An unprecedented five drivers – Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Gordon Shedden, Mat Jackson and James Nash – will all go into the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s nail-biting final round of 2011 at Silverstone in Northamptonshire in a fortnight’s time (15-16 October) still able to be crowned Champion following today’s penultimate three races of the season at Brands Hatch in Kent.
In hot weather and in front of a huge trackside crowd plus a live ITV4 audience, Oxford’s Plato (pictured) won both of today’s first two races from pole position in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze to move briefly past Neal and Shedden to the top of the standings.
Both his Honda Racing Team rivals needed to make pit stops to have punctured tyres replaced on their Civics in the first race and could only manage seventh and eighth spots in the second. But in the day’s final encounter, contested by a record-equalling 29-car BTCC grid, they struck back as Worcestershire’s Neal led Fife’s Shedden across the line to achieve a 1-2 result for their Honda squad. Plato was back in sixth meaning Neal had regained the championship lead – the 11th time it has changed hands this season.
Meanwhile second place results in both opening races followed by fifth in the third for Warwickshire’s Jackson in his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus have helped keep alive his title hopes. Fourth, sixth and third places in his 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra mean Buckinghamshire’s Nash also remains in with a chance.
The five will go to Silverstone in the following order – Neal, Plato and Shedden (tied), Jackson and Nash – with 44 points covering them and a possible maximum of 52 to play for in the finale. Nash and Jackson will also thrash it out for the Independents Trophy for drivers in privateer teams – 17 points separate them with a potential 45 still available from the season’s final three races.
Neal, from Droitwich Spa who won back-to-back BTCC titles in 2005 and 2006, said: “A 1-2 in race three is a relief because at one stage today it really looked like the title was slipping through our fingers through some bad luck. Being back in the lead means my car will start the Silverstone weekend carrying the maximum 45kgs of success ballast, but I’d rather have points in the bag any day.”
Plato, the defending Champion and who also won the crown back in 2001, added: “Realistically I think that’s as far as we can go. We’ve made up some massive ground today, but Silverstone is going to be ideally suited for cars with turbo engines, which we don’t have. It will need something very strange to happen there to stop the Hondas, but never say never…”
Shedden, from Dalgety Bay, said: “Today hasn’t been an easy ride for us, but everyone in the Honda team has dug deep and it’s great to end the day on a high. I have experience of being involved in the title fight on Finals Day from last year, but I’m still sure it’s going to get a bit tense on the day between the five of us.”
Jackson and Nash are very much the outsiders, but each believes the title is still possible while also keeping an eye on the other in their Independents battle. Jackson, from Henley-in-Arden, said: “It’s game on, isn’t it? I think Silverstone will really suit our car, the Focus, and while beating James to the Independents title would be nice it’s the big prize we’re all after.” Nash, from Newport Pagnell, added: “We consistently keep picking up strong results which will be important on what’s probably going to be a very unpredictable day at Silverstone. My main goal has to be the Independents championship, but you never know…”
Meanwhile today also saw Plato’s team-mate Alex MacDowall and Tom Onslow-Cole in his Team Aon Ford Focus stand on the BTCC podium as they each achieved a third place finish, in races one and two respectively.
Elsewhere, Honda/Dynamics and the Honda Racing Team have virtually assured themselves of the BTCC’s coveted Manufacturers/Constructors and outright HiQ Teams championships. But it is still very much to play for in the Independent Teams Trophy, with just 15 points between leader 888 Racing with Collins Contractors and Airwaves Racing and a possible 45 on offer at Silverstone.
2011 Dunlop BTCC Drivers’ Points after Brands Hatch (round 9 of 10):
1. Matt Neal, 225 points
2. Jason Plato & Gordon Shedden, 220
4. Mat Jackson, 189
5. James Nash, 181
6. Andrew Jordan, 127
7. Tom Chilton, 116
8. Robert Collard, 105
9. Paul O’Neill, 91
10. Alex MacDowall, 84
1. Honda/Dynamics, 556
2. Chevrolet/RML, 463
3. Arena/Ford, 383
HiQ Teams’ Points:
1. Honda Racing Team, 406
2. Silverline Chevrolet, 273
3. Airwaves Racing & 888 Racing with Collins Contractors, 183
5. WSR, 153
6. Team Aon, 150
Independent Drivers’ Points:
1. James Nash, 253
2. Mat Jackson, 236
3. Andrew Jordan, 181
4. Tom Chilton, 174
5. Robert Collard, 151
6. Paul O’Neill, 144
Independent Teams’ Points:
1. 888 Racing with Collins Contractors, 268
2. Airwaves Racing, 253
3. WSR, 212
4. Team Aon, 208
5. Pirtek Racing, 197
6. GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed, 168
*All points remain provisional