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Column: Rockingham preview – ready to rock


The banking of Rockingham Motor Speedway provides the backdrop for the eighth round of the British Touring Car Championship this weekend, as the conclusion of the 2013 season draws ever nearer.

Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal remains in pole position to seal a fourth BTCC crown, but with just 30 points covering the top four drivers in the standings the race for the title is by no means over, with fifth placed man Jason Plato still in contention despite insisting otherwise.

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Rockingham is the first of two Northamptonshire circuits that the series will visit this month, with the Silverstone round of the championship taking place in a fortnight’s time.

2013 marks the ten year anniversary since the BTCC first visited Rockingham, where Neal was the winner of the inaugural race. At 1.94 miles in length, Rockingham is the only circuit on the calendar that features a banked turn, with the start/finish line and turn one on the circuit also part of the ‘oval’ Speedway track. The weather for the weekend looks reasonable for practice and qualifying on Saturday, before the widespread rain forecast for much of the country takes hold on race-day.

Of the five title contenders, Neal, Plato and Gordon Shedden have all won at the circuit, while Andrew Jordan and Colin Turkington are still hunting for their first victories at the Speedway.

Jordan remains Neal’s closest challenger just six points from the summit on 287 points, but it is Turkington who comes into the weekend with the most momentum in his championship challenge, albeit after being excluded from the final race of the day at Knockhill for a technical infringement. He had earlier won the first two races of the day before being removed from a fourth placed finish, and with a number of slow corners the nature of the Rockingham circuit should favour the BMW with its strong traction – particularly if the weather plays its part as predicted.

For Plato, it is now or never in his bid for a third BTCC title. Having performed strongly throughout the entirety of the season, at Knockhill the MG never looked capable of challenging for a podium, and his 54 point deficit to Neal in the standings looks increasingly difficult to overturn. The Rockingham circuit nonetheless provides a good opportunity for Plato to claw back some points, and he will look to at least repeat the pole position and win he secured at the venue last season.

Rob Austin may be well out of contention for the title, but the meeting at Knockhill marked the Audi driver’s best weekend in the series to date, after he scooped pole position and a double podium at the Scottish circuit. Fresh off the back of a film premiere of Ron Howard’s film ‘Rush’ about the battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s – in which Austin plays a part – the Evesham racer will be looking to build on his recent success, with a top ten position in the championship in sight.

In the three weeks since the last round at Knockhill, there have been significant changes to the driver in the build up to this weekend’s action. Having left Team HARD. after agreeing to focus resources for next season, Tom Onslow-Cole confirmed a switch to Airwaves Racing for the remainder of the season and will pilot a third NGTC Ford Focus, raced earlier in the season by Michael Caine at Croft.

Andy Wilmot will take his place in the Team HARD. Passat to make his debut in the series, and Howard Fuller returns to the squad at the circuit where he made his BTCC debut last season. After becoming the youngest driver to compete in the series at Knockhill, Aiden Moffat and Finesse Motorsport will miss the Rockingham round.

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