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Review: Honda dominates opening 15 races

As expected, the first half of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship was all about Honda – ten wins in the first fifteen races for the new Honda Civic laid down the gauntlet for the rest of the field to follow.

The 2012 BTCC saw the first year of the NGTC – Next Generation Touring Car – regulations being the dominant force while the S2000 cars started to be less competitive.

The main contenders – Team Dynamics who run the Honda Yuasa Racing Team project and Triple Eight, who ran the MG squad – moved to the NGTC ranks while Motorbase Performance and West Surrey Racing carried on with their tried and tested S2000 cars.

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Pirtek Racing made the switch from the S2000 Vauxhall Vectras to customer NGTC Honda Civics while Dynojet and Frank Wrathall, who shone in 2011, returned with their NGTC Toyota Avensis.

Team ES Racing expanded to a two car outfit with 2010 Clio Cup Champion Dave Newsham joining the team alongside Chris James while Speedworks had 2011 Ginetta GT Supercup Champion Adam Morgan joining them alongside Tony Hughes.

Lea Wood returned for a full campaign at the wheel of the ex Andrew Jordan Vauxhall Vectra which replaced the Honda Integra while AmD ran Ollie Jackson in their VW Golf.

Tony Gilham set up Team HARD for 2012, which he ran the Honda Civic which Shedden took to 2nd overall in 2011 while John Thorne entered a brace of Vauxhall Insignias, one for himself and one which was due to be raced from Oulton Park.

The field was completed by the Audi A4’s from Rob Austin Racing, with former Porsche Carrera Cup GB racer Mark Hazell in one of the cars and Austin in the second while Dan Welch completed a full campaign in the Proton Persona – which had been rebranded from the Gen2 over the winter.

The opening nine races, in the space of five weeks saw five different winners from four different teams in both S2000 and NGTC machinery.

Even before the season started there were some last minute changes – Brands Hatch saw Hazell missing from the grid, being subsequently replaced by Austin.

Pole Position for the opening round of the season went to Team ES Racing and Newsham while the opening victory went the way of another S2000 runner, that of Rob Collard in the eBay Motors BMW 320si. Neal and Collard’s team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole completed the podium.

Newsham was on course for the victory before he was pushed into the gravel by Plato at Paddock Hill, the MG driver tried to pass Newsham while the Inverness based racer was passing Neal. This let Collard through to the victory.

Neal went on to secure a small piece of BTCC history in the second race as he became the first driver in an NGTC Specification car to take an outright victory, just ahead of Jordan for a Honda 1, 2 finish. Plato finished third having led briefly in the MG6.

Nick Foster saw his weekend end early at Brands Hatch after rolling the #18 eBay Motors BMW 320si coming out of Druids. Having run wide, he went across the grass and into the tyre wall which rolled the car. Foster walked away from the incident.

Plato took his first win in the third race – but not at the first attempt. Mat Jackson ran wide at Paddock Hill and dislodged an oil line which meant he dropped all of his oil on the run to Druids and this caused a multi car accident at Druids, with Ollie Jackson the first driver to find the oil from the Focus.

The multi car accident meant that Jackson (both Mat and Ollie), Daniel Welch, Adam Morgan and Tom Onslow-Cole didn’t take the restarted race due to damage.

Plato secured the honours ahead of Jordan while Newsham completed the podium having fought his way up the order in race 2 to finish 9th, and he missed the grid reversal for the final race.

Shedden finished fourth on the road but was later excluded for the team working on the car under the red flag period, and this promoted Jeff Smith into the top 4 and for what was his best result to date in the BTCC.

Championship Standings after Brands Hatch:

  1. Plato – 52 points
  2. Neal – 48 points
  3. Jordan – 45 points

Rounds four, five and six took place at Donington Park and it was Plato who secured Pole Position, just ahead of the Honda Civic of Gordon Shedden. The Scotsman was looking for a strong weekend after a disaster at Brands Hatch.

Victory in the opening race went to Mat Jackson in the Redstone Racing Ford Focus, from sixth on the grid. Jackson’s victory came from a flying start then a tap at the chicane to force Plato wide, which cost him and Collard time. Shedden and Neal completed the podium while in race 2; Shedden secured his first victory of the season from Neal, while Jackson completed the podium.

It proved to be a bad race for Plato as he was taken out of contention early on at the chicane after contact put him into the tyres and he had to pit for repairs. He finished 4 laps down and not a classified finisher.

The third race of the day proved to be eventful as Jackson took his second victory of the weekend on the road while Plato and Shedden had contact at the final chicane, which saw the MG driver finish second on the road while his Honda rival was third.

Earlier in the race, Neal had been taken out of the race after an incident with fellow Honda racer Jordan – both had contact and Neal ended up in the gravel on the outside of McLeans, calling for the safety car.

After the race, Shedden was confirmed as the winner with Plato second, Jackson had been excluded for over boosting while Plato was given a time penalty which dropped him behind Shedden. Tony Gilham secured his first podium finish and Independents’ trophy victory in the Team Hard Civic.

Championship standings after Donington Park:

  1. Plato – 84 points
  2. Neal – 80 points
  3. Jordan – 76 points

Thruxton, the fastest circuit on the calendar brought up rounds seven, eight and nine and the first wet races of the campaign. John Thorne was missing from the grid as he planned to develop the Thorney Motorsport Vauxhall Insignia before returning at a later date.

