Words: Simon Thompson Photographs: BTCC Media Office
Triple Eight Race Engineering-run MG KX Momentum Racing kicked off the new Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) season with a new look and a new face at Brands Hatch over the Easter weekend – the two NGTC-specification MG6 GTs were sporting a new livery and young Yorkshireman, Sam Tordoff, was making his debut for the team.
Jason Plato posted third fastest time in Saturday’s Qualifying session behind two Hondas – Andrew Jordan was on pole in his Pirtek Racing Civic while last year’s Champion, Gordon Shedden, was second fastest in his Honda Yuasa Racing Team car. Plato’s new team-mate, Tordoff, would be starting his first BTCC race for MG from an impressive fifth on the grid.
The original 32-car line up meant that the Brands Hatch Indy circuit was running at maximum capacity. However, some cars fell by the wayside during Qualifying with Joe Girling in the Tech-Speed-run M247 Racing S2000-specification Chevrolet Cruze returning to the Pit Lane and Nick Foster’s new eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport stopping on the track.
A number of changes have been made to the BTCC’s Technical Regulations for this year but the one which was expected to have the most significant impact on the racing was the introduction of a Formula 1-like, Dunlop-developed soft tyre. The official BTCC website summarised the change as follows: ‘At nine of the Championship’s ten events (the exception being Thruxton), drivers in the latest NGTC-specification cars will have one set of a new ‘soft compound’ Dunlop tyres at their disposal, which will offer superior performance to the standard compound tyre. These tyres must be used in one of the three races at each event and drivers must nominate, prior to Saturday’s qualifying session, which particular race they elect to use them in. However, they cannot be used for qualifying.’
Easter Sunday’s Round 1 started well for both MG KX Momentum Racing drivers – thanks to extremely cold tyres, Gordon Shedden slid sideways at Paddock Hill Bend on Lap 1, baulking Plato and Matt Neal in the other Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic. However, before the first lap was over, Plato followed Rob Austin in his WIX Racing Audi A4 past pole-sitter Jordan for second position – Austin had made an exceptional start and jumped from seventh on the grid to first in a matter of a few corners thanks to a combination of rear wheel drive and the new soft tyres.
However, as the battle between Plato and Austin for first continued, the Audi’s breaking distances and understeer increased – the soft tyres were past their best and that allowed Plato to make the move into first position. Lap 20 saw Austin surrender his second position to Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek Racing Civic. Jordan then continued to close the gap to Plato’s MG6 GT and made a somewhat optimistic move for the lead at Clearways on the final lap. Jordan’s Honda collided with the rear offside corner of Plato’s MG and both cars headed off into the gravel trap. Plato used all his reserves of car control return to the track and held on to win the first race of the 2013 season. Plato dedicated his victory to the memory of a friend’s daughter, Rosie Whittle, who had recently lost her battle with cancer.
Sam Tordoff had an encouraging first race – he initially maintained his grid position but, thanks to a helping tap, claimed fourth from Matt Neal’s Honda on Lap 12 – that prompted new ITV4 Commentator, David Addison, to remark that Sam was ‘driving like a veteran!’ Tordoff had a close battle with Pirtek Racing’s Jeff Smith but held on to his position and claimed his first BTCC points in an MG.
MG KX Momentum Racing put Tordoff’s MG6 on the soft tyres for Round 2 – whilst being interviewed in his car on the grid, Tordoff confessed to having ‘only driven them once,’ and reckoned that the race would be a ‘bit of lottery.’ However, in the end, Tordoff put in another credible performance and finished sixth, dropping just three places from his starting position of third. Jason Plato, on the other hand, chose to go with the majority and left the soft tyres for the last race – he took a commanding lights-to-flag victory and claimed the seventy-sixth win of his BTCC career.
The reversed grid for Round 3 – Easter Sunday’s final race – was re-shuffled for a second time when Gordon Shedden’s Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic was disqualified from Round 2 and moved to the back of the grid when his car failed the ride height regulations in Scrutineering after the race. However, both the MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GTs were at the front of the grid with Tordoff starting in third and Plato a couple of rows back in seventh.
Tordoff was again interviewed on the grid – he admitted to having some difficulty in getting to grips with the MG6 GT’s start procedure and, unfortunately, this was more apparent in the final race when he was demoted from third down to eighth by the first corner. However, Tordoff soon started to climb back up towards the front and set the race’s fastest lap on Lap 13 with a time of 49.112s before taking fourth position from Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic on Lap 17. The intensity then went up a few notches as Sam Tordoff went head to head with team-mate Jason Plato in a battle for third – not something which the followers of MG KX Momentum Racing were used to last season.
The sight of the two MG6 GTs racing each other made for some excellent photo opportunities until Plato opened the door for Tordoff to slip through and take third, with Shedden hot on both their heels. Tordoff was capable of more and briefly moved up into second position passing Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Racing Toyota Avensis. However, a determined Shedden snatched the place back almost instantly by taking both Tordoff and Morgan. Tordoff was left to be content with third and his first podium finish in the BTCC on his first day of racing in the MG6. An incredible result for Tordoff, finishing somewhere within the Top Ten was his intention – he did a lot better than that.
Jason Plato finished Round 3 in sixth position – a pretty respectable effort given that, thanks to his two wins, his MG6 GT was carrying the maximum success ballast of 45kgs and wearing the soft tyres. Matt Neal took the first win of his 2013 BTCC campaign leading team-mate Gordon Shedden in a home Honda Yuasa Racing one-two.
Plato now heads up to Donington Park for the next BTCC Meeting on the 20th and 21st April, 2013 with the lead of the Drivers’ Championship on 54 points. Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan lies second with 45 points while Sam Tordoff’s 40 points give him third overall and already more than half of former MG KX Momentum Racing driver Andy Neate’s total haul of 79 points in 2012. Meanwhile, MG KX Momentum Racing leads the BTCC Team standings with 90 points from Pirtek Racing in second on 79 points.
Jason Plato summarised his weekend: ‘I am delighted with the first two wins. Last year was a sign of what might have come for us at MG – but we’ve changed the balance considerably now so it’s much easier to drive. It has been a good weekend.’ However, Plato will, no doubt, have noticed that Sam Tordoff’s fastest lap in Round 3 was a tad quicker than his own fastest lap from Round 2 – Jason looks set to have some real competition from his team-mate this season…
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