On the back of a Knockhill weekend where only one BMW driver won a race – and not the man we expected to – TouringCars.Net previews the British Touring Car Championship’s visit to the unique Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire, as the series heads into the tail-end of the 2014 season.
The series supergrid
The supergrid takes each driver’s best time from every weekend and places that time against the fastest lap from that given event, to give a percentage of the ultimate pace. This process is then repeated for every race weekend, with an average across the completed events ranking each driver by their ultimate pace, relative to 100%.
In our second edition of the supergrid, there has already been one notable movement in the driver rankings. At the top, Colin Turkington has moved ahead of Jason Plato to become the fastest driver on average this season. Despite missing out on a win at Knockhill thanks to a grid penalty, the Northern Irishman posted the fastest time in qualifying by nearly half a second and as a result has cleared Plato, with the pair well ahead of Gordon Shedden.
Among the big movers was Rob Austin, after he set the third fastest time in qualifying. The Audi man was one of only two drivers (Sam Tordoff being the other) to set a lap within 101% of Turkington’s pace-setting time at Knockhill, and he can be expected to move closer to the top ten this weekend at a track where he scored his first podium and first win in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Austin’s teammate Hunter Abbott was another man to gain after he secured a career-best 12th on the grid, while Andrew Jordan recovered some ground after a nightmare showing at Snetterton previously.
The data also accounts for Dan Welch and Robb Holland’s absences from the Brands Hatch and Thruxton weekends respectively.
Rockingham poses a unique test for the BTCC package, with the the banked turn one forming part of the circuit’s Oval configuration – the UK’s only purpose-built speedway and one of two in Europe. The track then heads onto another straight, before reaching the Deene hairpin where the infield section starts. With a mix of high- and low-speed corners, the 1.94 mile, 11-turn International Super Sports Car circuit provides the teams and drivers with an intriguing challenge.
The weekend in prospect
Word in the paddock is to once again expect the eBay Motors cars to be pace-setters at Rockingham, despite their modest showing in recent years (Stephen Jelley was the last man to win in a BMW, in 2009). Nevertheless, with Turkington’s lead still at 23 points over Shedden in the championship – despite retiring from race one at Knockhill – and with no grid penalties to come into play, we can expect the championship leader to be in the leading pack. Teammate Rob Collard will also be full of confidence having secured his first win of the season last time out, while Nick Foster also secured a season’s best fourth.
That’s not to say that the competition should be ruled out; where word about West Surrey Racing’s potential speed this weekend is assumption based on the previous race weekends, the Honda cars have form at the circuit and can be expected to put in their strongest showing of 2014 so far. There are no more circuits where the track characteristics are clearly better suited to the BMW, and so for Shedden, the remaining nine races are where he will have to dig in to make up ground on Turkington.
While the Civic Tourer has by no means been the fastest car this season, Shedden’s consistent scoring in 2014 has kept him well in the title hunt and his previous success at Rockingham should serve him well, but the Scotsman will be hoping for a better showing in qualifying this weekend, having qualified outside of the top three in the previous couple of events.
Race One will meanwhile mark Austin’s 100th race in the series, as he aims to celebrate the occasion with a repeat of his breakthrough victory last year.
While we very much expect the BMWs to be dominant force this weekend, any victory for messrs Turkington, Collard or indeed Foster will be their first at the circuit. Much like Knockhill, Plato is the man with the most victories (five) to his name at Rockingham in the eight previous visits to the track. Honda’s Neal and Shedden both have four wins at the Speedway, with the latter having won twice in 2012 on his way to the title. Jordan enjoyed that same pattern last year as he secured his first wins at the track (before going on to land the title), while Austin scored his maiden BTCC victory in last year’s second race.
Jason Plato – 5
Matt Neal – 4
Gordon Shedden – 4
Fabrizio Giovanardi – 2
Andrew Jordan – 2
Rob Austin – 1
Mat Jackson – 1
Saturday in Northamptonshire looks to be mainly overcast, with a chance of showers ahead of first practice easing by the time the action kicks off. As for Sunday, the clouds look to break early on to give some clear skies with a high of 17 degrees with raceday set to be completely dry, in contrast to recent years.
Keep up to date with all of this weekend’s action on www.touringcars.net and by following @touringcarsnet.