Fabrizio Giovanardi has acknowledged that VX Racing struggled in the latest meeting on the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship calendar at Silverstone – but the defending title-holder is confident of being back on-form at Rockingham in just under three weeks' time.
The celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing' may also be Vauxhall and Triple Eight Engineering 'home' circuit, but there was to be little joy this time around, with a sole podium finish for Giovanardi in race three proving to be the only highlight. A lowly eighth in qualifying betrayed the fact that around the Northants' track's National layout, the Chevrolets and BMWs had a clear straight-line speed advantage over the ageing Vectra, but 'Gio' nonetheless made swift progress in the opening encounter, artfully finding a way past Team RAC rival Stephen Jelley and later demoting both the Airwaves BMW machines of Rob Collard and Jonny Adam following the second safety car period to take the chequered flag a battling fifth, very nearly catching title rival Colin Turkington across the line for fourth.
In an increasingly damp race two with the field all out on slick tyres, the man from Modena demonstrated both his years of experience and also his class in such tricky conditions to catch and overtake Turkington and Mat Jackson for second, closing right in on winner Jason Plato by the close but ultimately just running out of laps to challenge.
Beginning race three from eighth by dint of the BTCC's reverse grid format, Giovanardi immediately improved to sixth at the start before fighting his way past Jelley and Adam, before he slipped back behind the former again before the action was through, to head next to Rockingham with a slightly increased eleven-point deficit to Turkington in the chase for the coveted crown – what would be, should he claim it, three in a row, a feat not achieved since Andy Rouse more than 20 years ago and never in the modern two-litre era.
“We leave here with a podium,” mused the 42-year-old Sassuolo native at the end of the weekend, “and we're still very close to Turkington. I would prefer to have closed the gap on him, but only dropping two points after three very tough races isn't so bad. We weren't able to match the pace of our main rivals and that made it difficult for us, but I hope that the final two rounds will suit the car better.”
Indeed, if Giovanardi struggled, then for VX Racing team-mates Andrew Jordan and Matt Neal there were thin pickings indeed. After qualifying a lowly 16th in the 20-car field, the former moved up to twelfth position in race one and tussled entertainingly with former British Grand Prix winner and BTCC debutant Johnny Herbert in the latter stages, with the youngest driver in the championship showing his maturity to keep his high-profile adversary behind him all the way to the flag. There followed an excellent sixth place in race two, but a 'moment' early on in race three that accounted for the Team Aon car of Tom Chilton left the Sutton Coldfield ace with damage to his car and well down the order in 17th place, gaining two spots to 15th at the close.
“It's been another tough weekend,” reflected the 20-year-old phlegmatically, “but we just have to look at the positives. We had really good pace in the car in the second race in the damp, and I had a really good battle with Herbert in the first race – it was just a shame it was for twelfth place.
“Then in the final race I had a bad start. When Turkington went round the outside I was trying to give some room to the left, and I just got caught out and lost the rear. We just have to go away now and have a look at a few things ahead of the next race at Rockingham.”
Neal, for his part, was even more luckless, qualifying only eleventh and finding little improvement in race one en route
to tenth spot and the final points-paying position. A nudge from BMW rival Collard in race two left the 2005 and 2006 champion beached in the gravel trap, and he would later retire following a second spin on the increasingly slippery track. The final outing would prove to be no happier for the early 2009 pace-setter, as he suffered damage early on and wound up a lowly and frustrated 13th from down in 19th on the grid – meaning the 41-year-old's already fading title hopes are now all-but destroyed.
“We just didn't have the pace of the others,” Neal candidly acknowledged, “so it was very difficult to be competitive and I didn't enjoy it. I know that everyone will sit down and review the data as we're not able to pinpoint the problem at the moment, but I'm sure that everyone at VX Racing will be focused on doing this.”