The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rumbles into Leicestershire’s Donington Park next weekend (18/19 April), with the 2015 season shaping up to be one of the most fiercely disputed in the series’ illustrious history.
Triple champion and West Midlands star Matt Neal declared this year’s championship ‘wide open’ after the 30-race campaign kicked off with three exciting and unpredictable contests at Brands Hatch over Easter. With tens of thousands of fans expected to watch a huge 29-car grid blast into the Park next time out there are sure to be yet more thrills, spills and surprises provided by Britain’s biggest motor sport series.
Some 11 manufacturers are represented in the championship, which is beamed live across the UK on free-to-air television via ITV4. Such has been the continued success of the BTCC that ITV has extended its live and exclusive television coverage to eight hours for the event at Donington. So whether you’re soaking up the atmosphere trackside or watching the action unfold from the comfort of your sofa, the BTCC looks set to bring more top class entertainment to the masses.
Talking point: Expect the unexpected
The BTCC is renowned for throwing up sensationally close and unpredictable racing, but few could have anticipated just how close the curtain-raiser event at Brands Hatch would turn out to be.
Three different race winners and a total of eight different drivers filled the nine podium positions, with Team BMR’s Aron Smith the only contender to reach the rostrum twice. WSR racer Rob Collard won the season opener from Smith and his esteemed VW team-mate Jason Plato. The winning margin was less than half a second, which proved to be a recurring theme throughout the day. That was never truer than in the second bout as Honda’s Gordon Shedden went side-by-side past the chequered flag with returning tin-top legend Andy Priaulx. The all-new Honda Civic Type R had just enough grunt to cross the line in front, a mere 0.040s ahead of Priaulx’s BMW.
Matt Neal and MG’s new signing Jack Goff tried to re-enact the earlier race in Brands’ thrilling finale, with the former holding off his younger rival by just over a tenth of a second, providing Honda with its second win of a hugely successful day.
Reigning champion Colin Turkington was another to take a podium, on his own debut for the fledgling Team BMR outfit, and such is the competitiveness of the series that the top six drivers in the standings are separated by just seven championship points.
Plato and Turkington set the pace in the VW CCs during pre-season testing at Donington Park, whilst 2013 champion Andrew Jordan will arrive at the former Grand Prix circuit with his MG free of success ballast and expecting to be fighting for wins.
The series produced a record 11 race winners in 2014, and there’s every chance that number could rise again this season, so it’s anyone’s guess as to who will come out on top in Leicestershire.
Local Heroes: Title chasers banking on home support
The spectator banking at the world famous Craner Curves is habitually packed full of race fans during a BTCC weekend, and there will be a number of local drivers counting on their support.
Stourbridge’s Matt Neal is one of the most successful competitors in the history of the BTCC. His triumph at Brands Hatch was his 54th victory and also made him the oldest winner of a British Touring Car race at 48. Age is only a number to Neal, however, as he’s targeting his fourth career championship, which would equal Andy Rouse’s long-standing record of four titles.
Neal said: “Donington is where I had my first ever BTCC win, so it’s got a lot of special memories for me. Historically the circuit has some great viewing areas, especially on the banks at Craner Curves – it’s an absolute classic place to watch motor sport. It’s a really flowing circuit so it always provides great racing and it’s a tough one to win. You need to have a good balance all round and a strong engine to do well.”
Lichfield-based Andrew Jordan has switched from Honda machinery to the manufacturer-backed MG squad this year, so he’s not just racing as a local driver but also for a local team with the British marque being based in nearby Longbridge. The 25-year-old experienced an indifferent weekend at Brands Hatch last time out but he’ll be looking to bounce back with a win at Donington, something he achieved on his way to claiming a maiden title in 2013.
There’s another local team on the grid with a pair of local drivers too, in the shape of Jeff Smith and Martin Depper with the Eurotech Racing squad. The outfit knows how to win, having taken Jordan to championship glory two years ago, but this time around they’ll be focusing on bringing home some solid points to kick-start their campaign.
Timetable and tickets:
The three BTCC races will take place on Sunday 19 April, with the entire race day being broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4 from 10:30am. What’s more, ITV will be live from Donington Park until 6:30pm for more pre and post-race analysis than ever before at the circuit. Audio commentary and live timing from every session will be available on the btcc.net Live Zone throughout the weekend.
Images from Jakob Ebrey/BTCC