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BTCC 2014 Review: Honda Dominates at Thruxton Thriller

Thruxton race track is considered one of the fastest and most thrilling tracks across Britain, and it is for this very reason that it has been a regular on the BTCC calendar for almost as long as the championship has been running. The infamous Church Corner is one of the fastest corners in British motor sport, with cornering speeds of over 120mph. When the BTCC grid puts rubber to tarmac, one can rest easy knowing that they will be in for a Thruxton thriller, and 2014 definitely did not fail to deliver.

Thruxton Circuit Layout

Thruxton Circuit Layout

Thruxton in recent years has very much been dominated by Honda, and 2014 was very much a similar story. Throughout all of the practice sessions and qualifying, reigning champion Andrew Jordan took a commanding lead on the time sheets. The Yuasa Hondas of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were not too far behind, clocking up an eventual 1-2-3 in qualifying. The Hondas have never been the fastest machines, but it is their handling that puts them on top. Thruxton may appear to be a speed track, but its constant cornering requires a strong handling package. The track pushes cars to the very edge of adhesion, and unlike the laborious new Tilke-tracks with endless tarmac run-off, if you make a mistake at Thruxton you WILL be propelled off into the countryside.

No mercy. Only the greatest shall survive.

Speaking of the touring car greats, Thruxton saw the longest-standing record in the BTCC finally fall. All the way back in 2002, at the dawn of what was then a new era for touring cars Yvan Muller set a blistering time of 1.16.369. During qualifying, Andrew Jordan finally toppled the time with a 1.16.192. People can say a lot about developments from year to year, but it did take 12 years to beat a lap record, AND it was only by 0.177.
Qualifying saw the return of Ford to the competitive end of the field, with Mat Jackson putting his Focus on 4th. Rob Austin on the other hand has always admitted that Thruxton has not suited his Audi all that much, and the best he could manage was a lowly 21st.

The Ford team impressed across the weekend, thanks to a turbo adjustment. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The Ford team impressed across the weekend, thanks to a turbo adjustment. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The first race proved exactly why Andrew Jordan and Pirtek racing are the current champions of the sport; having never won at Thruxton despite numerous pole positions, Jordan finally beat his demons and drove away from the field in the perfect driving display, followed by the Yuasa Hondas. After a slight mistake in race two, Jordan lost his lead to flying Flash Gordon Shedden. Rob Collard got one of his proudest podiums to date in race two after getting an absolute demon start off the line. It is one of the advantages of running a rear wheel drive car after all.

The conclusion of the second race was somewhat premature, following an incident between Rob Austin and Nick Foster, ending in Foster’s car literally leapfrogging the circuit barrier and into the countryside beyond. Fortunately both drivers were unharmed and both would return for race three. However, the incident did bring out the red flags for race two.

During the first two events, the reverse grid had only affected the usual suspects at the top of the time sheets (Honda, MG and BMW). However, as Giovanardi (who finished 10th in race 2) put his hand into the lottery-style draw, he pulled out, you guessed it, his own number. With the top 10 reversed for race three and Giovanardi on pole, were we going to see a bit of a mix up to proceedings?

Jack Goff proved the Vauxhall Insignia is a worthy touring car in race three. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Jack Goff proved the Vauxhall Insignia is a worthy touring car in race three. Image Credit: BTCC.net

With the reverse grid, race three was never going to be dull. As the lights went out, Giovanardi charged away in his Ford, only to be quickly caught and passed by the race three master himself Colin Turkington. Behind him, Adam Morgan lost his Mercedes and shot into the side of Plato which brought about a fitting end to his highly disappointing weekend. Plato comes away from Thruxton with a 6th. 7th and a DNF to his name. That is never helpful for a man who wants to win title number 3!

