Classic BTCC races – Croft

Croft is the venue for this weekend’s fifth round of the 2011 British Touring Car Championship, a track that always brings out the attitude in touring car racing and has produced some classic BTCC races over the years…

2006 – Neal and Plato’s day long door-banging thriller:

The 2006 meeting at Croft provided a perfect and somewhat stereotypical British Touring Car weekend of racing. It featured two championship contenders glued together over the weekend and all drivers finding their own ways to pass people throughout Sunday, with a bit of contact being the favourite option to overtake among many.

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This was a weekend where Neal showed his fighting side. After a championship-winning year in which he appeared the cleanest driver in the field in 2005, he knew that as Plato’s SEAT Leon was getting quicker and quicker, so had to push hard and take it to the 2001 champion.

In race one the racing behind the SEATs was fantastic, with Neal and MG’s Rob Collard going side-by-side through the daunting flat-out Jim Clark Esses not once but twice, somehow not ending in tears but resulting in the orange cars rubbing panels and saving huge near-accidents along the way.

James Thompson meanwhile had gifted a race one win to team-mate Plato as Fabrizio Giovanardi and Neal completed the podium. Giovanardi would prove a spoiler to the two championship contenders all day it turned out, but not in the second race which saw a great start from Neal that put him and Plato in a straight fight.

Plato spent the first 12 of the 15 laps with the bright orange Halfords Honda Integra glued to his bumper, and then was completely caught by surprise on the next lap when Neal thought he would cheekily sneak up the inside at the final hairpin and rub his way through into the lead to the shock of Plato and the capacity crowd and take the race two win.

The third and final encounter again saw the pair going at it in the reverse grid race. Thompson eventually forced his way past Vauxhall’s Gavin Smith for the lead and the win, while Smith then lost it trying to fend off the rest of the pack chasing him. Shedden then went off from second with a puncture, while team-mate Neal found himself being put under immense pressure from the charging Vauxhall Astra of Giovanardi who started at the back, and after contact with the Honda late in the race he then tried a wild pass around the outside of Neal into the tight first corner in which Neal somehow held on to fourth.

Neal was then suddenly inspired and caught Plato on the last lap before repeating his race two pass in a messier fashion to snatch third on the line. It was a sensational drive, but the stewards had other ideas and dropped eventual champion Neal to fourth behind Plato as he had used more than enough run-off area to make the pass.

2001, race two – Soper and Bennett fall out spectacularly

Super Touring regulations gone, but same old touring car action as the weather played its part in the second race at Croft in 2001. The works Vauxhall drivers Plato and Yvan Muller were the main men to beat and they dominated the race as Frenchman Muller took the flag two seconds ahead of his team-mate.

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But behind them, as Thompson finished a close third for a Vauxhall podium sweep, his Egg Sport team-mate Phil Bennett was getting himself into trouble having had a incident-packed recent run of races in the series.

Having already had his moments in the soaking conditions, he found himself in a battle with Peugeot’s Steve Soper, and having made contact with the veteran once he then virtually shoved Soper off the road at the penultimate bend.

Soper, clearly fuming from the ‘pass’, then retaliated straight away at the next corner by refusing to brake at the hairpin and shunted firmly into the back of the Vauxhall to retake the place, even though his Peugeot was fairly second hand after the center punch effort.

The result of this was that Bennett was banned for Oulton Park, and in his place a new star in touring cars was born – Andy Priaulx. Bennett returned at Donington later in 2001 after his ban – and won, however his future was not quite the same.

Priaulx on the other hand in his place that weekend took a sensational pole on his debut, and of course would take touring cars by storm by going on to win three World Touring Car championships.

2000, race two – Ford dominate as Vauxhall count repair bill

The last season of the Super Touring era was all about the three Ford drivers, with Menu winning the title later that year ahead of Anthony Reid and winner from this particular race, Rickard Rydell.

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But this race was marred and made famous for the huge accidents for Vauxhall drivers Plato – slamming into the Honda Accord of 1994 champion Gabrielle Tarquini after his throttle stuck open – and Vincent Radermecker – who rolled after off coming into Sunny bend.



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