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Donington preview – familiar face at the front


After the start to the season that every fan of the British Touring Car Championship had been anticipating at Brands Hatch, three weeks seem to have passed in the blink of an eye and we are already on the eve of the second event of the championship, as Donington Park plays host to the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds of the year.

Despite every car running to the same set of regulations, two champions returning to compete and 31 cars going hammer and tongs for every position, 2013’s man to beat still rules the roost this year as Andrew Jordan tops the drivers championship after winning two of the first three rounds in the opening weekend.

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The Pirtek Racing man stormed to pole and looked unassailable at the front of the pack until the third race of the day, with his tally good enough for a two-point cushion over Matt Neal, who eked out two podiums as his Honda Yuasa Racing team ran their Honda Civic Tourer in anger for the first time.

The next stop on the venue is a dramatic change of scene from the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit that hosted the season-opener, as Donington’s rolling hills that start at Redgate (turn one) and run all the way to Coppice for the start of the back straight require the teams and drivers to have decent aerodynamic efficiency, balanced by speed for the two Wheatcroft and Starkey’s straights that start and end the lap.

The Leicestershire circuit once again played host to the series’ only official pre-season test, although little knowledge was gained as the majority of the session was run in wet conditions, with no meaningful running achieved.

We can however turn to the (relatively recent) history books for a guide to who may be in control this weekend. Honda are confident that they will make progress with their new model this weekend and that the track will be much more suited to their package, and since 2009 the manufacturer has seen its factory and customer entries take ten of 15 race wins at the circuit, while you have to go back to the year before that to find the last time a race weekend at the circuit passed without a victory for the marquee.

And despite playing down his chances coming into the weekend, reigning champion Jordan has double the reason to be excited as he heads to his ‘home’ venue, a circuit at which he has won two races in the BTCC including his first of the season in 2013.

Neal has similar reason for optimism, having won six of his 52 series wins at the circuit including his first in 1999, when he became the first independent driver to claim an outright win in the modern era of the BTCC.

A victory in the third race of the day at the track last season kick-started Colin Turkington’s title challenge, and the Northern Irishman will be keen to push on after a much happier start to the 2014 season than he had a year earlier, as he sits a point further behind Neal in the championship. Gordon Shedden also has pedigree at the circuit having won three of the last six events at the track, and Jason Plato has five wins to his name and will be hoping to make up for a disappointing second race at Brands Hatch.

Eyes will once again be on the two returning champions, with Fabrizio Giovanardi hoping to improve on a trying first round of the season, while Alain Menu will also be looking to build on his first weekend in the series since 2007, although a fifth-placed finish in the final race of the day showed that he has plenty of speed in him.

Turkington’s teammates Rob Collard and Nick Foster ran competitively at the opening weekend and look to be more suited to their 2014 machine as they suggested in pre-season, while Rob Austin remains confident in his package as he heads to the scene of his debut in the series in 2011. The full grid of 31 cars is expected to be completed this weekend, with Dan Welch set to compete in his team’s new Proton after sitting out Brands.

As for the weather this weekend, rain is expected to play some part on raceday after a clearer Saturday, with forecasts suggesting the track could be hit in the morning before clouds return for the middle of the afternoon onward.

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