Vauxhall Motorsport won the manufacturers' crown at rounds 13 and 14 of the British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill, collecting first, second and third positions in both races to claim the coveted title on a weekend that saw more than its fair share of incidents.

In the BTC Production category, the story was the debut of guest driver Gordon Shedden, who made an outstanding first appearance to claim first position in the feature race and second in the sprint for GR Motorsport.

Vauxhall's Yvan Muller produced the best start of the Touring pack to nudge ahead of pole winning team-mate Jason Plato at the first bend, the notorious Duffus Dip. All BTC Touring entrants completed the first lap without incident, but the racing was close and it wasn't long before wing mirrors were touching. The JSM Alfa Romeo of Tom Ferrier became the first casualty, losing the driver's door on lap two and subsequently retiring.

The BTC Production category started with a ten-second time delay to their Touring counterparts, and local hero Shedden got the better of Team Kaliber Sport's James Kaye to lead the group for the first half of the race. The lap times of both categories were pointing towards a last-lap battle as the Touring class 'stagger' unwound, and it was anybody's guess as to who would claim the top step on the podium.

Plato clearly had the fastest car on the circuit, and quickly applied the pressure on team-mate Muller, who drove a defensive race for the next three laps. The Englishman finally found a way through, however, taking Muller at Clarks and leaving him free to embark on his catch-up campaign with the Production class.

Further down the field, the battle for fourth position resulted in contact between the Vauxhall Egg Sport Astra of Phil Bennett and the Peugeot 406 of Steve Soper. Both cars came off at Taylor's Hairpin, but it was Bennett who managed to rejoin the track, handing fourth to the ABG Motorsport Lexus of Thomas Erdos.

As has become the norm, luck was not with the Peugeot team as, two laps later, Dan Eaves in the second 406 out-braked himself at Duffers Dip, sending him into the tyre wall. The impact resulted in broken suspension which could not be repaired in time for the feature race.

The battle at the front of the field was hotting up, with the two Team Kaliber Sport Honda Accords fighting for second position with the HTML Peugeot of Simon Harrison. Harrison took Kaye to sandwich himself between the two Hondas, leaving Simon Graves in second and catching Shedden. The Scot's tyres began to look troubled as he fought for grip, and Graves looked ever stronger, setting the fastest laps of the Production field. He eventually took the lead at Taylor's on lap 16 but, all the time, Plato was cutting his way through the field, closing to within 4.5secs on lap 16.

The Vauxhall driver started the last lap of the race in third position, still needing to catch Shedden and Graves if he was to win the race outright. Shedden defended well, but lost position when exiting Taylor's, the speed and handling of the Astra proving too much for the Production car. Graves, however, just managed to hang on to claim his first BTCC win for Team Kaliber Sport in what was undoubtedly the closest sprint race of the championship.

"I could see that I was quicker than Shedden in two or three areas, and I knew that there was enough of the lap left for me to catch him," Graves commented, "It's great [to win], as we've had a tough few rounds, and I'm really chuffed for the team, as the lads have worked really hard with a few engine changes recently."

"Unfortunately, we had a pretty bad start, as it was the first time I had started the car," Shedden explained, "I think I worked the tyres a little too hard throughout the first part of the race and I paid for that later on, but second in my first BTCC race is nothing to be ashamed of."

"We generated a little more pace for ourselves this weekend," Touring class winner Plato added, "We have worked hard on getting the set-up right on my car, and the team did a great job. I wasn't happy about my clutch at the end of the race as it was a bit bitey but, once I got past Yvan, I knew I just had to stretch my race and not push too hard."

The Vauxhall driver made the best of the rolling start to maintain his pole position lead for the 40-lap feature race but, in his wake, the luckless JSM Alfa was again forced to retire to the pit-lane early, this time with engine problems. Teenager Tom Boardman was also forced to retire his Production Peugeot 306 on the inaugural lap with a broken suspension. Plato's team-mate Muller looked unusually off the pace second time around, and it wasn't long until Team Egg Sport's James Thompson capitalised by taking second on lap two.

A nasty incident involving the GA Janspeed Alfa Romeo of Colin Blair then forced the safety car into action on lap three. Blair rolled his Alfa on the start-finish straight after hitting the tyre wall but, thankfully, walked away from the accident unscathed. The resulting wreckage meant the safety car, driven by 2000 BTCC runner-up Anthony Reid, stayed out for ten laps in total until marshals could clear the scene, setting the new race distance at 45 laps.

Racing resumed on lap 13, and Plato immediately pulled away from the field that had seized an opportunity to close up on the red-and-white Astra under the caution. Almost immediately, however, the second GA Janspeed Alfa of Gavin Pyper ran into trouble, when the Scot lost control, as well as six places, at the Clark Curve. He was subsequently demoted to tenth place in the Production field, and faced a long afternoon's work if he was to recover lost ground.

Muller, meanwhile, was also experiencing problems, and lap 19 saw the Frenchman lose positions to both Bennett and Soper. This was the catalyst for a return to the pits with power steering problems, bringing his race to an early close.

Thompson was the first to make a scheduled pit-stop on lap 23, but a poor routine from the Egg Sport team led to the Yorkshireman eventually ceding his position to team-mate Bennett. Plato was next in and clocked a pit time of eight seconds, but the best stop of the afternoon - 7.5secs - was executed by Team Egg Sport on Bennett's car, which returned him to the field ahead of Thompson and into second position.

Soper now led the race, but had yet to pit. The Peugeot team were clearly waiting for the changeable weather conditions to materialise as a black cloud loomed overhead, but Soper was in danger of missing the pit-stop window and eventually had to stop on lap 31. A nightmare 24-second stop then dropped him a long way down the field and he was unable to mount any further challenge on the leaders.

Problems developed for Thompson when he began to drop off the pace on lap 32. It later materialised that the Team Egg Sport Astra had also developed power steering problems but, fortunately for Thompson, he was able to hang on to take the chequered flag in third position, as Plato took his second victory of the day with a delighted Bennett claiming second.

"I've had a great day today, but it's not my day," Bennett said, "The day belongs to Vauxhall, as they've won the manufacturers' championship today. Without all their efforts, I wouldn't be on the rostrum."

In the Production Class, it was newcomer Shedden who finally snatched the honours for GR Motorsport, much to the delight of his home crowd. Kaye's Team Kaliber Sport's Honda Accord took second, only 1.15secs behind, with HTML's Simon Harrison claiming third.

"I'm delighted to claim this victory," an ecstatic Shedden beamed, "Obviously, I know the circuit well, but I've used parts of it this weekend that I didn't even know existed!"

Jason Plato now leads the BTC Touring Drivers Championship with 179 points, three points ahead of team-mate Muller. James Kaye maintains his lead in the Production Category with 134 points. All results are provisional at this stage.

The next rounds of the MSA British Touring Car Championship take place at Snetterton circuit on Saturday 4 August, as the second of the season's night racing rounds arrives.



Loading Comments...