five and six of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship are all set to take place this weekend up at Donington Park, with Jason Plato the early Championship leader.
The season opener at Brands Hatch produced the normal surprises, accidents and close racing as is the norm in the BTCC, and the biggest talking point was the pace of the NGTC built MG6 of Triple Eight.
Having not turned a wheel in anger before Brands Hatch, nobody expected the results which double Champion Plato dragged out of it. Having finished fourth in race one, he fought for the lead with Matt Neal in race two before climbing his way up the order in the shortened third race.
Plato therefore arrives at Donington Park in the lead of the Championship and he will be keen to avoid the incidents he had last year when he campaigned the RML built Chevrolet Cruze… and ended up in a multiple roll on the opening lap of the second race.
Team-mate to Plato in the MG squad is Andy Neate. Neate had a tougher start to his campaign but picked up points over the weekend.
Out of the current BTCC field, the most successful driver around the 1.96 mile East Midlands circuit is Honda Yuasa Racing Team’s Matt Neal, with six victories over the years. He secured the first NGTC victory at Brands Hatch and briefly led the Championship.
The other side of the Honda garage was a different story to Neal. Scottish team-mate Gordon Shedden had a tough weekend in the #52 Honda Civic as an electrical gremlin restricted his running and he picked up points in one of the three races and he was excluded after the third race after the team had worked on his car under red flag conditions.
Shedden, like Neal, has an enviable record around the Leicestershire circuit, having taken four victories since 2006. Shedden will be a candidate for victory as long as the electrical issues don’t reoccur.
The customer Honda team, Pirtek Racing, arrive at Donington Park with Andrew Jordan third in the overall Championship and leading the way in the Independents trophy while team-mate Jeff Smith is sixth overall and fourth in the Independents. The combined results have seen the team take an early lead in the HiQ Teams’ Championship and Independent teams’ Championship.
Jordan secured a double podium finish at Brands Hatch and is looking to replicate his victory from twelve months ago this weekend. The 2011 weekend saw Jordan secure podium finishes in all three races at the wheel of the Vauxhall Vectra, which is now in the hands of Lea Wood.
Smith secured his career best result at Brands Hatch having crossed the line fifth overall. This became fourth once Shedden had been excluded and this meant that he had bettered his fifth place from Donington Park last year.
Leading the way for the S2000 hybrid entrants after Brands Hatch is the WSR run eBay Motors team with their trio of turbocharged BMW 320si. Rob Collard secured the opening victory of the season for the team – both his and the teams’ first victory since 2009 – while team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole secured a podium finish in the first race.
Nick Foster saw his weekend ended prematurely after rolling it on the run down to Graham Hill bend. Foster had run out wide and slid across the circuit and went into the tyre wall backwards, and the impact rolled the #18 BMW. Foster walked away injury free.
Having been predicted as potential Championship contenders at the start of the season, Redstone Racing encountered a difficult and incident strewn home weekend at Brands Hatch. Mat Jackson secured a seventh and fourth in the opening two races before causing the red flag in race three having ripped an oil line on his #4 Ford Focus.
The oil meant that six cars ended up in the gravel at Druids, including his team-mate Aron Smith. The third race incident was the second time that Irishman Smith had been in the gravel after seeing his Redstone Racing debut end early after contact with another competitor.
This left Liam Griffin to secure a trio of points finishes and the #6 Ford Focus driver had one of his strongest weekends to date in the BTCC and is looking forward to Donington Park.
Jackson will look to replicate his victory from twelve months ago, where he secured his first win of the 2011 campaign and the teams’ first victory with the Mountune powered Ford Focus ST.
The strongest showing of the returning NGTC teams’ came from Rob Austin in the Rob Austin Racing Audi A4. Having planned to run two cars at Brands Hatch, Mark Hazell failed to take to the grid and Austin was left to represent the team by himself. His results have left him fifth overall in the outright drivers’ Championship but with a vacant A4 to fill.
Having proved himself as a driver to watch during the second half of the 2011 campaign, Frank Wrathall Jnr had a difficult start to the season in the revamped Toyota Avensis. The Dynojet driver will look for better results at Donington Park while fellow Toyota driver, Adam Morgan, will look to get further than three laps in three races this time around.
The 2011 Ginetta GT Supercup Champion saw his BTCC debut end after 300 meters after he was spun into the Paddock Hill gravel trap. The damage meant that the Speedworks Motorsport driver had to sit out the second race and the third race saw him slide off on Jackson’s oil and into retirement.
Morgan’s Speedworks Motorsport team-mate, Tony Hughes will look to add to his points tally at Donington Park, having secured his maiden point in the final race of the day at Brands Hatch.
Rounding out the top ten is another star of the future, BINZ Racing Lea Wood. Wood produced one of the giant killings of the 2011 campaign when he took his Honda Integra to seventh overall during the first race of the day at Oulton Park last year. He has his hands on the car which Jordan used in 2011 and is one to watch as the season progresses.
The biggest surprise from the Brands Hatch weekend (apart from Plato’s win) was Dave Newsham in the Team ES Racing.com Vauxhall Vectra. The 2010 Clio Cup Champion secured his first BTCC Pole Position with the fastest lap of the weekend and secured a podium finish in the final race of the day. The Scotsman had looked on for a strong result in race one before he was nudged off by Plato.
Team-mate Chris James also opened his points scoring account as well as caused a small amount of controversy in qualifying. Both Newsham and James will be hopeful of a strong weekend at Donington Park, a circuit which has tended to suit the Vectra.
Others to watch out for this weekend are Ollie Jackson in the AmDTuning.com Volkswagen Golf, Tony Gilham in the pink and green Honda Civic under the Team HARD banner and Daniel Welch in the Welch Motorsport Proton Persona.
Rounding out the field after a tough BTCC debut at Brands Hatch is John Thorne in the Thorney Motorsport Vauxhall Insignia. After a crash at Paddock Hill bend, Thorne admitted that he then went the wrong way with set up and this caused him to struggle even more. Donington Park will prove to be another learning curve for Thorne.
With twenty one drivers having already recorded a point’s finish after three races, trying to predict who will win and do what at Donington Park is a close on impossible task. Touring-Cars.Net will be reporting on all the sessions and offering live twitter coverage via @touringcarslive.
Qualifying ahead of round four is live on itv.com from 15.20, with the session itself due to start at 15.25. Rounds four, five and six will be live on ITV4, ITV4 HD and itv.com from 11am on Sunday, 15 April. Round four is due to get underway at 11.37, round five at 14.12 and round six at 17.15.
TouringCars.Net Donington Park Predictions:
Pole Position: Gordon Shedden
Race 1: Gordon Shedden, Andrew Jordan, Mat Jackson
Race 2: Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Rob Collard
Race 3 Pole Position: Dave Newsham
Race 3: Mat Jackson, Dave Newsham, Rob Austin