• Shedden and Neal keen to add to eight previous victories at Rockingham
• Civic Tourer returns to scene of public debut at demanding Northants circuit
• Honda bidding to edge away in chase for manufacturers’ crown
Honda Yuasa Racing duo Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal are ready to rock as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship heads next to Rockingham this weekend (6/7 September) – with the title battle poised finely on a knife-edge.
Shedden has been a model of consistency throughout the 2014 campaign, tallying an astonishing 20 top seven finishes from 21 starts to-date. He arrives at Rockingham – a scene of four previous triumphs – firmly in touch in the chase for the coveted crown, in second position and just 23 points adrift of the top of the drivers’ table.
Incredibly, the Scot is the only driver in the 31-strong field to have finished every race inside the points this season, so it is with good reason that he insists he will not be changing his approach as the ‘business end’ of the campaign approaches apace.
“We’ve simply got to keep at it, push as hard as we can and absolutely maximise every available opportunity,” Shedden asserted. “The championship can very quickly turn on its head, and you just never know what’s going to happen. There’s almost a third of the season remaining and still plenty of racing left to be done.
“Although Knockhill wasn’t ultimately the weekend we had been hoping for, we still scored points in all three races – and when the BTCC is as competitive as it is this year, that’s the kind of consistency that championships are built on. It’s crucial to stay in the mix even when you don’t have the outright pace.
“The nature of the Rockingham layout has provided some pretty exciting racing over the years, and it has been reasonably kind to us in the past. It’s a totally different prospect to Snetterton and Knockhill and it has some pretty quick corners and high-speed sections – which is where the Civic Tourer truly excels.”
Indeed, Honda’s 2014 BTCC contender made its public debut around the Northants speed bowl back in January, and whilst he acknowledges that the car is now inevitably ‘quite a different animal’, Neal – a fellow four-time winner at Rockingham – is similarly confident of a strong weekend.
“It was nice to get the monkey off my back in the Civic Tourer at Knockhill, and I’m looking forward to Rockingham,” reflected the triple BTCC Champion. “I love the circuit, and being Midlands-based, it’s a fairly local track for me so I do receive a lot of support there from family and friends, which always helps you find that extra tenth-of-a-second.
“The racing is invariably close and pretty wild, which can only be good for the fans, and getting the car well hooked-up through Turns Four, Five and Six is a real test. The banking will certainly be a challenge if it’s wet, and in the technical infield section, the Civic Tourer should really come into its own. Hopefully, Rockingham will be a happy hunting-ground for us.”
Honda Yuasa Racing Technical Director Barry Plowman echoed those sentiments, reiterating that with almost 200 points still on the table between now and season’s end, the drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ laurels all remain well within reach – but there can, he stresses, be no margin for error for any of the leading protagonists.
“After a solid weekend at Knockhill, we head to Rockingham in confident mood,” he affirmed. “Both Gordon and Matt have a strong previous record there, and as the scene of the Civic Tourer’s public debut, it obviously holds special memories for Honda and the team as a whole.
“With its distinct blend of flat-out banking and the tight, twisty infield, Rockingham presents a unique challenge and a real test of set-up compromise. It will be important to hit the ground running from FP1 on Saturday morning, and three strong points-scoring finishes for both drivers on race day will be vital as the tension mounts in the title fight.”
All the action will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4 on Sunday, 7 September. The three BTCC races get underway at 11:35, 13:50 and 16:40.