The finale at Silverstone – Five in the running, but who will be champion?

After another classic season of highs and lows, the British Touring Championship of 2011 will be decided at Silverstone this weekend, and after 27 races there is only five points seperating Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato in the chase for the crown.

The 2011 season really has been one to remember for so many reasons, whether it be the emerging of new talent and new winners, or new rules bringing in new manufacturers and a bright future for the sport.

But most of all the trend that has made this season a classic is one that often attracts the massive crowds and the delivers the entertainment more than ever…drama – lots of it.

The racing this year has been briliant and the arguments have been just as spectacular, from interview meltdowns to a near-fight between massive foes Plato and Neal at Rockingham.

The favourites going into the Silverstone finale will without a doubt be Honda drivers Neal and Shedden.

Silverstone’s National circuit consists of three straights connected by four corners – perfect for the turbocharged Hondas, Fords and Vauxhalls…providing that no more methods to slow them down are put in place.

Their Dynamics squad really pushed the field forward with a turbocharged engine to prepare for NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) rules to be put in place next season, and the Honda Civic has been a very, very quick car this year since Neal thrashed the field in the first qualifying session of the season.

The team have picked up an impressive 11 wins over the season, six for Neal and five for Shedden, and have also picked up four pole positions, two apiece for the pair.

The latter stat is actually more interesting than you would think. The fact that these four poles all came in the first four rounds of the season sets off the discussion that proves to be the biggest story of the year – Parity.

The season has been dogged by arguments between drivers and series bosses over keeping the car performance as even as possible, and what with teams such as Plato’s Silverline Chevrolet team running normally-aspirated non-turbo engines, the lack of straight line speed has lead to many arguments.

These arguments have often been lead by reigning champion Plato, who has often let frustration get the better of him and produced some spectacular televised meltdowns, calling the situation a joke after a Thruxton crash, having a monumental rant after winning at Oulton Park, and even launching a stinging twitter-based insult on Tom Boardman after the SEAT driver put him in the barriers battling for the win.

You feel sympathy for Jason’s situation, but the fact that he started the season by breaking Andy Rouse’s wins record win a double at Brands Hatch and has since notched up four poles and actually has the most wins this season with eight, makes you wonder why he wouldn’t be happy with the situation.

Still it is perfect and fitting that he should be there in the mix of the title fight, and you know he will be going all guns blazing and get the ery best out of the car as he has done all year. Whether his rivalry with Neal turns ugly will be a focal point, and it could be a factor that plays into Shedden’s hands.

Another factor that will play it’s role at Silverstone (and anywhere for that matter) is pure luck. Everbody has their bad days of misfortune – just ask Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan.

This was the case with Plato at Donington with his frightening roll (but with subsequentant unbelivable repair job that brought a tear to Jason and the team’s eyes) and the puncture at Thruxton. Honda meanwhile finally had their dose of bad luck last time out at Brands Hatch when both suffered identical punctures that briefly allowed Plato to complete a dramatic championship turnaround, but their most embarrassing has to be taking each other out from a one-two result at the last corner of race two at Oulton Park.

Their bad luck has been through the political parity-based arguments. After Alan Gow introduced boost reductions at Thruxton, Oulton and Croft – as well as a weight increase at Rockingham – what is apparent is that these penalties have really hurt Plato’s opposition more than Jason’s situation was in the early stages of the season, and this war proved most controversial when after the third reduction at Croft, Plato went on to ake pole by a big margain, and has had the faster car since.

The second fight to watch out for is the Independent’s title fight between Motorbase’s Mat Jackson and Triple Eight’s James Nash, who could both still win the overall title if disaster hits the top three.

Nash has a solid 17 point lead in the Indie standings heading to the finale and the Vectra was very quick in testing, although the Ford that Jackson is driving was the one that won two races last year at this circuit.

Airwaves have also brought none other than double champion James Thompson in as their joker card to help Jackson, in the place of Michael Caine. 

The Independent’s championship win would mean the Vauxhall Vectra would bow out on a high as it makes it’s final appearance for the time being as Eurotech are switching to Honda Civics in 2012.