After a horrific accident involving Ollie Jackson brought out the yellow flags (Ollie was fine, his Proton…not so much), the charging Mat Jackson passed the 3rd place Jack Goff. After a blistering end to the 2013 season, Goff has not yet impressed too much in 2014. His 2nd place start gave him the chance to shine again. As the race began he found himself 3rd behind Giovanardi, challenging hard to pass the Italian former champion.

It appeared to many that Jackson had passed under yellows; Goff had already slowed to obey the flags and Jackson powered past him. But no call came for him to give the place back to Goff. In my view, at NO point is it alright to pass under yellow flag conditions; and it is common courtesy to not pass when the car in front is already beginning to slow. Technically speaking it may not have been illegal, but I think it goes against the spirit of the sport. Maybe that’s just me.

After the first safety car, Turkington stormed back off into the lead only to be halted by yet another incident. Simon Belcher rolled his Toyota Avensis at Church and went barreling into the woods at over 120mph. His car completely disappeared out of sight; luckily a few seconds later a slightly dazed Belcher appeared from the trees. We can but hope his car can be repaired for the next round!

Simon Belcher was lucky to walk away from his gut-wrenching roll. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Simon Belcher was lucky to walk away from his gut-wrenching roll. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Mat Jackson proved that he is very much back on form, eventually taking Giovanardi to lead home the Ford challenge for a double podium. There has been talk about the ‘balance of performance’ by adjusting the turbo boost on each car; Thruxton in my eyes proved that in the case of the BTCC it really does work. The Ford team are now a new addition to the top of the field and will challenge for more podiums and wins throughout the season.

As the race neared its end, Neal and Collard were tussling for position when Neal pushed Collard in order to get passed. And so, in the true spirit of touring cars, as they entered the Cambell-Cobb-Seagrave complex on the next lap, Collard sought his revenge and gave Matt and rather large push sending them both off onto the grass and losing places. Collard would finish 10th and Neal 23rd. Some would say that the push was uncalled for. But touring cars is a fair sport. An eye for an eye and all that.

If there was a prize for unluckiest driver of the weekend, it would usually go to Rob Austin. But this weekend it would have to be Alain Menu. After finishing a promising 7th in the first race, Menu was given a drive through penalty for being out of position in his grid box when the field reformed after the warm up lap. He struggled back to 18th in race two, to then manage an 11th in race three. The only good thing to come out of his constant need to battle up the grid this year is that he has retained his lead in the Jack Sears trophy. Upon his return to the touring cars in 1993 with the new Ford team at Pembrey, Andy Rouse described his return as ‘having a target painted on the side of his car’. It would appear that for Menu the same is now true. But as the double champion and ultimate touring car star, he will battle through it.

Yet another unlucky weekend has kept Menu his lead in the Jack Sears Trophy. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Yet another unlucky weekend has kept Menu his lead in the Jack Sears Trophy. Image Credit: BTCC.net

However, it was not all bad luck for Team BMR at Thruxton. After starting the weekend with a rebuilt car, Aron Smith worked his way up to 22nd in race one, 14th in race two and then 7th in race three. Steady progress lead to a good final result for Smith. As soon as Team BMR stop suffering some of the worst luck in recorded history, they may finally be able to challenge for podium finishes and maybe even the odd win.

Following the end of the racing, concerns were raised about the safety of the track at Thruxton. Simon Belcher called for gravel traps to be installed around Church. Considering the high speed nature of the corner, any collision there can be massively dangerous. It was just lucky that Jackson, Foster and Belcher all escaped their excursions into the wilderness with no injuries. It is an issue that must be discussed and perhaps these incidents are the wake up call that some needed.

We leave Thruxton knowing that the rest of the season will only get better and better. The Ford challenge has finally reached a competitive level with Jackson and Giovanardi, which will upset the balance of power at the top. With MG having a disappointing weekend and Honda dominating so powerfully, have they suffered a damaging blow to their championship hopes? Will Rob Austin along with fellow luck-absentees Team BMR finally get something to go their way later on in the year?

For full results and championship standings please visit: http://www.btcc.net/results/

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