Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mates Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal have pinpointed qualifying form as the key to a strong weekend as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship heads north to Oulton Park for its next high-speed showdown (20/21 May).
There was no touching the two Honda drivers in qualifying at Thruxton last time out, as a front row lockout of the starting grid paved the way to a trio of top four results for Shedden and a 60th BTCC victory for Neal – drawing the three-time champion level with tin-top legend Andy Rouse on the all-time winners’ list.
Whilst they acknowledge that similar single-lap speed will be a tall order at Oulton – a circuit that historically favours rear wheel-drive machinery and whose layout does not tend to be kind to cars carrying success ballast – both Halfords Yuasa Racing men are fired-up for the challenge ahead.
Shedden will enter the weekend sitting second in the Drivers’ standings, with Neal aiming to haul himself up the order from seventh following a degree of misfortune over the opening three outings of the campaign – and doubtless buoyed by having won the most recent BTCC race at Oulton Park just under 12 months ago.
“Oulton Park is great fun to drive, but I’m fully expecting a tough weekend – probably one of our toughest, in fact. It has traditionally been a rear wheel-drive circuit because they can pull away from the hairpins quicker, but Honda cars have generally been competitive there too, we’ve scored some good results over the years and the Civic Type R is a very well-balanced piece of kit. Being so difficult to pass at Oulton, qualifying could be make-or-break so I’ll really need to dig deep to pull something special out of the bag, particularly with 66kg of ballast on-board and the stop-start nature of the lap. The aim will be to make it as far up the grid as I can, although if I don’t manage to crack the top ten – which is a real possibility – then it will come down to playing the long game. The bottom line is that we’re in a better position in the championship than we were this time last year, and without the exclusion at Donington we would be in the lead. Whilst it’s obviously disappointing not to be, we tend to get stronger over the second half of the season as we get to tracks that suit us a bit more, so there’s every reason to be optimistic right now.”
“I’m looking forward to Oulton Park; it’s a weekend that usually enjoys good weather and always attracts an enthusiastic crowd, which creates a great atmosphere. It’s true that the hairpins will suit the rear wheel-drive cars more than front wheel-drive, but I wouldn’t describe it as one of their ultra-competitive circuits. We’ve had some good results there with the Civic Type R in the past and this year’s car is very strong, so I’m hopeful of being able to take the fight to them. Weight will definitely play more of a role than it did at Thruxton, so I really need to take advantage of the fact that I’m still relatively light in qualifying and race one and get in the mix. Qualifying will be critical as it’s not easy to overtake at Oulton. I’ve got to be aiming for the front two rows of the grid and then targeting the podium – and if I can come away with another win, that would be perfect. I’m a little way behind in the championship at the moment and I’m obviously not going to make that deficit up in just one weekend but it’s still very early days and as I keep saying, ‘Flash’ was down in ninth position at the halfway stage last year and came back to win the title, so nothing is impossible.”
1. Tom Ingram 131 points
2. Gordon Shedden 114 points
3. Colin Turkington 112 points
4. Rob Collard 103 points
5. Adam Morgan 96 points
6. Jack Goff 89 points
7. Matt Neal 73 points
1. BMW 259 points
2. Honda 225 points
3. Vauxhall 188 points
4. Subaru 159 points
5. MG 127 points
1. Team BMW 209 points
2. Halfords Yuasa Racing 181 points
3. Speedworks Motorsport 127 points
4. Eurotech Racing 110 points
5. Ciceley Motorsport 96 points
6. Adrian Flux Subaru Racing 65 points