BTCC title race blown wide open at Knockhill

Rob Collard, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal took a victory apiece during an unforgettable day of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship racing at Knockhill (23 August).

A number of title protagonists experienced highs and lows, leaving the championship race tantalisingly poised with three events remaining.

West Surrey Racing’s Andy Priaulx scored his second pole position of the season by setting a qualifying lap record on Saturday, but it would be his team-mate Collard that scooped victory in today’s opening race.

Priaulx blasted his BMW 125i M Sport off the line and into the lead, but he immediately had the Ford Focus of Mat Jackson on his tail. Guernseyman Priaulx succumbed to Jackson’s attack before the end of the first tour while Motorbasestablemates Collard and Sam Tordoff went side-by-side for third. With the BMWs looking after its Dunlop SportMaxx tyres, all three WSR drivers were absolutely flying in the final third of the race. Priaulx attacked Jackson for the lead on the exit of the hairpin but a robust defence from the Motorbase Performance driver forced the triple world champion wide, allowing Collard to inherit second. Collard tried the same move on Jackson shortly after and he was able to slide his 1-Series down the inside of the white #4 machine. Jackson again tried to defend but this time he was helpless in his attempt to prevent the WSR man from taking the lead. Jackson and Priaulx elbowed their way to the finish but the rostrum order remained the same, with Tordoff close behind in fourth.

Shedden brought the house down in race two as thousands upon thousands of partisan fans roared their man home to victory. The Scotsman hounded the fast-starting Ford Focus of Jackson during the opening exchanges before pulling off a surprise manoeuvre at Clark’s on lap five. It was the sort of brilliant move synonymous with Shedden’s attacking driving style and the 2012 champion never looked back, cruising to an unassailable lead in the process.
Jackson clung on to second position for 25 laps before he was shuffled back by race one winner Collard, again showing the BMW 1-Series’ ability to maintain its pace until the finish of a gruelling contest. Collard’s result was all the more impressive considering he started from fourth on the grid and had maximum success ballast on board his WSR machine.

If Shedden’s move for victory in race two was impressive then it was arguably bettered by his Honda  Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal in a thrilling finale at the 1.27-mile Fife circuit.The Civic Type R racer kept his powder dry for 24-laps before dive-bombing past race-long leader Adam Morgan on the penultimate lap. The Mercedes duo of Morgan and Aiden Moffat made a stellar formation getaway from the front row and stormed into a comfortable one-two in the early laps.

Neal had to fend off the attention from old rival Jason Plato during the opening squabbles for position before the VW began to drop back. As Neal hauled his Honda towards the three-pointed-star machines ahead of him, Plato was falling into the clutches of the chasing pack. The Audi of Rob Austin initially headed a gaggle of contenders behind them while the BMWs of Priaulx and Tordoff were busy scything their way through the order.

Young gun Tordoff passed race two winner Shedden before making an eye-catching double move around the outside of both Jackson and the MG of Andrew Jordan. It all came to nothing for Tordoff, however, after contact with Austin sent him spiralling out of the race.

Priaulx had already seen off Austin’s Audi before fighting with Team BMR RCIB Insurance racer Plato for fourth. A touch across the line was followed by another slight tap on the next tour, which allowed both Priaulx and Austin to get by the double BTCC champion.

Priaulx then tried several attempts to make a move into third having closed down Moffat’s Mercedes at a rate of knots. Staunch defending from youngster Moffat led to a bump on the exit of the hairpin before Priaulx nudged his way past on the penultimate lap. Priaulx’s podium joy was short lived, however, as the clerk of the course issued him with a 3.5 second post-race time penalty for making the pass under yellow flag conditions.

The result marked a significant turnaround for Laser Tools Racing’s Moffat who was taken to hospital with concussion following an accident at Snetterton two weeks ago. Having been cleared to race this weekend by the BTCC Medical Team it was a fitting effort from the Scotsman as he went on to score a very popular home rostrum – his first ever in the BTCC.

Back to the race itself and all eyes were on the lead battle, which would eventually be resolved in spectacular fashion. Following a safety car period Morgan’s Mercedes haemorrhaged time to Neal’s chasing Honda in the latter stages of the race. An unfortunate moment was to follow for Morgan as his WIX Racing A-Class collected debris that had fallen from a backmarker. With Morgan’s car now unsettled, Neal eyed his opportunity, before making an absolutely banzai move down the inside at the hairpin. Morgan kept him honest for the final tour but his fate was sealed as Neal fired across the line to take another memorable victory.

Despite his relatively low-key weekend by his very high standards, Jason Plato still tops the standings by 11 points from Gordon Shedden, with Matt Neal just behind in third. Colin Turkington, Andrew Jordan, Andy Priaulx and Sam Tordoff all remain in the mix with just over 40 points blanketing the top seven drivers.

Honda lead the Manufacturers/Constructors table while Team BMR currently hold a treble top in the respective Teams’ and Independents’ orders.

Despite narrowly missing out to Mike Bushell in the opening race, Josh Cook took wins in the next two bouts to extend his advantage in the Jack Sears Trophy.

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship now moves on to Rockingham in Northamptonshire in two weeks’ time (5/6 September).

CollardRob Collard said: “The BMW was really flying today. It’s a credit to the guys, after the weekend we had at Snetterton – they’ve been working so hard on the car and we’ve got some brilliant results. The BTCC is always tough, and it was a hard fight for the win and the podium today with the likes of Mat Jackson and Andy Priaulx. To grab another win at Knockhill is brilliant, there’s something in the air here and it’s a privilege to race around such a great circuit.”

