26 April 2014
Legends looking forward to happy hunting ground
BTCC legends Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi are eagerly awaiting the series' return to Thruxton over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Former British Touring Car Championship kings Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi both listed the chance to tackle Thruxton amongst their reasons for making a comeback to the Dunlop-backed series in 2014, and that moment is just around the corner.
Menu scored a hat-trick of wins at the Hampshire circuit during the much-loved Super Touring-era in the mid-to-late Nineties, while Giovanardi has an even better record around the fastest circuit in the UK.
“Thruxton is a circuit that demands respect,” Menu said, “It is a track I really like – it's very fast and a unique challenge. I used to love racing there and I'm really looking forward to going back.”
Giovanardi scored seven victories in Hampshire, including an incredible four wins on his way to securing his maiden BTCC title back in 2007.
“I love the high speed that makes the difference between the fast and slow driver,” he explained, “The fast corners give you adrenaline and make a big challenge for the driver, and when you do make a mistake the risks are big!”
Only time will tell if these two returning legends will be able to challenge at the top of the order on a consistent basis, but with ten wins between them at the UK's fastest circuit you wouldn't bet against either one of them from spraying champagne again at Thruxton. Both, however, will face stiff opposition from the new breed of BTCC racer.
Billed as one of the most highly anticipated seasons in the series' illustrious history after announcing a huge 31-car grid – including seven former champions – the BTCC has already made an impact in 2014 after events at Brands Hatch and Donington Park.
Thruxton poses an altogether different challenge, however, as it's the fastest and most daunting circuit on the BTCC calendar. Wheel-to-wheel racing at more than 140mph is not for the faint-hearted, but with the opening rounds of the BTCC season having already produced five different winners from six races, the ultra competitiveness of the 2014 field almost ensures that that will be the fare on offer over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Four of the seven former champions on the grid have stood on the top step of the podium so far, as has MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save young gun Sam Tordoff, who won at Donington Park on his 25th birthday weekend.
The pre-season favourites are at the sharp end of the standings with reigning champion Andrew Jordan and MG's Jason Plato tied at the top, having both enjoyed one stellar weekend apiece. The Honda Civic of Jordan took pole position and two race victories at Brands Hatch, whilst Plato just fell short of repeating the feat at Donington with a pole, a win and a second place finish.
The top two are just a point ahead of 2012 champion Gordon Shedden, who produced a heart-stopping final corner move on the BMW of Colin Turkington last time out at Donington. It was a moment that will go down in BTCC folklore as both cars slid off the track and into gravel before the Scotsman hauled his Honda Civic Tourer back on to the tarmac just ahead of the Ulsterman to take the win. The result also made history as it was the first time an estate-style car had won a BTCC race.
Shedden's team-mate Matt Neal, meanwhile, has been the model of consistency and is also in the title picture, just a few points behind fourth-placed Turkington, while Thruxton's 'home hero' Rob Collard has stood out as the 'best of the rest' so far this season, finishing inside the top seven in five of the opening six races.
His biggest disappointment came when he spun out of third place in treacherous conditions at Donington Park earlier this month. That podium would have put the eBay Motors BMW driver well inside the top six in the championship standings but, for now, he's just one point behind race winner Tordoff down in seventh.
Collard has won seven BTCC races in his career to date but he's never been able to make it happen at his local circuit. If he is to remain in the early title picture then he'll need his luck to change around the 2.36 miles next weekend.
Team-mate Nick Foster will also be racing at his home venue having made a steady start to the season, with a fifth place at Brands Hatch being his standout result so far, but there has been no such front-running form for another 'local', Daniel Welch, although his STP Racing with Sopp + Sopp team deserves huge credit for simply making the grid.
The squad decided to implement some comprehensive changes to its pair of Protons ahead of the 2014 season and this led to Welch missing the first event altogether. He made it out at the last moment for Donington Park and, while the car was someway off the pace initially, Welch and the team made incredible progress as the weekend wore on to eventually hauled themselves towards the chasing pack. The outfit will probably see the Thruxton weekend as another test session as it continues its ongoing development of the car, but don't be surprised if Welch and team-mate Ollie Jackson is challenging for points.
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