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Review: Honda holds on to secure titles

The 2012 British Touring Car Championship resumed after a 9 week break at Snetterton in Norfolk, with Honda’s Matt Neal leading the way in the Championship.

Round six saw the début weekend of the Redstone Racing NGTC Ford Focus for Mat Jackson, the car being completed the night before qualifying, and its first track action was in the first free practice session.

Liam Griffin had stepped down from racing duties to allow the team to build Jackson’s car instead of focusing on repairing his fire damaged car.

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Snetterton also saw the return of Thorney Motorsport with Tony Gilham driving the Vauxhall Insignia while in his Team HARD. Honda Civic was American Robb Holland. Rob Austin Racing was down to a single car as Will Bratt missed the trip to Norfolk.

Qualifying saw a first time Pole Position man, with Dynojet’s Frank Wrathall topping the times just ahead of Jason Plato in the MG KX Momentum 99 Racing MG6 GT. It proved to be a bad day for Gordon Shedden, as he failed to set a time in qualifying following a fire in FP1.

Plato took the honours in race one ahead of Wrathall and Andrew Jordan. Jordan had been involved in a close battle for the final podium position with Dave Newsham in the Team ES Vauxhall Vectra, Jordan finally securing the position on the final lap. Newsham was later excluded after his car was found to be 3 kilos under weight.

Holland’s debut race lasted two laps as he retired at Riches after a high speed off with Adam Morgan in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis.

Race 2 – and it was the turn of Jordan to celebrate the victory after he took advantage of contact between Neal and Plato, firstly at Coram (Neal spun Plato) then Plato got revenge at Murrays by nudging Neal off the track. Shedden also took advantage to follow Jordan home while Plato finished third.

The final race of the day saw a new winner crowned – Newsham started second behind the Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Lea Wood but took the lead on lap 3 and then drove away, while Wood was able to hold onto second until his gearbox gave him problems and he was forced to retire.

Tom Onslow-Cole and Shedden completed the podium until Shedden was excluded for over boosting. This promoted Plato to third while Jackson gave the NGTC Focus its best finish of the weekend in fourth.

Championship Standings after Snetterton:

  1. Neal – 255 points
  2. Shedden – 247 points
  3. Plato – 245 points

Round seven of the season took the cars north of the border to Fife in Scotland and the Knockhill circuit. A number of drivers’ sat out the trip to Knockhill, with Rob Austin, Will Bratt, Liam Griffin, Tony Gilham, John Thorne and Ollie Jackson all missing from the grid, while Paul O’Neill was back in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis in place of Tony Hughes, who had clashing business commitments. Knockhill was Robb Holland’s final appearance of the 2012 BTCC in the Team HARD Civic.

Qualifying saw Plato secure his third Pole Position of the season ahead of Collard in the eBay Motors BMW 320si, with Aron Smith in the S2000 Redstone Racing Ford Focus securing his career best qualifying result in third.

Collard used the advantage of the Rear Wheel Drive BMW to jump Plato off the line and he secured his second victory of the season ahead of team-mate Onslow-Cole, who took advantage of an incident between Plato and Smith.

Smith, in the lighter car compared to Plato went to the outside in an attempt to take second away from the MG racer but a light touch put Plato into the barriers – Plato afterwards wanted Smith to lose his racing licence while David Bartrum, after the event, questioned Plato and his roles within British Motorsport away from the BTCC.

Speaking to the Official Motorbase Performance website, Bartrum said: “The only sour note of the weekend was Jason Plato’s reaction to the incident with Aron. I realise he will see it his way and we will see it ours, that’s natural. I was disappointed in the penalty which TOCA gave us because we’ve been on the receiving end of nearly identical incidents with Aron & Rob Austin in round 1, TOCA verdict – Racing incident, Liam & Lea Wood at Croft, TOCA verdict – Racing incident. Someone does it to Plato, TOCA verdict – 3 points & a £500 fine. Is it because its Plato? Maybe, who knows? With that in mind when we heard that 888 & Plato had appealed we were surprised, turns out Jason wanted more! He even suggested that Aron had a job to do on him! What can you say to this? Paranoid maybe?”

Shedden took third on the run to the line, after an aggressive move on Smith at the final hairpin, while Smith took his best result in the BTCC ahead of O’Neill, who took Speedworks best result.

Collard and Onslow-Cole repeated their race one result in race 2, with Shedden once again completing the podium. O’Neill went one better and finished fourth for Speedworks, while Plato in the repaired MG finished outside of the top 10 in 11th.

Newsham started on pole for the final race of the weekend and as at Snetterton, he stormed off into the lead while the three Honda’s behind, led by Jeff Smith weren’t able to keep up with the pace of the Team ES Racing driver.