The series will also see another new car and new team arrive in the form of Thorney Motorsports with a fantastic looking Batman-liveried Vauxhall Insignia for team boss John Thorne who will be at the wheel

In the main title scrap, Plato has admitted that the straights at Silverstone will not be to his favour and would need “divine intervention” to come out on top, and it will be tough for the Chevrolet driver, but in that case which Honda driver would you bet on? Neal to become a three-time champion instead of Plato, or Shedden to pick up his first title?

You have to think the maximum ballast will hurt Neal in qualifying and race one over Shedden, but Matt has been back to his old best this year and you feel he will be favourite for the spoils.

But in Touring Car racing the only thing predictable about it is, to quote Murray Walker “that it is completely unpredictable”…. 

Entry list for Silverstone:

1 – Jason Plato – Silverline Chevrolet – Chevrolet Cruze – S2000
2 – Matt Neal – Honda Racing Team – Honda Civic – S2000/NGTC
4 – Tom Onslow-Cole – Arena Motorsport – Ford Focus – S2000/NGTC
5 – Tom Chilton – Arena Motorsport – Ford Focus – S2000/NGTC
6 – James Thompson – Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST – S2000/NGTC
7 – Mat Jackson – Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST – S2000/NGTC
8 – Robert Collard – West Surrey Racing – BMW 320si – S2000
11 – Frank Wrathall – Dynojet Racing – Toyota Avensis – NGTC
13 – Rob Austin – Rob Austin Racing – Audi A4 – NGTC
14 – James Nash – Triple Eight Race Engineering – Vauxhall Vectra – S2000/NGTC
17 – Dave Newsham – Special Tuning Racing – SEAT León – S2000/NGTC
18 – Nick Foster – West Surrey Racing – BMW 320si – S2000
20 – Alex MacDowall – Silverline Chevrolet – Chevrolet Cruze – S2000
22 – Tom Boardman – Special Tuning Racing – SEAT León – S2000/NGTC
28 – John George – Tech-Speed Motorsport – Chevrolet Cruze – S2000
29 – Paul O’Neill – Tech-Speed Motorsport – Chevrolet Cruze – S2000
31 – Chris Swanwick – Rob Austin Racing – Audi A4 – NGTC
34 – Tony Gilham – Geoff Steel Racing – BMW 320si – S2000/NGTC
42 – Daniel Welch – Welch Automotive – Proton Gen-2 – NGTC
43 – Lea Wood – Central Group Racing – Honda Integra – BTC
44 – Andy Neate – Arena Motorsport – Ford Focus – S2000/NGTC
48 – Ollie Jackson – Triple Eight Race Engineering – Vauxhall Vectra – S2000/NGTC
50 – Tony Hughes – Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis – NGTC
52 – Gordon Shedden – Honda Racing Team – Honda Civic – S2000/NGTC
55 – Jeff Smith – Eurotech Racing – Vauxhall Vectra – S2000/NGTC
66 – Liam Griffin – Motorbase Performance – Ford Focus ST – S2000/NGTC
67 – John Thorne – Thorney Motorsport – Vauxhall Insignia – NGTC
77 – Andrew Jordan – Eurotech Racing – Vauxhall Vectra – S2000/NGTC
78 – Chris James – Team ES Racing – Chevrolet Lacetti – S2000
99 – Martin Byford – AmD Milltek Racing – Volkswagen Golf – S2000/NGTC

Standings heading into final three races:

01 Matt Neal 225
02 Jason Plato 220
03 Gordon Shedden 220
04 Mat Jackson 189
05 James Nash 181
06 Andrew Jordan 127
07 Tom Chilton 116
08 Rob Collard 105
09 Paul O’Neill 91
10 Alex MacDowall 84

Independents championship:

01 James Nash 253
02 Mat Jackson 236
03 Andrew Jordan 181
04 Tom Chilton 174
05 Rob Collard 151
06 Paul O’Neill 144
07 Nick Foster 103
08 Tom Boardman 97
09 Tom Onslow-Cole 90
10 Frank Wrathall 87

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