Tyre-torturing Thruxton is the BTCC’s next stop

After what were three chaotic races last time out at Donington, it will be James Nash who leads the way as the British Touring Car championship gears up for the fastest track in British motorsport, Thruxton, for rounds 7-9 of the championship this weekend…

After what has been a fantastic start to the 2011 British Touring Car championship, the new regulations are already beginning to show themselves, and the ultra-quick Thruxton circuit in Hampshire should showcase the true potential of the turbocharged cars, which bodes well for championship leader Nash.

The turbo engine has come on leaps and bounds from what Eurotech developed throughout last year with their Vauxhall Vectra, and the improvements are so far plain to see as the Vectra, and in indeed the now turbocharged Honda Civic are appearing as the cars to beat at this early – and still very unpredictable – stage after a strong showing at Donington last time out.

Nash’s start to the season has so far been quite brilliant, showcasing his raw pace that we saw glimpses of over the past two years, and now combining it with consistency, racking up four podiums in the six races run so far despite not yet picking up a win. The Triple Eight team also appear to have one of the strongest cars on the grid with a Vauxhall Vectra that is clearly hitting the sweet spot early in the season.

Thruxton is also a circuit that has been kind to the Triple Eight team in the past, the team picking up nine wins at the track since the Vauxhall Vectra came into the series in 2007, so Nash will be eager to continue his run of form with a first victory this weekend.

The other man causing surprises so far has been Andrew Jordan, also showcasing his true pace in a Touring car with a well-deserved win being one his three podium finishes at Donington Park last time out, relishing the pace of the next generation specification Vauxhall Vectra. “I’m loving it so far”, he told ITV4. “I think us two (Jordan and Nash) are pretty strong at the moment. Why not go for the title?”

Thruxton has always been known for its tyre-destroying nature due to its bulky kerbs and high cornering speeds, and after a flurry of punctures during last year’s event the topic of tyre-preservation is an important factor to watch out for and one that could give teams a major headache this weekend. Teams will spend the Saturday practice sessions wisely trying to find a setup to suit the Dunlop tyres across the distance of each race on the flowing, but abrasive 2.3 mile circuit.

Honda are a team that have so far taken advantage of their all-new turbo engine for this season. Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden will be a major championship threat this year, and Neal has already picked up two wins, and comes off the back of a strong round at Donington.

Thruxton however brings back difficult memories from last year for the Dynamics squad, when punctures early in race one destroyed their weekend. Steve Neal’s team will also be mindful that the added weight of the turbo engine may create greater strain on the Dunlop rubber than in previous years, something which was brought into question after Shedden’s Brands Hatch tyre failure in free practice.

The trip to Donington Park  two weeks ago was one of the roughest weekends of Jason Plato’s Touring car career. He led the championship before the series went to the midlands after a brilliant opening round at Brands Hatch where he broke Andy Rouse’s long-standing record of 60 wins with a double win, but Donington could not have been much worse as he only scored five points in the three races, slipping down to fifth in the standings.

The memorable image of the weekend – although not for Plato himself – was his dramatic exit from race two, when contact from Liam Griffin and Gordon Shedden at the dauntingly quick Craner Curves left-hander pitched the Chevrolet Cruze into the grass verge and a frightening series of barrel rolls. Unbelievably, from what looked like a write-off, the RML team managed to get the car back out on track for race three, Plato telling reporters afterwards that he and the team “had a tear in their eye”.

“It was a big accident, it’s high on the list that one” Plato told ITV4. “Touring cars is Touring cars and it’s close and it’s hard-fought. I have had better rides in my life.”

Plato will however take comfort from the news that the turbo-engined cars will be handed a 0.1 bar boost reduction before this weekend’s event at Thruxton, where without the added burden of maximum penalty ballast for leading the championship he will be hungry to take the fight to his heavier but more powerful turbocharged rivals.

Elsewhere, Dave Newsham and Tony Hughes will be missing from action this weekend, while it is still unsure as to whether Dave Pinkney will make his BTCC return behind the wheel of Rob Austin Racing’s Audi A4.

Championship standings after round two:

01 James Nash 59
02 Matt Neal 55
03 Mat Jackson 54
04 Andrew Jordan 45
05 Jason Plato 43
06 Tom Chilton 32
07 Gordon Shedden 30
08 Paul O’Neill 26
09 Alex MacDowall 19
10 Robert Collard 17
11 Tony Gilham 9
12 Jeff Smith 9
13 Tom Boardman 6
14 Tom Onslow-Cole 4
15 Liam Griffin 2
16 Dave Newsham 1
17 Nick Foster 1
18 Rob Austin 0
19 John George 0
20 Frank Wrathall 0
21 Andy Neate 0
22 Tony Hughes 0
23 Chris James 0

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