It was a Sunday sporting spectacle full of tension, drama and excitement - without a single damn penalty kick in sight!
Unlike the nation’s faltering football team, the fifth round of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship was an unadulterated viewing pleasure at Croft form start to finish.
The series’ ‘golden generation’ of Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato also lived up to all the hype, sharing the three wins to leave the drivers’ title finely poised.
In yet another BTCC afternoon to remember, three time champion Neal leads the standings by just a point from Honda team-mate Shedden as the championship enters a lengthy summer break before resuming at Norfolk’s Snetterton circuit on the weekend of August 11 and 12.
With ‘Flash’ and Neal tussling for top spot in the table, it’s unsurprising to see the Honda Yuasa Racing Team setting the pace in the HiQ Teams’ Championship.
The Worcestershire based outfit are already 123 points clear at the top of the table and, barring a surprise of England penalty success proportions, they will be taking home the HiQ silverware for a second successive season.
Worcestershire’s Neal set the fastest time in Saturday’s qualifying session to take pole position for the first of the races in his Civic. He dropped to third at the start but fought back to win ahead of eBay Motors BMW driver Robert Collard and Shedden and take over at the top of the points table.
Fife’s Shedden then responded with victory in the second race to re-claim the championship lead. Neal took the runners-up spot to complete a 1-2 result for Honda - it was also the seventh win in a row for the Team Dynamics-prepared factory Civics. Behind, Rob Austin took his first podium result of the season in third in his Rob Austin Racing Audi A4.
Having missed the first race because of mechanical problems with his car, Oxford’s Plato, who hails from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, won race three to end a six-year wins drought in front of his ‘home crowd’. Tom Onslow-Cole’s eBay Motors BMW and Andrew Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Honda Civic were second and third.
Fourth place for Neal was enough to move him back ahead in the title race from Shedden who finished the race in sixth. Plato remains third in the standings, some 29 points - 20 are awarded per race win - adrift of Neal.
Neal’s win was his fourth of the season and the reigning Champion commented: “I’m very pleased but all it does is give me the bragging rights for the next seven weeks before we get back to business. Plus maximum success ballast in my car for Snetterton! Our car, the Civic, is in a class of its own under braking and through the corners but we need to test during the break because Jason and Triple Eight Race Engineering who run the MG will come out all guns blazing in the second half of the season.”Dalgety Bay’s Shedden, now with an unrivalled six wins in 2012, said: “I don’t mind being second at this stage - the lead is going to keep on changing hands all the way until Finals Day in October. It’s great to get another win but it’s all about scoring as well as possible in every race. I think I’ve achieved that today so job done.”
Double Champion Plato’s win was his second this year and he added: “The win was crucial in making sure we keep the Hondas in sight but, as a team, we are still learning about the MG6. It’s important we manage our expectations but we have a few test days planned for the break and that will enable me to get more comfortable with the car and for the engineers to work their magic. I think we can still find another second per lap.”
HiQ Teams’ Points:
1. Honda Yuasa Racing Team, 422
2. eBay Motors, 2993. Pirtek Racing, 251
4. MG KX Momentum Racing, 2355. Redstone Racing, 218
6. Team ES Racing.com 105
2012 Dunlop BTCC Drivers’ Points after Croft (round 5 of 10):
1. Matt Neal, 221
2. Gordon Shedden, 2203. Jason Plato, 192
=4. Robert Collard & Andrew Jordan, 171
6. Mat Jackson, 139