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Column: Croft preview – Honda ahead

RiadArianeMedia-1A brief two-week break from action will be ended this weekend as the British Touring Car Championship rolls into North Yorkshire, where the Croft Circuit will host the fifth meeting of the season, marking the halfway point of the 2013 Championship.

Having been modified to it’s current 2.1-mile layout in 1997, Croft has hosted the British Touring Car Championship for more than a decade and its reputation as a traditional racing circuit makes it a real challenge for the drivers, and a number of  great viewing spots means that tens-of-thousands of spectators flock to the circuit every year.

While fans were bathed in some much-needed sunshine two weeks ago at Oulton Park, forecasts suggest that there is a strong possibility of rain come race day, which could make for even more excitement in a fiercely competitive field.

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Having dominated proceedings at Oulton Park, Jason Plato placed himself firmly back into the chase for the title with two outstanding displays before a fire cut short his involvement in the final race of the day. Plato had gone seven races without victory following a similarly assertive display in the opening two rounds at Brands Hatch, but right from the get-go at Oulton he looked like the man to beat and he reduced his deficit to Matt Neal in the championship to seven points.

Honda nonetheless remain in control of both championships, after a damage-limitation weekend at Oulton Park. Neal was absent from the podium in every race for the first time this season, but a sixth and two fourth-place finishes mean that he scored important points to hold onto his lead, whilst teammate Gordon Shedden had two podiums in the first two races before a puncture in the final race dropped him out of contention. Andrew Jordan eventually ran out as the winner of the third race, and is just four points behind Neal in the championship.

All three undoubtedly go into the weekend as contenders, with Neal and Shedden having won a race each here last year and Jordan having secured his maiden victory in the series at the track back in 2010.

This weekend’s visit to Croft will see the biggest grid of the season so far, with 29 cars expected to take to the track. After missing the Oulton Park outing on medical grounds, Joe Girling will return to the S2000 battle, and Andy Neate will finally make his long-awaited privateer debut in his NGTC-spec Chevrolet Cruze.

In the build-up to the weekend Motorbase Performance declared changes to their line-up, with the squad first announcing that Jake Hill will deputise for Liam Griffin in the S2000 Focus before revealing that their third NGTC machine will hit the track in anger this weekend, with Michael Caine at the wheel, having tested the machine last month.

Caine’s appearance is undoubtedly a boost to the team, but they will have to hope that 19 year-old Hill – who will be making his debut in the series – is on the pace straight away to frustrate Lea Wood, as Griffin’s absence from the meeting could prove vital in shaping the inaugural winner of the Jack Sears Trophy, with himself and Wood evenly matched at the head of the class.

Wood had been within three laps of becoming the first driver to win three trophies in the S2000 class in one weekend last time out, and looks the best-placed to achieve that feat at Croft with Griffin out of the picture. James Kaye returns to the Golf having missed the Oulton Park meeting and will be eager to make it a three-way fight for the Trophy, having lost ground in recent rounds.


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