Shedden, after his double podium was leading the Championship but an incident at the John R Wier Chicane saw his fail to finish – he had been forced across the grass in avoidance of Nick Foster who was recovering from contact with Aron Smith.

Newsham took a popular home victory ahead of Jeff Smith, who held off Neal and Jordan for his maiden podium finish while Neal completed the podium positions. Plato’s weekend went from bad to worse as he failed to start the final race due to turbo issues on the MG6.

Onslow-Cole backed up his double podium finish with a fifth place finish in the #38 eBay Motors BMW 320si with O’Neill completing the top six for Speedworks Motorsport.

Championship Standings after Knockhill:

  1. Neal – 287 points
  2. Shedden – 277 points
  3. Plato – 251 points

Rockingham marked the first of a Northamptonshire double header and the first of the final three weekends which would decide the destiny of the 2012 Championship battle.

Rob Austin and Will Bratt returned in the Rob Austin Racing Audi A4’s. Ollie Jackson and AmD also returned while Howard Fuller made his debut in the BTCC at the wheel of the Team HARD. Honda Civic, in place of Robb Holland who had completed his season in the BTCC. Tony Hughes returned to the Speedworks Motorsport team in place of O’Neill.

Dan Welch and Lea Wood were absent from the grid as was Griffin, Welch and Wood were missing due to budgetary issues while Griffin had other commitments.

Prior to the event, Matt Neal broke his hand in a motocross accident – he did the same 12 months previously.

Plato backed up his Knockhill Pole Position with a dominant performance in qualifying, finishing six tenths ahead of Shedden, and setting a new qualifying record for the circuit. The top six drivers were under the old qualifying record…

From Pole Position, Plato held off the flying Jackson in the NGTC Focus, having jumped from fourth to second before dropping back to fourth after Jordan and Shedden jumped ahead of the Henley-in-Arden racer.

Neal, with his broken hand finished sixth, with Collard finishing ahead of the Honda driver, while Austin had fought his way back up the order having spun down the order in the early laps after a touch with Neal.

Race two and the heavens opened and this enabled Shedden to secure his seventh victory of the campaign and his first since Croft. Jordan held the lead until he slid wide at the Deene hairpin after a Safety Car period.

Neal followed his Honda team-mate home for a 1, 2 finish while Plato finished third in the MG6. Shedden allowed Neal to lead for a lap to secure the bonus point for leading a lap.

Jackson replicated his fourth place finish from race 1 in the second race while Wrathall brought the Dynojet Toyota home fifth, ahead of the top S2000 car, which was Aron Smith.

The final race at Rockingham was also wet and it was Adam Morgan in the second Speedworks Motorsport Avensis who started on pole position but he slid off the track and allowed Aron Smith to inherit the lead.

Shedden had a moment on the banking which he held – a left handed banked corner yet the Scottish driver was heading right… but he held the slide and continued while Jeff Smith wasn’t so lucky as he went into the wall backwards and wrote off the #55 Pirtek Racing Civic.

After the Safety Car, Smith continued to lead against the NGTC Honda’s and MG’s but he started to drop down the order as the NGTC cars, with their bigger tyres had better tyre life. He finished fifth behind Shedden – his eighth victory of 2012 – Neal, Plato and Jordan while his Redstone Racing team-mate recovered to sixth after his off while challenging for the victory.

Championship Standings after Rockingham:

  1. Shedden – 336 points
  2. Neal – 333 points
  3. Plato – 304 points

Silverstone, the home of British Motorsport and the venue for the penultimate round of the 2012 campaign.

Returning to the series were Liam Griffin, Lea Wood, Dan Welch and Tony Gilham – Gilham was a very late call up to the Thorney Motorsport team after Chris Stockton fell ill after qualifying.

Plato, as at Knockhill and Rockingahm took Pole Position ahead of Jackson, who gave the NGTC Focus its best qualifying position to date, while Wrathall and Collard rounded out the top four.

The Honda’s had predicted that they were on for a trying weekend at Silverstone and so it proved with Neal the best placed Honda in 10th, while team-mate and Championship leader Shedden was down in 19th.

Race one and it was Plato who secured the honours, despite the best efforts of Collard in the BMW then Jackson in the NGTC Focus. Collard lead the early exchanges of the race before Plato and Jackson came after him and both moved ahead of the BMW driver.

It was then Plato who led before Jackson took the lead away from the MG driver and he was on course to give the new car its maiden victory when he retired with four laps remaining. This gave Plato the victory ahead of Newsham while Aron Smith secured his maiden BTCC podium in third.

Shedden clawed his way up the order from 19th to 7th despite the boost restrictions while team-mate Neal had a torrid race and retired just after the midway point of the race.

Race 2 and a piece of history were made. Plato started from Pole Position and looked set to win the second race at a stroll while Jackson, who lined up 17th after his retirement was on a charge.

