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Snetterton preview – start of the run in

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As the British Touring Car Championship’s summer hiatus draws to a close with a number of teams having tested their machines in the five previous weeks, this weekend’s visit to Snetterton in Norfolk gives us our first opportunity to see if there are any changes in the series’ pecking order. TouringCars.Net takes the opportunity to look back at the first half of the season, as well as previewing the weekend ahead.

Championship protagonists

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The first half of the 2014 season could not have gone much better than expected for West Surrey Racing. With one driver leading the championship, another enjoying a much needed resurgence in form, and the outfit holding a healthy advantage in the teams’ standings, there is plenty for all involved to be smiling about. Colin Turkington, who has won six of the 15 races in 2014, deservedly takes the plaudits for a sensational campaign thus far, but the progress at Dick Bennetts’ team is plain to see, after a rigorous winter of testing and development.

Turkington’s dominance at the last two circuits – Oulton Park and Croft – has been nothing short of mesmeric, and while the advantage of his rear-wheel-drive BMW was cited by the opposition as a major factor in that, the 2009 champion made hay by taking four wins from six available – missing out only on the reverse grid wins. Where his rivals’ performances have stuttered and stumbled, the Northern Irishman seems to have maintained his level of competitiveness since his return to the series last year, but where last year he was fighting to make up ground on his rivals, Turkington now has the car and the championship standing to allow him to properly fight for the title.

Teammate Rob Collard might not be in the same vein of form as Turkington, but fifth place in the standings represents a departure from his 2013 woes, having already surpassed his points total from last season. Nick Foster has at times shown the same speed, but a lack of consistency means he is 16th.

Reigning teams’ champion entrant Honda are used to winning in the BTCC, but the 2014 season has – so far, at least – fallen somewhat short of previous years. The team announced in December that they would compete with a brand-new model, the Civic Tourer, which became the first estate car to win a BTCC race after Gordon Shedden made a last-gasp lunge past Turkington at Donington Park.

But despite being a stalwart at the front of the grid, in truth the Tourer wasn’t the pacesetter at any of the first five rounds of the season, so for Shedden to have notched up two victories (his second came at Thruxton) and be just seven points shy of the championship lead means he has done arguably as impressive a job as his rival Turkington.

The 2014 season has however been one of the most difficult in Matt Neal’s career; the three-time champion has shown just as much speed as his teammate on occasion, but a spate of clashes with other driver means that Neal is now seventh in the championship, 101 points away from the summit. His fortune looked to have turned at Croft as he finished third on the road, only to be excluded for failing the ride height check.

Down the pitlane at Pirtek, it’s difficult to gauge how well Andrew Jordan’s season has panned out. Retaining his championship winning Civic hatchback, Jordan’s form when it mattered at the season-opening event at Brands Hatch looked ominous, but his third place in the standings can be largely attributed to a disastrous weekend at Oulton Park. Jordan’s deficit is a sizeable 28 points, but at the same he finds himself just five points short of his total from this time last year.

While that would suggest that Jordan still has every chance of retaining his crown, he admitted that consistency is the key ingredient in determining who wins the championship this year. A good start to the second half of the campaign is vital, but just how well the 25-year-old can perform at Snetterton depends on whether or not the penalty he picked up for contact with Fabrizio Giovanardi at Croft is enforced. The returning Martin Depper has turned more speed than his results suggest, but will be hoping to add to his tally after finally getting off the mark last time out.

But while Jordan’s season so far could be seen from two points of view, MG’s season has definitely been a disappointing one. The pace of Plato in particular during the first two events of the season was such that the outfit looked to have the best all-round package, but since then the two-time champion has scored just two third places, despite being the fastest driver on average across the five weekends. Despite claiming his second win in the championship, Tordoff has often languished in the bottom half of the top ten, and the team will certainly be hoping for a repeat of their form  at Snetterton from last year.

Returning champions

Joint-tenth is not where Fabrizio Giovanardi and Alain Menu were expected to be at this stage of the season. While the pair have plenty of pedigree and four titles between them, the BTCC of today is a different beast to the championship that they won their titles in (certainly in the case of Menu). Although Giovanardi has secured a podium, Swiss Menu has generally performed the better of the two, with his recovery drives showing that he has lost none of his racing nous. That said, while the Italian has struggled to an extent in his Airwaves Ford Focus, the fact that he is tenth on his return shows that he is using his experience to his advantage.

Differing debuts

Behind the likes of Turkington who have taken plenty of acclamation from those inside and outside the sport, Tom Ingram has been a revelation in his Speedworks Toyota Avensis. Debuting at Brands, the 20-year-old made an auspicious start in his first practice session, before wowing with a a sixth place in qualifying and going on to secure two top-ten finishes in his first two BTCC races, before crashing with Menu. The High-Wycombe born racer has gone on to secure a further five top-ten results, and on absolute pace across the five weekends he has been eighth quickest.

But while Ingram has thrived, the story is different among both debutant drivers and teams in 2014. Simon Belcher had a huge off at Thruxton in his Toyota and has otherwise secured a best result of 18th on two occasions. Marc Hynes and Jack Clarke, both of whom have experience in single seaters, have also struggled thus far but are showing signs of moving forward, while the United Autosports team are on the same path having endured a difficult start to life in the series.

What to expect at Snetterton

This weekend’s visit to Snetterton will be the fourth time that the TOCA ladder will have raced on the venue’s ‘300’ layout, which at 2.969 miles is the longest in the championship.

Fans are expected to flock to the circuit, with events on and off the circuit attracting tens of thousands, while the redevelopment of spectator areas when the new infield loop was added mean that Snetterton is one of the most fan-friendly locations in the country.

As for the racing, the weekend’s action is much harder to predict than usual, on historic grounds at least. Since 2011, Plato, Jordan and Shedden have each taken two wins, while last year the MG was the dominant car as Sam Tordoff claimed his maiden win.

Keep up to date with all of this weekend’s action on and by following @touringcarsnet.

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