The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship set off in sensational style at Brands Hatch this weekend (4/5 April) as Rob Collard, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal claimed a win apiece at the famous Kent circuit.
All three races went down to the wire with each winning margin being less than half a second.
Andy Priaulx grabbed the headlines in qualifying by taking pole position on his series return, although his season opener didn’t go entirely as hoped. Despite driving extremely well for the first half of the race, the performance in his soft tyres eventually fell away and the triple World Touring Car champion had to relinquish the lead to WSR team-mate Collard.
Experienced campaigner Collard produced his own faultless display, initially blasting from fifth on the grid up to second on the opening lap, before making his move for victory.
Team BMR duo Aron Smith and Jason Plato were also among those to nip by the fading Priaulx and the pair immediately tagged on to the back of the race-leading BMW 125i M Sport. Despite relentless pressure Collard held on to take the win in what will be the only non-ballasted race of the season.
The all-new Honda Civic Type R then went on to score a superb double with Shedden taking a memorable win that had the huge crowd on its collective feet.
It was two-time champion Plato who looked set for certain victory in race two before a late puncture put him in the gravel and out of contention. With the VW driver’s unfortunate challenge over, Priaulx set about attacking Shedden for what was now a fight for first.
Contact at McLaren gave Priaulx a big enough gap to squeeze his BMW through on the way down to Paddock Hill Bend, but the Scot immediately fought back with a stellar move down the inside at Druids. Priaulx settled back into second to re-evaluate his plan of attack, which was to come in dramatic fashion.
A tin-top tap from the Guernseyman on the last corner of the last lap led to both cars running side-by-side towards the finish line. Despite Priaulx’s fantastic efforts it was Shedden who held on to take one of the most enthralling and closest ever BTCC victories – winning by just 0.040s.
Turkington took the first podium of his championship defending campaign while Adam Morgan’s Mercedes took an unlikely, yet well deserved, fourth place finish after he had surged through from ninth on the grid.
Pole-sitter Rob Austin remained out front in the early stages of race three but the Exocet AlcoSense Racing driver couldn’t shake off the attentions of Neal and the MG of Jack Goff.
There would be changes aplenty in the top order, however, as Austin’s Audi succumbed to the race-long pressure. Neal made his move on lap 21, and was immediately followed through by Goff at Paddock Hill Bend.
Goff kept Neal honest throughout and although they couldn’t match the incredible closeness of the race two finish, the gap across the line of just 0.196s again went to show the ultra competitiveness of the BTCC. Team BMR’s Smith took his second podium of the day with third as he too got by Austin’s Audi following contact between Andrew Jordan’s MG and the long time race leader.
Former champions Turkington, Plato and Shedden all endured disappointing results in the final race but for differing reasons. Turkington spun his VW at Surtees and could only recover to finish 12th, while his team-mate Plato had his storm through the field halted by a problem. He was able to finish the race, albeit way down the order, while Shedden’s Honda did not make the final classification after an early pit stop to correct a misfire.
Matt Neal and Jack Goff share the championship lead after the opening event with Aron Smith a further point back. Just seven points separate the top six drivers. MG leads the early Manufacturers’ standings while Team BMR currently top the Teams’ table.
AmD Tuning.com driver Mike Bushell holds an advantage in the Jack Sears Trophy – open to rookie drivers in the championship – with Power Maxed Racing’s Josh Cook and Houseman Racing’s Stewart Lines in joint second.
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship now heads to Donington Park in Derbyshire over the weekend of 18/19 April.
Matt Neal said: “I’m over the moon. Two wins for the new car at its first race weekend – the Type R is back! It’s just fantastic, a brilliant weekend for the whole team. For the first two races it was Flash leading the charge, but for me to score a win here as well, it’s a massive bonus. Jack [Goff] kept me honest right to the end, but it was encouraging to see the car perform well on the soft tyre. Historically the Honda has always been kind to its tyres and it looks like this one is no exception. The weekend started off as a bit of a journey into the unknown, but the team’s performance this weekend has been brilliant.”
