Round three of the 2016 BTCC season truly had everything. From first race carnage, long awaited victories and stunning drives through the field Thruxton certainly delivered in every single way, and we leave the Hampshire circuit with Neal and Collard tied at the top of the championship table with 101 points. The full weekend roundup will follow tomorrow (so stay tuned) but below is an assessment of the biggest winners and losers over the course of the Thruxton weekend.
Motorbase Performance enjoyed their best weekend of the season following Jackson’s strong form at Donington Park and a win apiece for Jordan in race two, and Mat Jackson in race three shows a clear improvement since the start of the season. Andrew Jordan’s first win since Croft 2014 was a relief not just for the 2013 Champion, but everybody at Motorbase who seem to have finally got to grips with the new for 2016 parts in the Ford Focus, and the team leave Thruxton with Jackson 4th and Jordan 8th in championship table, well within striking distance of the summit. Jackson, like Shedden drove a great race two to go from 21st to 9th, a result which enabled him to secure the all important front row grid slot for the final race and jump the Proton of Dan Welch off the line.
I’m not sure anyone expected Adam Morgan to leave Thruxton with three podium finishes after what was a disappointing round at Donington however a win in race one, followed by two third place finishes helped Morgan rocket up the championship table to 3rd, just three points behind Neal and Collard. The WIX Mercedes was fast all weekend, even on maximum ballast and Morgan did an admirable job of holding off the light, and fast charging MGs of Cook and Sutton in race three. Morgan was strong throughout 2014 and 2015, and this year looks a real championship contender.
It may seem strange to class Matt Neal as a winner this weekend, but after a DNF in race one, 11th in race two and an impressive podium in race three Neal managed to somehow hold onto the top spot in the championship table, although he’s now been joined by Rob Collard who briefly led the standings after a fine second place in race two. Neal received a lot of stick for loosing his temper with Cook in race one, and rightly so as I think his attempt to enter the pitlane was a trigger in the timeline of that huge accident. However Neal apologised both on twitter and in the post race three television interview, so I think it would be fair to draw a line under that matter, I just wonder what would have happened if Jason Plato had been involved in some way as well!
Nevertheless, it terms of damage limitation it was a fantastic weekend for Matt Neal and he looked to have legs on Jackson towards the end of race three. If the race was being run to the full 16 laps there is a strong possibility that it would have been Honda on the top step of the podium.
If there’s a team which can leave Thruxton perhaps feeling a little aggrieved it’s Triple Eight/MG. Cook and Sutton were victims of first race incidents (of which Cook’s was well documented) which left both MGs near the back of the grid for race two, when a podium for one car was certainly possible. Race two saw Cook climb to 11th and Sutton to 15th before fine race three drives saw the pair rise ballast free to 4th and 5th by the checkered flag. Race three showed that the MG 6 certainly had the pace to finish all three races well inside the top ten and the Thruxton weekend will be remembered as a case of what could have been for the resurgent MG factory squad. Both Cook and Sutton remain inside the championship’s top ten in 10th and 9th respectively and it was great to see Team BMR mechanics giving Triple Eight a helping hand to repair their cars between races one and two.
Gordon Shedden can also be counted among the unfortunate. Taken out of race one in the fallout from Neal’s clash with Cook, Shedden was lucky to avoid a huge shunt on the pit straight before a sterling drive what was essentially the back of the grid to 4th was reminiscent of Brands Hatch GP last year where he secured his second title. Alas, just when Shedden finally looked to be salvaging some decent points from the weekend he was taken out of race three at the final chicane by after a mistake by Jack Goff saw the Honda retire from the race with damage. Shedden falls to 5th place in the championship table after a weekend when he was certainly unable to maximise the potential of what was an extremely fast Honda Civic Type-R.
For the third race meeting in a row, Tom Ingram’s weekend has resembled something of a downward spiral of misfortune. Once again the pace of the Speedworks Toyota was laid bare for everyone to see in qualifying on Saturday and Ingram drove a fine recovery drive to second after a poor first lap which left him in the midst of a furious battle for position. Another podium looked to be on the cards in race two until a drive through penalty for a false start sent Ingram to the back of the field. Any chance of points were lost in race three when the Toyota Avensis pulled to the side of the track with mechanical issues to conclude another mixed weekend for the rising star. Ingram certainly has the pace to be challenging both Neal and Collard at the very head of the championship table and I’m sure many people in the paddock will be waiting to see a consistent weekend for the Speedworks Toyota at Oulton Park.