Four Will Become One
Submitted on October 15th 2012 14:46 by Chris Ashby.
With the final round of the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship under a week away, it is now time to dissect each of the championship contender’s season and how they stack up against each other as they fight for the biggest crown in British motorsport.
Four men will enter the meeting at the historic Brands Hatch GP circuit but only one will leave as champion. Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato, Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan are separated by 61 points with a maximum of 67 available at the Kent track on the weekend.
Championship leader Gordon Shedden heads into the decider on 364 points after picking up two sevenths and a sixth at Silverstone. The Honda Yuasa driver had a troubled start at round one after electrical gremlins hampered his weekend but the Fife charger bounced back at the next two rounds at Donington Park and a monsoon swept Thruxton by claiming four wins from the six races. Four more wins followed in the season for ‘Flash’ to allow him to enter the finale with a fantastic chance of claiming his first crown. However like any of Shedden’s season there has been jaw dropping moments that could have wrecked all of the hard work put in by the Scot. A fire at Snetterton in free practice looked to have written that weekend off but the incredible hard work from Team Dynamics can’t be ignored as they repaired the NGTC Honda Civic for race day. At a wet Rockingham the championship leader performed one of the most amazing pieces of car control seen in recent history as he saved a lured slide at the infamous turn one at 120mph which proved pivotal as he went onto win the race which could become vital next weekend.
Jason Plato returned to Triple Eight Engineering for this season to debut in the KX Momentum MG6 which prior to free practice at Brands Hatch in April hadn’t turned a wheel. With the MG name back in the championship and the record race winner behind the wheel there was an air of optimism of what could be achieved. What has been achieved is six victories and five pole positions and the never give up race craft attitude that comes with the double champion. Plato took a win in the third race at the season opener to leave the first event on top of the standings. Plato continued to lead the championship until Oulton Park through consistency however the lack of pre-season testing began to show as the MG6 encountered problems which forced him to be pushed off pole position at Oulton. The second win of the season came in round 15 at Croft but after a summer break of re-engineering the car Plato returned to win four races which included a storming 20th to 1st victory at Silverstone last time out and show that the MG6 is a potent weapon. The Oxfordshire racers consistency had dropped off though with a poor weekend at Knockhill being his lowest points score from a race meeting in the season could prove vital as the BRDC ambassador enters Brands trailing by 15 points.
Coming into the 2012 season Matt Neal was looking to add a record fourth title to his illustrious career as he embarked on a season with the new NGTC Honda Civic. A season that had been reminiscent of his 2005 & 2006 title winning years with grinding results and collecting solid points turned sour with three DNF’s at Silverstone dropping him to third in the standings and 31 points behind his team mate Shedden. Neal gave the brand new NGTC Civic its first victory in the championship in the second race on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit however then victory eluded the triple champion until Oulton Park as the Honda’s took a clean sweep with Neal winning twice. The one and only pole position for the Team Dynamics outfit came at Croft as the experienced racer took his fourth and last victory in the 2012 season. The yearly on track confrontation with Plato lost Neal points as well as sustaining a broken hand before the Rockingham event meaning it is going to be an uphill battle to claw back the leaders and defend his crown.
The youngest driver in the quartet is Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan who is going into Finals Day with his first realistic shot at the outright title. Jordan has shown maturity in his driving this year and having the same machinery as the Honda Yuasa drivers has been a major boost. Although the youngster has only claimed a solitary victory, it has been his consistency that keeps him in contention for the title. Opportunism at Snetterton when Plato and Neal made contact allowed Jordan to win, as well as one win the youngster has only had one pole position. But the manner in which he collected that pole was unbelievable and became a YouTube sensation. Jordan tackled the wet conditions at Thruxton fighting the car the whole lap to be nearly a second of Plato. Using his rally cross experience over the course of the season has assisted Jordan keeping his car on the track in hair raising situations. It’s worth remembering though that the Pirtek driver is also entering Brands Hatch leading the Independents Championship. Jordan has already said that his focus will be the Independents title, with Rob Collard his main rival but surely if luck goes his way the Team Eurotech driver will launch a major assault on the three ahead of him.
The iconic Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is one that should play to the strengths of both the Honda Civic and MG6 albeit the boost levels are unconfirmed yet. Shedden is in the driving seat as he sets out to become the first Scottish driver since John Cleland to win the title. The ace up the Fife racers sleeve could be his team mate Matt Neal. The defending champion may fall out of the title battle at some point meaning he can be wingman for Shedden and provide more problems for Jason Plato. It’s not just the top four that are going to be taking points off each other but also other drivers such as Mat Jackson, Tom Onslow-Cole, Frank Wrathall and Dave Newsham will want to finish their seasons on a high and could prove pivotal in the destination of this year’s trophy.
Every point will count and the race for the first point begins on Saturday with qualifying which takes place at 15:30 which can be seen on www.itv.com/btcc . ITV4’s coverage will begin at 10:30 before race one kicks off at 11:30. Three races to go and only one can become champion……..