Words: Simon Thompson Photographs: BTCC Media Office
The second Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) meeting of the season saw the teams head to the East Midland’s Donington Park track for Rounds 4, 5 and 6 last weekend. MG KX Momentum Racing’s success at Brands Hatch, which saw Jason Plato jump straight to the top of the Drivers’ Championship and new team-mate, Sam Tordoff, sitting nicely in third meant that, although morale was high at Donington Park, the pressure was still on the team.
Plato was happy enough with the outcome of Qualifying and would start Round 4 from fifth on the grid with team-mate Tordoff in the second MG6 GT directly behind him in seventh. However, both MG KX Momentum Racing cars were carrying success ballast at Donington Park and the track had not been a particularly lucky one for Plato in the recent past – his last win there being some five years ago.
By and large, Round 4 was pretty uneventful by ‘traditional’ BTCC standards, with no crashes, breakdowns or particularly heavy battles for position apart from on Lap 11 when Sam Tordoff was pushed wide and forced to run along the grass. Both MG KX Momentum Racing drivers managed to gain only one place over their starting positions with Tordoff taking sixth and Plato fourth – the podium positions were a lock-out for the Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic and the similar car of Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan. First place was claimed by Honda Yuasa Racing’s Gordon Shedden, who was running with no ballast – as Shedden himself commented following his win, ‘starting on pole position with no ballast, you’ve got to be looking to win’. Jordan was second, just 0.426s behind Shedden, and Matt Neal third.
Round 5 was a special milestone for both Jason Plato in his MG6 GT and Matt Neal in the Yuasa Racing Honda Civic – Plato was making his 400th and Neal his 500th BTCC start so their race numbers were changed to 400 and 500 for in recognition of their respective achievements.
The second race of the day also certainly made up for the lack of incident in the first with a crash between two of the S2000-specification cars competing for the Jack Sears Trophy moments after setting off from the green light – David Nye in the Welch Motorsport with Sopp + Sopp Ford Focus ST and James Kaye in the AmD Tuning.com Volkswagen Golf clashed and headed off track into the barriers without even reaching Redgate Corner.
The remaining cars out on track endured a couple of laps behind the Safety Car whilst the two damaged vehicles were towed back into the pits. However, when the race resumed, Plato benefited from having had the success ballast removed and enjoyed no weight limitations whilst Shedden gained the maximum weight penalty of 45kgs – that meant Shedden would have his work cut out to hold Plato and the MG6 at bay. Shedden held onto his lead until the start of Lap 6 when Staffordshire-based Jordan got a run on his Honda counterpart and completed a move down the inside at Redgate. 23-year-old Jordan never looked back and romped to a well-earned victory at his home circuit but his move also allowed Plato to have a good go at snatching second place from Shedden although he was not quite ready to concede the position.
Shedden was driving well but, as the laps went on, the weight difference between the MG6 GT and the Honda Civic told and Shedden was soon holding Plato up – Jason was, in turn, keeping an eye on Neal behind him. Plato finally claimed second with a brave move on Shedden at the Craner Curves on Lap 16 and then quickly opened up a large gap. However, this sparring allowed race leader Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic to establish a healthy lead and the gap was far too large for Plato to close and stand any real chance of taking the lead – the real race was for second position which Plato won. Plato did, though, manage to close the gap to leader Andrew Jordan by nearly a second in the final two laps once past Shedden and reckoned that, had he taken second sooner, he ‘probably could have won’.
Sam Tordoff belied his young age and relative inexperience by producing a mature drive in MG KX Momentum Racing’s second MG6 GT – he waited to make his move past the BMW 125i M Sport of 2009 British Touring Car Champion Colin Turkington and eventually finished sixth behind the second Honda Yuasa Racing Civic of Matt Neal and Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Racing Toyota Avensis.
Pole position for Round 6, the third and final race of the day, was chosen by former British Touring Car Championship driver, David Brabham, by pulling a numbered ball out of the ITV4 bowl in a tombola style – Tom Onslow-Cole, whose PPCGB Kraftwerk Racing Volkswagen CC had finished tenth in Round 5, was the lucky beneficiary. The reversed grid meant that Tordoff started this race from fifth on the grid while Jason Plato started from ninth. Both of the MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GTs were wearing the soft tyres – in fact, the majority of the teams had left the soft tyre option for the final race. Just to complicate the tactical situation further, the weather began to deteriorate slightly with falling temperatures and a spot of precipitation in the air…
Tordoff made a good start and took fourth on the opening lap which allowed him to begin a battle with Tom Onslow-Cole for third and a podium finish. Coming through onto Lap 2, Tordoff was right with Onslow-Cole and then took him for third with an impressive move down the Craner Curves. Tordoff then quickly caught and passed Aron Smith’s Motorbase-run Ford Focus for second on Lap 4 – Tordoff was now able to try and home in on race leader Colin Turkington in the eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport.
A spectacular spin coming down Craner Curves by Dave Newsham in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis tested out the skill and luck of many of the drivers as he came to a stop on track. Jason Plato was put out the most, having to travel the widest stretch on the grass and losing the most time before rejoining the track – thankfully, the incident was a collision-free one.
Meanwhile, further up the order, Tordoff continued to make good progress and maintain his second position but the task of moving up into first position was a close to impossible one without race leader Turkington making a significant mistake and surrendering his a four and a half second lead. Tordoff was therefore left to concentrate on what was going on behind him with the Honda Yuasa Racing Civics and the Airwaves Racing Ford Focus of Aron Smith. Adam Morgan’s Ciceley Racing Toyota Avensis proved beneficial to Tordoff in keeping those cars from getting too close for a few laps.
However, at the start of the final lap and with second place almost in the bag, both Yuasa Racing Honda Civics were hot on Tordoff’s tail. He kept his cool until what was probably inexperience caused him to run wide out of McLeans onto the grass and lose valuable speed – this allowed both Shedden and Neal to make their move and deny Tordoff his podium finish, moving him down to fourth. The setup chosen for Jason Plato’s MG6 was clearly not one that suited car, driver or track well – Plato seemingly had to fight his car for the entire race and was not really able to make any of the progress he is perhaps used to, finishing in eighth.
Sam Tordoff, speaking in a post-race interview, commented that he had been ‘driving at 80% to try and preserve the tyres’, but that, with five laps left to the Chequered flag, the tyres let go and that had forced him to become more defensive.
Jason Plato still holds on to first place in the Drivers’ Championship following the Donington Park weekend with 92 points, some five points ahead of Andrew Jordan, while Sam Tordoff trails the two Honda Yuasa Racing Team drivers in fourth position with 73 points. MG KX Momentum Racing holds onto the lead in the Teams’ Championship with with 161 points, sixteen points in front of Honda Yuasa Racing.
The next BTCC Meeting will be at Thruxton in Hampshire on the 5th and 6th May, 2013 – hopefully, the UK’s fastest track will be kind to both MG KX Momentum Racing drivers and allow them to maintain and build on their already highly successful BTCC season…