Qualifying for round 7 was dramatic – Plato had a massive off at Church corner, the back of the MG snapped away from him and he ended up off the circuit and in the trees outside of the circuit.

Before Plato went off, Neal had pulled off the circuit with issues to the #1 Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic while Shedden, who had bounced up from 11th to 5th in the Championship standings following his Donington Park results started 18th after suffering from over boosting issues again.

Pole Position went to Jordan in the Pirtek Honda just ahead of Plato, whose time before his off was good enough for second on the grid.

Race day and the heavens opened and it was Jackson in the S2000 Focus who took advantage by taking his second victory of the season ahead of Newsham and Plato, the MG driver having survived an incident at the first corner with Jordan, the Pirtek Racing driver saw his race end at Allard.

Round 7 was stopped early after Liam Griffin in the #6 Redstone Racing Focus went off into the tyres at Allard hard and once he was recovered, the recovery truck got stuck in the mud. Shedden recovered to 6th while Neal was 10th after their qualifying issues.

The second race saw Shedden secure his third victory of the season ahead of Plato, while Jackson took his fourth podium in five races to prove that he was the driver in form.

Shedden then made it four wins in six races and five podiums from six races in the final race before the first break of the season. Both Shedden and team-mate Neal made progress and soon passed the S2000 Civic of Gilham, who had led the opening laps.

The former cage fighter didn’t give up without a fight but went off at the Complex, having outbraked himself and went off into the tyres. This promoted Wrathall to third and he held off Plato for his first podium of the season.

Championship Standings after Thruxton:

  1. Plato – 129 points
  2. Shedden – 125 points
  3. Neal – 115 points

Oulton Park in Cheshire marked the resumption of the Championship after a five week break and it marked the first weekend where an S2000 Specification car didn’t win a race. Oulton Park also saw Rob Austin Racing expand to two cars as Will Bratt joined the team alongside Rob Austin.

Qualifying saw Plato in the MG KX Momentum 99 Racing MG6 set a new qualifying record en route to his second Pole Position in four events while his arch rival Neal lined up alongside him on the front row of the grid.

Plato didn’t make the start of the opening race which allowed the fast starting eBay Motors BMW 320si of Collard to jump into the lead of the race ahead of Neal but the triple Champion battled back to secure his second victory of the season ahead of Jordan, who was looking for a strong weekend after his Thruxton disappointments.

Collard finished third and once again used the standing start advantage of the Rear Wheel Drive BMW to jump into the lead of the second race with Jackson in the Redstone Racing Ford Focus chasing him down.

The leading duo came together mid distance and Jackson suffered a puncture while Collard lost ground – this promoted Shedden into the lead of the race with Jordan behind him. The battle for third was building interest as Plato in the MG – who had started 22nd – was chasing down the Welch Motorsport Proton Persona of Dan Welch for third.

Plato took the position while Welch was still able to celebrate his best result to date in the BTCC. Shedden meanwhile was celebrating his fifth victory of the season.

Neal completed the Honda hat-trick in the final race of the day, narrowly beating Plato the MG while erstwhile race leader Onslow-Cole completed the podium. Shedden completed a strong weekend with his second fourth place finish of the weekend while double podium finisher Jordan had his weekend finished in the barriers at Old Hall.

Championship Standings after Oulton Park:

  1. Shedden – 173 points
  2. Neal – 168 points
  3. Plato – 161 points

Croft was the venue for the final three races before the summer break and it saw the return of Paul O’Neill in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis in place of Tony Hughes, who had clashing business commitments.

Qualifying saw Neal secure his first Pole Position of the season and he led a Honda 1, 2, 3 on the grid as Jordan and Shedden backed up the 2011 Champion.

Neal secured a hard fought fourth victory of the season in the opening race – a clutch problem meant that he dropped to third behind Shedden and Jordan but contact at the hairpin after a three lap safety car period gave Neal and Collard the chance to pass the Pirtek Racing driver.

Contact between Neal and Collard at the Clervaux/Hawthorn sequence of corners proved critical as the Honda driver stayed ahead of the BMW driver and then they caught and overtook Shedden.

Jordan finished fourth after the contact with Neal damaged the exhausts which meant he lost power in the #77 Honda.

Plato, as per Oulton Park failed to finish the opening race after electrical problems meant that he stopped out on track before the race started – he later completed a number of shakedown laps before stopping for good.

Shedden responded by taking victory number six in the second race with Neal finishing second while the podium was completed by Austin in the #13 Audi A4 – that was his best result of the season to date. Neal stopped straight after the chequered flag with an engine problem, which he had been carrying since the early stages of the race.

Having started 21st in the #99 MG6, Plato finished seventh – a position he gained after making up three positions at once at the hairpin.

After seven victories on the trot for Honda, Plato finished the first half of the season with his second victory of the season but he had to work for it and for a while, an MG 1, 2 was on the cards as Andy Neate led the way in the sister MG6.

Neate led the way until the Safety Car period which was deployed due to a crash at Tower for Lea Wood and Liam Griffin, Griffin’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus caught fire and it took a number of laps under the Safety car before the flames were out.

Once the race went live, Plato took third from Wrathall at Tower before inheriting second after Collard slid wide and moved into the lead when he took the position from his team-mate.

Once ahead of Neate, Plato drove away while Neate slid down the order, which enabled Onslow-Cole and Jordan to complete the podium.

Championship Positions after Croft:

  1. Neal – 221 points
  2. Shedden – 220 points
  3. Plato – 192 points
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