He was up to third when Plato suddenly slowed and soon, Jackson was leading having passed Collard for the position. Jackson stormed away to set the record for the lowest starting position to the victory – the previous best was 12th with Gareth Howell at Silverstone.

Collard and Newsham completed the podium while Shedden secured another seventh place finish having defended for the majority of the race. For Neal however, his Silverstone weekend was going up in flames – quite literally. Neal had to stop at the side of the circuit after the #1 Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic caught fire, and this caused a Safety Car Period.

Race 3 – Shedden started 4th, Jackson 10th, Plato 20th and Neal 22nd. Nick Foster started from Pole Position and he made the best getaway while Rob Austin and Dan Welch battled for second, and they came together on the second lap which cost both of them a decent result.

Plato was on a charge and by the mid way point of the race was leading – from 20th on the grid while Neal was out again, after contact with the Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Lea Wood. Jackson was soon into second from 10th despite having 45 kilos of ballast on board.

Plato took the small piece of history from Jackson as he became the holder of the lowest grid starting position to victor, while Jackson took his second podium of the day and Collard led home an eBay Motors 3, 4, and 5. Shedden rounded out the top six with what most people described as a Champions drive.

Championship Positions after Silverstone:

  1. Shedden – 364 points
  2. Plato – 349 points
  3. Neal – 333 points

Brands Hatch, the finale. 4 drivers, 3 races, 1 title. The weekend saw another debutant – Aaron Williamson joined the field in the Team HARD Honda Civic while Gilham raced the NGTC Vauxhall Insignia which he purchased from Thorney Motorsport.

Qualifying saw Onslow-Cole put the eBay Motors BMW 320si on Pole Position having denied Jordan in the dying moments of the session. Plato saw his session finish in the gravel at Paddock Hill after trying too hard to improve his time.

The final three races of the 2012 campaign took place in wet conditions which were expected to suit the Honda’s over the MG, and the Honda’s had a slight boost increase over the MG.

The three main title contenders lined up line astern – Neal 3rd, Plato 5th and Shedden 7th. Jordan, who is the rank outsider, lined up 2nd. Onslow-Cole had led the early stages of the first race before Neal and then Jordan demoted the BMW driver to third.

Shedden moved up from seventh to fifth, behind Aron Smith while Plato, who arrived at Brands Hatch as his nearest rival could only finish 8th in the MG KX Momentum 99 Racing MG6.

The penultimate race of the season saw Onslow-Cole take the lead off the line while Aron Smith moved into second, before the first of two Safety Car periods was deployed to recover the stricken BMW of Collard and the Audi A4 of Bratt at Druids, Collard had been spun out in an incident with Shedden, all due to bunching and Collard collected Bratt as he tried to avoid the incident.

Smith took the lead on the run down to Graham Hill just before the Safety Car was deployed for a second time, this time due to the Team ES Vectra of Newsham, which had gone off and into the tyre wall on the run to Graham Hill.

Smith controlled the restart and controlled the race to secure his maiden win in the series and potentially the final win for an S2000 car, while Shedden played the long game, moved ahead of Neal when the opportunity arose and then played safe to bring home the #52 Honda Yuasa Racing Team car 2nd, and secure the title. Neal and Jordan followed him home, with Jordan securing the Independent honours for the season.

Onslow-Cole had slid off from second at Surtees before being caught up in the Andy Neate/Adam Morgan/Aaron Williamson incident, Neate had run wide and hit Morgan as he rejoined and Williamson spun in avoidance of the damaged Speedworks Motorsport car, and Onslow-Cole went off as well.

The finale was all about the battle for second overall behind Shedden. Mat Jackson started from Pole Position in the NGTC Redstone Racing Ford Focus with Frank Wrathall alongside him. Plato lined up 3rd, Neal 6th and Shedden 7th.

Jackson led away from the line while Plato attempted to move into second ahead of Wrathall but the Dynojet driver held firm and slotted into second, and set about chasing down Jackson.

Wrathall soon inherited the lead when Jackson slowed on the run to Druids and stopped at Graham Hill bend. The Preston youngster then pulled away from the Honda’s behind to secure his first win in the BTCC, with Neal, Shedden and Jordan completing a formation finish in 2nd, 3rd and 4th while Aron Smith rounded out the top five.

Neal secured second in the Championship as Plato could only finish 8th in the MG, after an entertaining battle with Lea Wood in the Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra.

So after 30 races which saw 9 different winners, 3 first time winners and 4 other podium finishers, the 2012 British Touring Car Championship crowned a new Champion for the first time since 2009, when Colin Turkington secured his first BTCC title.

Championship Standings after Brands Hatch:

  1. Shedden – 408 points
  2. Neal – 387 points
  3. Plato – 376 points


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