Gordon Shedden said: “It was a brilliant feeling to get onto the top step of the podium in Scotland! The Honda Civic Type R is awesome around here, and on a fantastic sunny day at Knockhill I’m so happy to have got a win. We scored good team points, good manufacturer points and it’s exactly what we needed. I did a good job in qualifying with maximum ballast, and we made the best of it in race one before the car really came alive in the next one – it was one of those races where everything was just working great. To be fair the car was awesome in race three as well, I just got stuck in the pack a little. All the good work from earlier in the weekend could have been undone with a non-score in race three, so it was important to bring the car home. Overall it’s been a special day – the crowd has been absolutely amazing, there wasn’t a single gap in the line of fans all the way around the circuit and it’s been one of those weekends that has been proper top draw.”

Matt Neal said: “We thought we’d be strong at Snetterton and weak here, but it really just shows you how quicklyNeal everything can turn around in the BTCC! To bounce back with two wins for the team, it just shows the hard work everyone is putting in and how good the Type R is. We’re looking forward to Rockingham, but the VWs will be strong and the BMWs go well there too so we’ll all be in the mix. In race three I was chipping away just in case, and with three laps to go Adam [Morgan] picked up a bit of debris and I thought he was out of it. I was going to go for a move but because I thought he was going to retire I didn’t, and I thought I’d missed my opportunity! On the second to last lap he defended the inside but as he cut back he left just enough space for me to get up the inside – it made for a great end to the day.”

Mat Jackson said: “It was a bit exciting at times today! The pace of the car has been fantastic, but we’re still learning how the tyres and ballast works this year, which means we’ve struggled a bit over race distances today. There was some great racing with Gordon [Shedden] and Rob [Collard], and that’s what we’re here for. We’ve been strong here, and I think we’re going to tracks now where we’ll be even stronger, so I can’t wait to get back on-track.”

Adam Morgan said: “It’s always great to put the WIX Racing Mercedes back on the podium. I’d driven a really good race right up until the point I collected the debris – there was nothing I could do to avoid it which is a bit of a shame, but it’s more points in the bag and a brilliant result for all our sponsors and everyone at the team.”

Aiden Moffat said: “It was a bit frustrating to begin with, and while fourth would still have been our highest position, to actually get the podium is a great feeling! We’ve had so much support here today, to get a podium anywhere would have been great, but to get it at home is really special. Sitting and watching the racing on Sunday at Snetterton was the most frustration I’ve experienced, so it made me even more hungry to get back out there and get the job done. We were over the moon with a top ten in race two, so to go from there to the podium is fantastic. We’ve had some really good days this year – every time we go out we learn more and more. Today it was about defending, and now it’s nice to be rewarded for the hard work. Looking behind you and seeing Matt Neal and Jason Plato, who have been in this championship since before I was born, was pretty daunting. Then to have triple World Champion Priaulx catch me didn’t make it much easier! We managed to technically hold on to the podium, and it’s a big thing for us especially after Snetterton. We thought it would be a long time before we ever achieved it, so to do it now is mega.”

Jason Plato said: “From where we were in qualifying it was a really good weekend. We’ve really rescued it – I’ve only lost five points. We’re going to three circuits now where there are longer corners – the problem with Knockhill is it just doesn’t suit our car. It’s just the way it is, but this is the only circuit on the calendar with these characteristics, so I’m pleased with the weekend. We tested recently at Rockingham so we’ve got a good set-up for both race and qualifying. It’s game on – we’ve got this out of the way now, and I’m going home pleased.”

Colin Turkington said: “A very difficult day – we’ve been struggling for pace all weekend really. We did a really good job in qualifying to get as far up as we did, but we’ve been clinging on ever since. It was really unlucky in race two with Andy [Priaulx], if we’d made contact anywhere else it would have been OK but as it was it broke my suspension. I think our performance will be a lot stronger at Rockingham than here, and the next few tracks should suit our car better too. It’s harder than ever in this championship, but we’ll keep working hard and regain some ground. It’s up and down and that’s how it’s going to be until the end.”

2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Knockhill

Race 1
1.    Rob COLLARD (Team JCT600 with GardX): 25 Laps
2.    Mat JACKSON (Motorbase Performance): +1.720s
3.    Andy PRIAULX (Team IHG Rewards Club): +1.891s
4.    Sam TORDOFF (Team JCT600 with GardX): +2.734s
5.    Gordon SHEDDEN (Honda Yuasa Racing): +7.820s
6.    Matt NEAL (Honda Yuasa Racing): +7.925s

Race 2

1.    Gordon SHEDDEN (Honda Yuasa Racing): 27 Laps
2.    Rob COLLARD (Team JCT600 with GardX): +3.419s
3.    Mat JACKSON (Motorbase Performance): +4.371s
4.    Andrew JORDAN (MG Triple Eight Racing): +4.946s
5.    Andy PRIAULX (Team IHG Rewards Club): +5.219s
6.    Rob AUSTIN (Exocet AlcoSense): +5.831s

Race 3

1.    Matt NEAL (Honda Yuasa Racing): 25 Laps
2.    Adam MORGAN (WIX Racing): +0.350s
3.    Aiden MOFFAT (Laser Tools Racing): +11.923s
4.    Andy PRIAULX (Team IHG Rewards Club): +12.107s
5.    Rob AUSTIN (Exocet AlcoSense): +12.372s
6.    Jason PLATO (Team BMR): +13.620s

Click here for the final classification from the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at Knockhill.