Thoughts lingered at Silverstone that we might see the first early crowning of a champion since 1997, but despite four drivers seeing their slim hopes of clinching the British Touring Car Championship title ended, this season’s challenge has followed the form of recent years, as we head to the final round of the season at Brands Hatch with two drivers ready to battle it out for top honours. Colin Turkington is in the driving seat with just three rounds remaining, but Jason Plato still retains slender hopes of securing a third drivers’ crown. TouringCars.Net previews the weekend’s action, as we prepare for a thrilling end to the 2014 season.
With 12 Formula 1 British Grands Prix having been hosted around the circuit’s longer configuration between 1964 and 1986, Brands Hatch boasts a fine pedigree when it comes to races on a grand scale. A favourite with fans and drivers alike, the 2.30 mile, 11-turn circuit has some of the most recognisable corners in the world of motor racing, with the first turn at Paddock Hill, a blind right-hander that plunges downhill, perhaps the most famous.
What to expect – a tale of two drivers
Prior to the start of the season, much of the billing focused on the presence of seven champions on the grid, and while some have fared better than others during the 2014 campaign, it seems only fitting that the destination of the title remains unresolved until the final round of the season and with two of those former champions battling it out at the front.
Plato’s MG, whether on the Grand Prix or Indy configuration, has gone well in each of the three years it has raced at the circuit. The double champion has insisted for some time now that he is only interested in being ‘best of the rest’ behind Turkington, but the fact that he has managed to keep himself in contention until now proves that he is one of the most revered drivers in the world of touring cars. Make no mistake though – Plato would dearly love to add a third title to his name, and while it might take some doing, he will be well aware that he can achieve that feat this weekend.
Turkington – who has eight wins to Plato’s five this season – stated prior to the weekend that he would maintain his philosophy of ‘attack being the best form of defence’, but with weather conditions set to play their part at some point over the weekend, and a number of drivers still having a point to prove before they sign off for the season, the 32-year-old in addition to the pace of the MG at the track, and it soon becomes clear that that the title is by no means sealed.
His margin coming into the weekend might be somewhat stronger than the five-point lead he won his first championship lead with, but as Dick Bennetts pointed out, all it would take for the championship to swing would be for Turkington to have an incident similar to his teammate Rob Collard suffered last time out and be out for the weekend. It might therefore be the case that Turkington and Plato are not racing on the same piece of tarmac as we anxiously wait to calculate the various permutations that might play out.
Honda are expecting a return to form this weekend as they bid to end an unusually quiet campaign on a high. Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal have both been eliminated from the championship battle, and with only slim hopes of retaining their manufacturers’ title, podiums and wins will be the order of the day as the team look to add a gloss to a difficult season with the Civic Tourer, particularly after struggling so badly in the previous two rounds.
There are other scores to be settled further down the championship order, too. Despite a season’s best performance from Alain Menu and Aron Smith at Silverstone two weeks ago, the pair remain locked in a battle with Adam Morgan and Rob Austin for the final two spots in the top ten of the overall championship, with the latter pairing having suffered trying weekends when their rivals were on form.
The weekend also offers the last opportunity for Simon Belcher, Aiden Moffat, Christ Stockton, Dan Welch, Ollie Jackson and the recently-returned Luke Hines to score points this season. Unpredictable weather conditions may provide the opportunity for one of the six to get their name on the leader board, but with bold predictions coming into the year the final standings will nevertheless point to a disappointing campaign for the Proton’s of Welch and Jackson, who have been mired at the rear of the field for much of the season.
After Robb Holland announced that he would not be racing this weekend due to clashing commitments, there was bad news for his stand in Tony Gilham, who will now no longer be competing this weekend with the Rotek Racing team unable to repair their car after the damage it sustained in a crash with James Cole at Silverstone proved too big a task to fix in time.
As usual, a great atmosphere is expected at Brands, with as many as 40,000 people expected in attendance, and there is nothing else in British Touring Cars quite like the light fading as the final race of the day finishes, bringing a poignant end to another fantastic season of racing.
Here’s where things get interesting. Despite sealing the 2009 title on the Grand Prix circuit, Turkington has never been victorious on the longer layout, while by Plato has seven victories in his name – including the three he scored in one day in that same year.
Alain Menu also has a stellar record at the circuit, and another win would be a fantastic end to a mixed return to the series for the two-times champion, and might just tempt him to stay on for 2015. The Honda duo of Neal and Shedden are also multiple victors on the configuration, and will be hoping to add to their tally with a return to competitiveness.
Plato – 7
Menu – 5
Neal – 3
Shedden – 2
Jackson – 1
Smith – 1
Collard – 1
The previous two years at Brands Hatch have been a washout, and for Saturday at least, that pattern looks set to be repeated. Heavy rain is forecast for the duration of the day’s timetabled events, but while the picture for Sunday looks to be decidedly drier, the split between the two days could add an extra element of excitement to the championship complexion, with difficult Saturday conditions and a lack of dry running proving to be two very important issues for the teams and drivers to contend with.