Gordon Shedden heads into the mid-season break in the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship a scant seven points adrift of the top of the title standings and poised to pounce following a stellar weekend at Croft.
Counting it as his second home circuit after Knockhill and with three previous victories to his credit around the challenging and popular North Yorkshire venue, ‘Flash’ travelled to Croft sitting nine points shy of the championship lead.
Shedden wasted little time in underlining his intentions by placing his Honda Yuasa Racing Civic Tourer an excellent third on the race one grid – a fraction ahead of team-mate Matt Neal in fourth.
A superb start immediately propelled the 2012 BTCC Champion into second position when the lights went out. After initially shadowing the race leader, he subsequently settled for the runner-up spoils to consolidate his bid for a second drivers’ crown.
Neal was less fortunate, finding himself tagged and knocked sideways on the opening lap, sending him tumbling down the order to eighth from where he recovered to take the chequered flag sixth, right in the wheeltracks of the podium scrap. A post-race penalty for his assailant promoted the three-time title-winner to fifth.
Shedden again kept the leader honest for much of race two en route to a second consecutive runner-up finish and his eighth podium of what has been a supremely consistent start to the campaign.
Neal, meanwhile, was in particularly feisty form. After getting the better of an early tussle with fellow Honda driver Andrew Jordan, he set about chasing down age-old adversary Jason Plato, pulling off a breathtaking manoeuvre to steal fourth place through the ultra-fast Barcroft and Sunny section on lap five.
The 47-year-old then set his sights on Rob Collard in third, rapidly reeling his rival in and battling his way past on lap 11 on the approach to the Jim Clark Esses to claim the final podium spot.
Sadly, a post-race ride-height failure led to exclusion from the results and meant Neal would have to begin race three from the very rear of the grid – on the apex of the final turn from where he could not even see the starting lights. His misfortune was compounded when he was taken out in a three-car accident only six laps in.
Luckily, the race was much kinder to Shedden, who boldly and assertively fought his way through from eighth on the reversed grid up into third, briefly trading paintwork with Mat Jackson in a thrilling side-by-side duel for the bottom step on the rostrum. Although the Scot prevailed, he was demoted to fourth by a post-race penalty after being deemed to have gained an unfair advantage.
“Ultimately, we came away with a cracking points haul and three fantastic results – particularly given all the chaos that was kicking off in race three!” he reflected, having narrowed the deficit at the top of the drivers’ classification from nine points to seven. “The Civic Tourer was great and looked after the soft tyres extremely well – I really couldn’t have asked for much more from it.
“This is the first time I’ve actually scored points in every single race over the first half of the year – and consistency is what will win this championship. I am admittedly a little frustrated that we couldn’t challenge for the win in the first two races, but we’ve now got five weeks to come up with something that enables us to turn the tables and really step it up a gear over the second half of the season.”
“I’m beginning to wonder what I must have done in a previous life!” quipped Neal, who continues to be plagued by poor fortune but vowed to regroup over the summer hiatus and come back fighting at Snetterton at the beginning of August. “It was one of those days again for me.
“The weekend started off well enough in qualifying and the car was on fire in the first two races – the podium was definitely on the cards in race one if I hadn’t been tagged on the first lap. Essentially, that dictated the rest of my day, because we had to change the splitter after the contact and that resulted in the car failing the ride-height test after race two.
“Race three was just like bumper cars with carnage everywhere – and because I was trying to fight my way through, I unfortunately became one of the victims. It was obviously hugely disappointing to lose team and manufacturer points, but on the positive side, it was a great weekend for ‘Flash’ and as a team, we’re still very much in the hunt in all three championships.”
Neal’s sentiments were echoed by Honda Yuasa Racing Team Manager Peter Crolla, who revealed that the focus is already firmly turned towards the second half of the campaign.
“That was definitely a weekend of two halves,” he reflected. “We were very happy with qualifying and confident of some strong finishes from there. Gordon kept his head down, worked hard with his race engineer Eddie Hinckley and really wrung the car’s neck to extract the best results he possibly could.
“He didn’t put a foot wrong throughout, and his reward was to come away with a great clutch of very solid results. For his championship bid, it was a fantastic outcome – he really couldn’t have done very much more.
“Matt, on the other hand, had a far more difficult time of things. The damage he picked up at the start of race one meant we had to change quite a lot of bodywork on the car ahead of race two – which through unfortunate circumstances, led to a disqualification. Consequently starting from the very back of the grid in race three was always going to be a tremendous uphill struggle.
“That now leaves him with some significant ground to make up in the standings going into the second half of the season, but both drivers will support each other 100 per cent and work together to make sure they bring home the best results possible for themselves and the team.”