Jack Goff said: “It was a great race and a good result to end the weekend. There’s been a lot of hard work and commitment from sponsors to make sure I was back on the grid this season, so it’s good to be able to give them a strong result first time out. I think I need to practice my starts though! Once Matt got past off the line it was so hard trying to find a way through – unsurprisingly he really knows how to defend! We’ve got plenty more races this year to try and get that first win, but this result is testament to MG 888 Racing, they’ve given me a great car.”
Aron Smith said: “It’s been a really good effort from everyone this weekend. To come from 12th to 3rd in race three was great, and Team BMR have had a podium in every race – it’s brilliant. I think everyone is a bit surprised that I’ve come out of the weekend as top driver in the team, but for me I just want to keep upping my game to stay ahead. Donington Park should be strong for us, and the information that the new drivers and team members have interjected is phenomenal – the car is nearly where it needs to be.”
Andy Priaulx said: “It was fantastic fun! I thought I might just have got the win in race two but fair play to Gordon, it was a good fun, hard race. I saw the gap into Clearways – the Honda looked to be struggling mid-corner, but I’m still happy to be on the podium. I’m there at the front and that’s where we need to be, we are struggling with straight line speed though so we need to work on that, but with pole and a podium it’s been a great weekend back in the BTCC.
Gordon Shedden said: “Wow! A first win for the Honda Civic Type R before it’s even in the showrooms. We have a habit of building very fast cars at the last minute and winning first time out! Race two was exciting, I had a moment on the last lap with back markers which made it a photo finish, but you’ve only got to win by the tiniest of margins and they don’t come much smaller than that.”
Jason Plato said: “I haven’t had time to fully digest the weekend yet, but it’s full of positives. These kind of weekends happen from time to time, but we’ve come away with the teams’ trophy, and we could have had so much more. We could have had three podiums today, but we’re still in good spirits – we go to Donington Park confident of a good result.”
Rob Collard said: “First blood is absolutely key in this championship – to go out and command a victory like that is a great feeling. Overtaking Andy felt good too – I know he’s my team-mate but overtaking a world champion is always going to feel pretty special! I’ve got the most experience in this car and went a different direction to the other guys on tyre choice and it’s definitely paid off. I could see Andy was struggling and had to make the move before I came under pressure from behind. Any victory in the BTCC is a big deal, it’s been an epic day for the Collard family [Rob’s son Ricky won the earlier MSA Formula race].”
2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch Indy
1. Rob COLLARD (Team JCT600 with GardX): 24 Laps
2. Aron SMITH (Team BMR): +0.411s
3. Jason PLATO (Team BMR): +0.884s
4. Jack GOFF (MG Triple Eight Racing): +5.464s
5. Colin TURKINGTON (Team BMR): +5.726s
6. Gordon SHEDDEN (Honda Yuasa Racing): +5.819s
1. Gordon SHEDDEN (Honda Yuasa Racing): 24 Laps
2. Andy PRIAULX (Team IHG Rewards Club): +0.040s
3. Colin TURKINGTON (Team BMR): +1.131s
4. Adam MORGAN (WIX Racing): +4.646s
5. Andrew JORDAN (MG Triple Eight Racing): +5.229s
6. Tom INGRAM (Speedworks Motorsport): +5.566s
1. Matt NEAL (Honda Yuasa Racing): 27 Laps
2. Jack GOFF (MG Triple Eight Racing): +0.196s
3. Aron SMITH (Team BMR): +1.706s
4. Sam TORDOFF (Team JCT600 with GardX): +4.553s
5. Rob AUSTIN (Exocet AlcoSense Racing): +4.719s
6. Tom INGRAM (Speedworks Motorsport): +5.662s
Click here for the final classification from the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at Brands Hatch.