Rockingham was the destination for round 8 of the BTCC and, as has seemingly become the norm this season, bought about it more driver changes. This time it was the turn of West Surrey Racing as Andy Prilaux was away racing for Marc VDS in the European Le Mans Series so long time driver Nick Foster was drafted in to replace the multiple world champion. Hunter Abbot would be back behind the wheel of his Rob Austin Racing Exocet Alcosense Audi A4, having become a father last time out and Nicolas Hamilton would be back with his AMDessex A3 Audi
Qualifying saw Mat Jackson take pole in his Motorbase Ford Focus, Motorbase certainly hit the ground running on their BTCC return and, although running lighter in qualifying it does make you wonder what Jackson could have achieved this year should he had been on the grid at Brands Hatch in April! Aron Smith got the better of his esteemed team mates to become the top BMR driver, placing his RCIB Insurance VW CC 2nd.
Gordon Shedden set next fastest time for Yuasa Honda racing, however, he will start a little further down in his Type R Civic following a pit lane infringement meaning Jack Goff in his Triple 8 MG6, Tom Ingram’s Speedworks Toyota Avensis and title rivals Jason Plato in the RCIB VW CC and Yuasa Honda team mate Matt Neal all start ahead of the Scot.
Fellow Scot and most recent podium visitor (eventually) Aiden Moffat qualified and excellent 8th in his Laser Tools racing Mercedes A Class while reigning champion Colin Turkington took 9th in his RCIB VW CC just ahead of Andrew Jordan in the 2nd Triple 8 – Pirtek Racing MG6 machine.
A dramatic open lap saw Jason Plato forced to the pits to repair suspension damage before rejoining – two laps down in a bid to salvage a decent grid position for the day’s second race, it was not quite to be though, the championship leader at the start of play recording the 12th fastest time for the second event of the day.
At the front though Mat Jackson took a brilliant victory in the light Ford Focus just ahead of Gordon Shedden, who hauled his heavy Honda to 2nd with Aron Smith in his VW CC completing the podium.
Jack Goff and Tom Ingram were up next making the most of the lack of ballast in their respective machines to take some big points away from the title challengers, Ingram’s result was highlighted by the fact that he chose to run the less fancied soft tyre in the day’s first event. Jordan and Turkington were up next, beating Matt Neal to the line after the latter suffered a puncture on his last lap, but salvaged 8th at the flag in the end ahead of Adam Morgan’s Wix Racing Mercedes A Class and Sam Tordoff in the JCT600 Gardex BMW M1.
Shedden now leads the championship following Plato’s misfortune and set the fastest lap en route to second, meaning he starts race 2 on pole, Jackson however so very nearly missed out on victory, his Motorbase Focus arriving in parc ferme with its front right tyre devoid of air!
Shedden stretched the championship lead he re-took after race 1 further by winning the second event in commanding fashion holding off race 1 victor Jackson, running for the first time competitively with full ballast.
Behind Josh Cook – starting from 14th – in the Power Maxed Racing Help For Heroes Chevrolet Cruze and Adam Morgan, battled hard for 3rd place the Chevy pilot eventually winning the battle of the yellow perils as the race reached its climax.
The battle for the middle points was a while coming, but as the race settled down Neal, Goff, Plato, Turkington and Austin all battled hard, Goff’s soft tyres went away faster than those on the VWs but come the flag it was Neal and Austin who led Plato, Turkington and Goff over the line with Ingram taking what would turn into a decisive 10th place as it would be his Speedworks Toyota Avensis that would line up on pole for race 3 alongside Jack Goff in the MG.
Jason Plato would salvage a result and maintain his own championship challenge with a hard fought race 3 victory but that is only half the story.
Ingram led from the start showing the sort of race craft he had honed in the Ginetta championship he dominated before stepping into the BTCC, keeping the pair of champions at bay as Plato and Turkington shadowed the youngster in the early stages, however, following a safety car intervention for the removal of Mike Bushell’s AMDessex Ford Focus Plato was able to get right on the tail of the Toyota, passing at the turn 2 hairpin briefly before Ingram – to the crowd and garages delight – repassed the two time champion round the outside at the following complex. A lap or so later though Plato would pass and pull out a small gap before a second safety car period to remove Adam Morgan’s Mercedes and the Welch Motorsport Proton of Dan Welch brought the field together for the final couple of laps.
Plato made a brilliant restart and took victory ahead of an ecstatic Ingram with Turkington rounding off the podium.
Behind all this Neal shadowed the lead group for 4th winning the “soft tyre race” ahead of Tordoff and Smith who had battled through the heavier cars of Austin, Shedden, Jordan and Cook, the latter landing himself the Jack Sears Trophy, this year being awarded to the top rookie of the season, with two rounds to go no one can top the Chevrolet drivers points haul.
In the main championship Shedden now leads Plato by 6 points and Neal by another 21. The championship heads to Silverstone, are you?