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Mixed Oulton outing for Honda duo

The Honda Yuasa Racing team were made to work for their results as the British Touring Car Championship visited Oulton Park, with Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal enduring very different weekends.

While the pair had been on the pace at the previous three rounds of the season with its new Civic Tourer model, they both struggled to differing degrees on the Cheshire circuit’s International layout, with Shedden working his way toward three top-five finishes including a second-placed finish – although he was some way off the leading car of Colin Turkington – while Neal struggled in the lower-reaches of the points placings after a qualifying setback.

Shedden’s consistent performances nonetheless mean he retains his second place in the championship, jumping previous leader Andrew Jordan who also had a tough weekend, and now sits nine points behind Turkington in the standings.

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And the 2012 series champion was delighted to come away with such a strong showing, feeling he got the best from his car to keep himself in contention at the front.

“That was a strange weekend,” said Shedden. “Of course, you’re always targeting pole positions, fastest laps and wins, but to come away from Oulton with a fourth, a fifth and a second was a really strong result.

“I don’t think anybody could have forecast how little overtaking there would be in the races. The nature of the circuit layout meant there was just nowhere to go in races one and two, which was hugely frustrating – so in hindsight, qualifying turned out to be absolutely vital. Fortunately, I was on the track at the right time with the right tyre strategy and in the right weather conditions – and ultimately, that was where my weekend was built.

“If qualifying was key, the races were all about grinding out results and bagging decent points – which is what I was able to do. There were a lot of quick cars out there – including us – and championship challenges are often based upon making the best out of tricky weekends.

“The car felt great and I worked it pretty hard to make up ground in the initial phases of race three, and it was great to finish the weekend on the podium. We achieved what was probably the maximum we could have got from the three races – and the importance of keeping in the hunt like that at this stage of the season really cannot be underestimated.”

Neal’s weekend, by contrast, was a struggle throughout, with his record of 12th, 14th and a DNF on Sunday marking the first time since Silverstone in 2012 that the 47-year-old failed to finish in the top ten in any of the weekend’s three races.

The three-times champion now lies sixth in the championship, 67 points behind championship leader Colin Turkington, and was left ruing a red flag in qualifying, which he believed masked his true pace and set a precedent for the rest of the weekend.

“That was one of those meetings where nothing seemed to go right for me,” said Neal. “I was on-course for the second row of the grid in qualifying when the red flag came out, and that really dictated the rest of my weekend. But for the early stoppage to the session, it would have been game on and most likely a completely different story.

“The car felt fantastic throughout, and that was probably the most frustrating thing of all because we just couldn’t do anything with it. We had a lot of pace; I was actually having to feather the throttle at the end of the straights because other cars were braking so early, but you simply couldn’t overtake – there was nowhere to go.

“What happened in race three then just compounded it all, but I need to focus on the positives. We’re not even halfway through the season yet and I’m going to be light in qualifying for the foreseeable future. I’ve lost a lot of points, but like Oulton, Croft is another circuit I love and I’m confident that once we get there, I’ll be able to start clawing back some ground.”

And team manager Peter Crolla agreed that the weekend had been a struggle, with a number of adverse factors influencing the outfit’s running.

“It was a difficult weekend,” added Crolla. “It was a combination of the changeable weather conditions, the fact that the International layout didn’t really lend itself to passing opportunities and the similar performance balance of all the cars at the moment that makes for close racing but not a great deal of overtaking, sadly.

“Matt missed the sweet spot in qualifying; he was six tenths-of-a-second up on his previous best effort when the red flags came out at the end of the session. That hit him pretty hard – had he been able to complete the lap, it would have been night-and-day a different weekend for him.

“Gordon, by contrast, had a strong qualifying and from there he got his head down in the races, held it together and kept it on the black stuff to make the best out of what were a tricky couple of days. That means we’re still in good shape in all championship tables, so onwards and upwards as we turn our attentions to Croft.”

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