Action aplenty as Brands Hatch serves up BTCC feast
BTCC News | Tue 27th April 2004Brands Hatch never fails to offer more than its fair share of controversy when the BTCC comes to town, and this time was no exception. A crash before the first corner, a front-row grid spot being left empty and Tom Chilton bashing his way to the podium. What’s more, that was all in the first race! The identity of the fastest man of the day is likely to surprise many as well!
To talk race winners – Matt Neal repeated a feat of which he remains the only perpetrator – winning a BTCC race outright as an independent. Unfortunately for him, his win for Computeach Racing with Halfords in race one did not yield the same £250,000 reward as five years ago at Donington Park. Luke Hines made it five different winners from the first five races of the season in race two, whilst James Thompson became the first double winner of the year with his victory in the third race of the day.
Reigning champion Yvan Muller had a remarkably neutral weekend on a Brands Hatch circuit which tends to bring results of one extreme or the other for the Frenchman, remaining winless, but emerging tied for the championship lead with Thompson. His comments of “it is too early to be thinking of the championship – what is important is that we score points in every race” sums up his view of the weekend.
Jason Plato’s return to the scene of his 2001 championship triumph could not have differed more from his scorching Seat debut two weekends ago. The uncompromising racer found himself starting 12th on the grid for race one and he very quickly became a victim of the perils of the midfield madness – his race ending in the barrier before he had made it as far as the first corner. His Toledo Cupra was hit from behind by the fast-starting rear-wheel drive BMW of Justin Keen, who himself appeared to have been tapped. Plato’s RML Seat team worked wonders to have the car ready for race three, even if its resurrection was short-lived.
Proton’s Shaun Watson-Smith set the fastest lap time on raceday. His lap of 49.648 came in race two, shortly before he was unceremoniously removed from the race by Anthony Reid. Had he set the same time in qualifying, it would have meant a grid position of fifth – nine places better than the 14th spot he actually achieved. The South African racer continues to impress on his debut season in the BTCC, and was headed for the podium had it not been for Reid’s unfortunate antics.
Reid’s WSR team-mate Colin Turkington was one of the victims of the erratic Tom Chilton, who took out the Northern Ireland driver at the Druids hairpin, before also hitting his way past Thompson to finish the first race on the podium. Unfortunately for Chilton – currently driving the sole ‘works’ Honda – he seems unable to match the pace of the more mature Matt Neal in the Team Dynamics prepared version of the Civic Type-R. The menacing looking matt black machine is clearly very quick, but for a driver in his third season in the top class of the BTCC, Chilton should, by now, have learned some self-control. Although he did keep a considerably lower profile in races two and three.
After an impressive qualifying session that saw him post the second fastest time, Michael Bentwood could only wonder ‘what if’, as his Vauxhall Astra Coupé failed to start in the pitlane. After the Tech-Speed crew had pushed the car the full length of the pitlane several times, it did eventually get going, but Bentwood was forced to start from the back of the grid, and was another to retire before the first corner – caught up in the Plato shunt.
Racing on gas isn’t proving an entirely pollution free experience for John George. The Mardi Gras driver also found himself in the barrier before Paddock Hill Bend – the ETCC-spec Civic Type-R suffering considerable damage that is likely to hit the development budget over the course of the season.
The Brands Hatch circuit itself may have changed hands, but that has made little difference to the racing delight that is served up each and every time the BTCC visits. The good news is that there is more to come in August, when there will be even more at stake. Next up is Silverstone – not quite the same twists and turns as Brands, but excitement is guaranteed all the same.