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Donington preview – four-way fight at the front

We're set for a season-long battle between the top teams
It’s all to play for as we head to Donington Park for the second round of the British Touring Car Championship season, with round one at Brands Hatch providing us with few answers to the question of who has the fastest car.

Honda’s Matt Neal leads the standings after a victory in race three, but with four drivers from four different teams in the top four positions, and drivers further down the order with ground to make up after more difficult starts to the season than expected, the order is far from set in stone.

With the visit to Donington offering a very different prospect to the opening venue of the season, TouringCars.Net previews the series’ visit to the Leicestershire circuit, with a look at who’s in the pound seats and who’s still playing catch-up.

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BTCC supergrid

TouringCars.Net is pleased to welcome back the BTCC supergrid for a second season. 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 the early stages of the season, it’s Andy Priaulx who leads the way in his West Surrey Racing BMW 125i. The three-time World Touring Car Champion will be the only man this season to sit exactly on 100%, after securing a second pole in as many races in the championship – despite there being a 12-year gap between the two.

His closest challenger is Team BMR’s Árón Smith, who sits just clear of team-mate’s Jason Plato and Colin Turkington – who are virtually tied for third – having all, like Priaulx, set their fastest lap of the weekend during qualifying.

The rest of the top ten is completed mostly by usual suspects, although Tom Ingram continued his form over from 2014 at Brands Hatch and is currently ninth fastest. What’s also surprising is that despite leading the championship, Neal was only 11th on his best time from the weekend – a point perhaps stronger than any other that suggests the battle for the 2015 title will require a great deal of consistency, as well as speed.

12 drivers were within 101% of Priaulx’s fastest time, while the top 20 were under 102%. After a troubled weekend, Andy Wilmot’s Proton did not make it onto the chart, with his best time more than 8% outside of Priaulx’s.

Supergrid week one
The weekend in prospect

The changes made ahead of the 2015 season in truth probably had more of an impact on the opening weekend than we expected, and as such as we head to Donington the running order is even less clear than usual during the tender stages of the season.

Of course, we can say with some certainty that four teams – WSR, Triple Eight, Team Dynamics and Team BMR – and their drivers will be fighting things out at the front, but we were deprived of the opportunity to see them all fighting things out at the same time at Brands.

Triple Eight were arguably the one of the four leaving after the first weekend with the most work to do, but Jack Goff’s consistent scoring means that he shares the lead of the championship with Neal.

The MG-backed team will also be hoping for a repeat of last season’s visit to the Leicestershire circuit – where Plato and Sam Tordoff dominated the opening two races – while current drivers Goff and Andrew Jordan both have their own motivations to win – the former to claim a maiden victory in the championship, and Jordan to make up for a below-par start at Brands.

As if that wasn’t enough, race one also marks Triple Eight’s 500th race in the series. Having first entered at the start of the 1997 season, the team have 130 wins and another for either Goff or Jordan to kick-start the season wouldn’t go amiss in their fight for the championship.

Donington was the scene of Honda’s first win of 2014, but fast-forward a year and the team already has two wins to their name courtesy of a victory each for Neal and Gordon Shedden at Brands Hatch.

In truth, a late start to the pre-season meant that the team is still learning about its new Type R and it showed, but they were in no mood to turn down two victories a fortnight ago and, with Neal happy with the boost levels on the Honda for 2015 and a strong record at the circuit in recent years, expect the duo to be progressing through the field once again this weekend.

In terms of outright pace, WSR looked arguably the best at Brands; Priaulx set two times during qualifying that were good enough for pole, and he came mightily close to a win in race two.

Couple that with Rob Collard’s win in the opening race of the day, and you’d suggest that there would be every reason for the team to be bullish about their prospects at Donington.

But the two circuits are very different; while the BMW clearly performed well off the corners at Brands, Collard complained after the event about a big deficit in speed compared to his rivals, and feared that the nature of the circuit’s National layout – with two straights separated by a chicane – would challenge himself and his team-mates to be competitive.

Team BMR looked well sorted after an extensive winter testing programme, and were set for a win until Plato suffered a puncture with four laps left in the second race. In contrast to WSR, they’ll be looking forward to the visit to Donington with a first win of the season well within sight.

Elsewhere, Ingram and Adam Morgan were the two ‘best of the rest’ runners who mixed it with the big four at Brands, but the Rob Austin Racing duo of Austin and Hunter Abbott are optimistic that they can challenge them if they find the right operating window for their tyres.

The field is also expected to increase to 29 entries this weekend, with the Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing team having finalised Richard Hawken’s car after debuting with a sole Q50 for Derek Palmer at Brands Hatch and the Welch Motorsport pair of Dan Welch and Andy Wilmot expecting a normal weekend, the former having sat out the first race of the season with a broken ankle.

Form Guide

For once, it’s not the man you might expect at the top of the form guide charts. Plato may have won four times at the circuit in the past ten years, but it’s Shedden with seven wins since 2005 who tops bill. Neal shares Plato’s haul of four, while another four of the current crop have been victorious at Donington Park.

Gordon Shedden – 7
Jason Plato – 4
Matt Neal – 4
Andrew Jordan – 2
Colin Turkington – 2
Rob Collard – 1
Sam Tordoff – 1


We’re not quite expecting the heatwave that we experienced earlier in the week on either day at Donington, but things look to be settled over both days. Saturday should be pleasant enough for qualifying, although Sunday looks to be slightly cloudier, with highs of 13 or 14 degrees.

TouringCars.Net will be live from Donington Park with full coverage of this weekend’s action, which starts with first practice at 10:00AM tomorrow morning.

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