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Column: Thruxton preview – tough at the top

Photo by to 2012. A deluge on race day makes for miserable viewing for spectators, but Gordon Shedden keeps his cool to win two races to aid his charge to the title. 12 months on, however, and the bank-holiday weather looks to bathe the country’s fastest circuit in glorious sunshine, with the British summer seemingly on its way.

Two weeks after the series visited Donington Park, the British Touring Car Championship heads this weekend to Thruxton in Hampshire, for the third instalment of what is shaping up to be another classic season.

Jason Plato remains at the top of the pile having bided his time at Donington, where his MG was by no means the fastest car. Can the 45-year-old continue his strong form on the fast straights of Thruxton, or will his rivals increase the pressure at the head of the championship?

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Nevertheless, come Sunday all eyes will be on the track. Of all the outings this season, Thruxton could well be the most intriguing; where with the other circuits, both drivers and machinery have experience how they suit the track, the case is not so at Thruxton as the teams had no dry race-running in the first season that NGTC cars were the norm in 2012.

Honda, however, remain hopeful that they will be at the front. As in previous seasons, the car lacks the top speed of some of its rivals, but the high-speed flowing corners of the Hampshire circuit are suited to the machines that have been so hard to beat in the last three years.

As previously mentioned Gordon Shedden swept to two victories here last year, whilst he and teammate Matt Neal took one victory each in 2011. Although the squad are wary of a power boost to their rivals, Shedden hopes that the good balance Honda had last year will serve them well this time around.

If the works Hondas are relatively confident, then Andrew Jordan has every right to be in the same mood. The Pirtek Racing star, who has been as consistent as Plato this season, took his first victory of the season in the second race at Donington, and lies five points behind the MG driver in the championship standings in second place.

Where last year Jordan’s Civic was a solid front-runner but never quite seemed to be in genuine contention for the title, this year the pace appears to be there to match the consistency, and with Jordan in the form that he’s in he is certainly one to watch.

Then of course, we have the MGs. Tordoff was expected to be quick in his first season in the series, but few would have expected him to be knocking on the door of the podium places so regularly at this stage of the season, whilst Plato – holders of the record number of wins in the series – looks to have the patience that  in many people’s views have cost him championships in the past.

Donington Park marked an upturn in form for Tom Onslow-Cole. Running with new sponsorship from Rockstar energy, his tenth place in Race Two gave him pole position for the final race of the day, and although he inevitably squandered positions, he fought off the challenge of Plato and ended the day with a solid sixth place. The brief time he spent at the sharp end will no doubt have provided Onslow-Cole with yet more desire to push on and turn Tony Gilham’s team into a consistent front-runner.

But it’s not just at the front where the action has taken place this season. The advent of the Jack Sears Trophy has added yet more excitement to a series that is famed for its dramatic racing. After a frustrating weekend at Brands Hatch, Lea Wood scored his first victory in the class, whilst James Kaye added a second victory to his name and Joe Girling underlined the pace of his Chevrolet Cruze by winning the final trophy of the day. The drivers all appear to be closely matched and with small margins between them, Thruxton looks set to be another enticing battle between the six competitors.

With the weather promising to be decidedly better than this time last year, and fierce battle already raging at the front of the field, this weekend looks set to be another enthralling round of the British Touring Car Championship.

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