2015 BTCC season gets off to sensational start
Three different winners and ultra close finishes at Brands Hatch
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.