A surprise race three victory for the Volkswagen CC of Irishman Aaron Smith climaxed a dramatic day’s British Touring Car Championship meeting at Rockingham in Northamptonshire.
A win each for the Halfords Yuasa Racing Civic Type-R of Gordon Shedden and the Team JCT600 BMW 125i of Sam Tordoff swung the title chase towards Honda and BMW, and away from Subaru after a disastrous race two for the BMR team.
Gordon Shedden put his title defence firmly on track for possibly the first time this season with a controlled race from pole position in race one, the Honda coming home 2.5 seconds ahead of fellow front-row starter Matt Jackson’s Motorbase Ford Focus.
Behind Jackson both Subaru Levorg GTs made excellent starts to unseat the MG6 of Josh Cook, but while they sat on the tail of Jackson for the whole of the 18 laps, they were unable to find enough pace to dive inside the Ford at the hairpin, Jason Plato claiming the final podium place ahead of team-mate Colin Turkington.
Drive of the race, however came from championship leader Sam Tordoff. Relegated to 27th on the grid by a misfire in qualifying on Saturday, he fought his way into 10th and a possibly vital six points, holding onto the top of the table as nearest challenger Matt Neal’s Honda finished just two places ahead in eighth.
Shedden’s joy was short lived as the combination of the hard compound tyre mandated for one race per meeting and maximum success ballast proved too much for his Honda in the day’s second race. While making a good start to again hold off Jackson’s Ford, he could not keep his rivals behind for long and slipped back to an eventual 10th place finish.
The biggest damage to title aspirations, however, befell the Subaru BMR team. Turkington made a poor start and a few laps later suffered a scary spin at the flat-out turn one, just keeping out of the wall but falling to ninth.
Team-mate Plato, in contrast made an excellent start from third and tried to go inside the two leaders into the hairpin for the first time. The ensuing chaos saw Josh Cook’s MG tipped into a spin, the Subaru, MG and Jack Goff’s BMW all suffering race-ending damage.
Major beneficiaries from the carnage were Goff’s team mates, series leader Tordoff and Rob Collard emerging fifth and seventh and proceeding to carve their way through the field. For several laps the Motorbase Ford duo of Matt Jackson and Andrew Jordan looked secure at the head of the field but Tordoff hunted them down and moved ahead to take the win and put daylight between himself and his championship pursuers.
Jordan took second, just holding off Collard, Jackson in fourth ahead of the impressive MG of Ashley Sutton, enjoying a solid if lonely race, while Neal recovered from a slow start to eventually escape from a frantic midfield scrap to finish sixth and add a few more vital points.
The reverse draw grid for race 3 saw the first seven grid places swapped, placing the 2015-specification Team BKR Volkswagen CC of Aaron Smith on pole position. Smith duly led away, chased by Neal and Jackson who were both required to run the hard compound tyre, this having so far proved not to be the best option for the day.
With just a lap down the action was paused for the first of what would be three safety car periods, to recover the stranded BMW of the luckless Goff. Accelerating early, Smith led away the restart, while progressing rapidly were the medium-tyre shod cars of Shedden and Collard. The Scotsman’s Honda was clearly the quickest car on the circuit and with 10 laps to go moved past Neal into second, with Smith now three seconds ahead.
This gap disappeared immediately with a second safety car period to remove Dave Newsham’s Chevrolet from the Tarzan gravel, but Smith again held off his pursuit on the restart. Coming rapidly from 15th on the grid was the Subaru of Colin Turkington, and he demoted Neal just as the fellow Subaru fo team leader Warren Scott stopped on the exit of Turn One, scrambling the safety car again.
A three-lap shootout ensued with Smith, Shedden and Turkington nose to tail, and despite the Honda moving alongside at the hairpin Smith held on to score a hugely popular victory, his second in the BTCC.
Shedden cemented his revived title bid with second place, while Turkington’s third salvaged something from a poor day for Subaru. Neal, meanwhile, took fourth to keep himself in second place for the championship and close the gap to Tordoff, helped by the BMW slipping down the field and out of the points in race three.
All of which left the BTCC finely poised moving into its final two meetings. Tordoff’s BMW remains in the lead on 258 points, but only five ahead of Honda’s Matt Neal, his team-mate Shedden a further 15 back. Matt Jackson leads the Ford charge high points behind Shedden, while the Subaru team heads to Silverstone on 18th September with Turkington 48 points shy of the lead and Plato 59 back and likely out of contention.
British Touring Car championship – Rockingham
1) Gordon Shedden, Honda Civic Type-R, 26m 36.234sec
2) Matt Jackson, Ford Focus, +2.561sec
3) Jason Plato, Subaru Levorg GT, +2.869sec
1) Sam Tordoff, BMW 125i, 22m 44,838sec
2) Andrew Jordan, Ford Focus, +2.886sec
3) Rob Collard, BMW 125i, +3.085sec
1) Aaron Smith, Volkswagen CC, 29m 49.905sec
2) Gordon Shedden, Honda Civic Type-R, +0.400sec
3) Colin Turkington, Subaru Levorg GT, +0.572sec
1) Tordoff, 258. 2) Matt Neal, 253. 3) Shedden, 238. 4) Jackson, 230. 5) Collard, 227. 6) Turkington, 210.