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BTCC review: Shedden’s crown but Neal is MSV’s top scorer

Tuesday, December 11 2012

The 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season got underway at Brands Hatch last spring and was billed as the most open in years. Reigning champion Matt Neal and Honda Racing team mate Gordon Shedden both had brand new Civics, built to the new Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) regulations, but unproven against the older S2000 machines.
Chevrolet had left the series at the end of 2011, so double champion Jason Plato joined the brand new MG squad, with cars prepared by multiple champions Triple 8.However the car had barely turned a wheel by the time it was unloaded in the pitlane, and with Honda enduring all sorts of problems in testing it seemed that it was anyone's race.
Indeed it was an S2000 car that took pole position, the surprise being that it was Dave Newsham, a relative newcomer to the series, now racing an ex-Triple 8 Vectra for ES Racing. The equally venerable BMW of eBay Motors' Rob Collard, now fitted with a turbo engine, won the opening race and kick-started a strong season by the veteran but not before a controversial clash between the polesitter and Plato, his MG defying convention by qualifying near the front.
Neal claimed the championship's first ever NGTC victory in race two and thus began his title defence, whilst his team mate was enduring a nightmare weekend, electrical issues blighting his Civic. Pirtek's Andrew Jordan, driving another of the new Hondas following a development deal with the factory, ran well in race three after a pile-up at Druids stopped the race. In second place was Plato, and after piling on the pressure, pushed his way into the lead late on, taking an unlikely win in a car still visibly under development.
Plato was still in the championship hunt along with the Hondas and Redstone's Mat Jackson when the cars arrived at Oulton Park. By then Shedden had taken several wins to make up for his Brands Hatch disaster but it was the MG that lined up on pole position after a last-gasp effort in qualifying.
The following day Plato's weekend took a turn for the worse with a chassis problem that left him unable to make the start of race one. Instead the event favoured Honda's drivers, with Neal taking a brace of victories to Shedden's one, whilst Jordan also stood on the rostrum. BMW drivers Collard and Onslow-Cole both claimed third place finishes, but these could easily have been wins after running at the front of the field. Meanwhile Plato rallied back to score a pair of podium places but his early season form had begun to fall apart.
Snetterton's annual round came at the end of the summer break, with Redstone springing a surprise in the paddock with a brand new NGTC Focus for Jackson. The weekend also coincided with a resurgence from Plato. He very nearly repeated his 2011 pole position on the 300 circuit but was beaten in the dying moments by Frank Wrathall. However the tables were turned in race one and he was unchallenged on his way to victory as the Toyota man fought off a charging Newsham, who was later disqualified for a technical infringement.
The second race provided one of those flashpoints that help define a season. Plato, the two works Hondas plus the Pirtek example of Jordan's were running together at the front, with Neal the MG's closest challenger. As the laps began to run out there was an air of anticipation, especially as Plato was struggling exiting the Bomb Hole. As they rounded Coram for the penultimate time the leader hit the brakes and was inevitably struck by the Honda. The pair rubbed their way around the corner before both running wide at Murrays. This let Jordan and Shedden through, the former recording his first win of the year.
Meanwhile Newsham had climbed the order in race two, giving him a front row start for the final encounter of the day. Both he and fellow Vectra driver Lea Wood ran 1-2 for much of the race, before Wood's gearbox expired with just three laps to go. Newsham hung on for his debut win from Onslow-Cole and Shedden, but the Scotsman was then disqualified for running over turbo boost limits, handing the place to Plato.
Plato continued to take points off the leaders and headed into the final round in second place, just 15 short of Shedden's total. Meanwhile Neal had endured a shocking penultimate round and needed a miracle, whilst Jordan only just scraped into the title fight.
For once Plato struggled in qualifying, spinning into the gravel on his last attempt and leaving Onslow-Cole to take the bonus point, whilst Jordan and Neal lined up second and third, Shedden seventh and two places behind the MG. A wet raceday left the challenger floundering as Shedden moved up the order, finishing the first race in fifth place, his team mate taking the win.
However any ambitions Neal had to take a record-equalling fourth title were put to one side as he graciously let the championship-leading Honda past in race two. The title contenders lined up behind maiden winner Aron Smith, and Shedden had done enough to claim his first BTCC crown, a hugely popular outcome in the pitlane.
With darkness falling, the final race of the year fell to Wrathall, at last taking the flag, with the Hondas of Neal, Shedden and Jordan crossing the line together in celebration. Plato fell to eighth and was left to fight with Wood for the place but vowed to return in 2013.
In a twist to the championship fight, we've totalled the driver's scores at MSV circuits and Neal's four victories helps place him at the top, with 189 of his overall points scored at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Snetterton. Jordan is next on 170, the top Independent, with Plato a further five behind. Shedden's ill-fortune in April, plus his Snetterton disqualification leaves the overall champion with just 130, whilst Onslow-Cole tops Collard in a reversal to their overall form. Also performing well were Wrathall, his last round win moving him up to seventh compared to tenth overall, and Wood, who makes the top ten on our count. Ironically it's at the expense of Smith, who, despite his breakthrough win, drops out of the top ten.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship scores at MSV circuits (overall positions in brackets)
1, Matt Neal, Honda Racing, Honda Civic, 189 (2)
2, Andrew Jordan, Pirtek Racing, Honda Civic, 170 (4)
3, Jason Plato, MG Racing, MG6, 165 (3)
4, Gordon Shedden, Honda Racing, Honda Civic, 130 (1)
5, Tom Onslow-Cole, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, 108 (6)
6, Robert Collard, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, 89 (5)
7, Frank Wrathall, Dynojet, Toyota Avensis, 83 (10)
8, Mat Jackson, Redstone Racing, Ford Focus, 83 (7)
9, Dave Newsham, ES Racing, Vauxhall Vectra, 79 (9)
10, Lea Wood, BINZ Racing, Vauxhall Vectra, 73 (14)
Tickets for the 2013 rounds of the BTCC at MSV circuits are now on sale and you can order them by clicking here.

Images courtesy of PSP Images, Graham Holborn, Mark Greenwood, Nick Dungan, Az Edwards and MJP Media

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