Oulton round-up: Honda take a clean sweep in Cheshire to move into championship lead

Shedden now leads the championship for the first time in 2012 after a fifth win.

Round four at Oulton Park was a fantastic one for the Honda Yuasa Racing team as they won all three of the weekend’s BTCC races at the Cheshire circuit, with two wins for Matt Neal and one for Gordon Shedden moving the latter into the series lead as the series heads to Croft in two weeks time.

It was a weekend that the Honda drivers were not expecting such success entering the event after another boost increase for their rivals left them feeling hard done by with the NGTC Honda Civic being one of the slowest in a straight line anyway, so it came as a shock to the drivers when they were lifting the silverwear on the podium.

Triple Eight’s Jason Plato went into the round with a three point lead over Shedden in the points, but looked the man to beat at Oulton Park as he lead the way in Saturday’s two practice sessions comfortably in the MG6, before breaking the lap record in a tight qualifying session to snatch pole position from Neal right at the death.

After a brilliant pole lap at Thruxton, Andrew Jordan also pulled off the crowd-pleasing save of the season with a lurid moment at Cascades –

Fans marvelled at the front row of Plato and Neal battling it out for the first of three encounters on a bright Sunday afternoon, but there was huge drama before a light had even gone on as Plato’s MG was wheeled off the grid with a terminal suspension component failure, meaning he failed to start the first race of the day.

With nobody for company, Neal made a good start but was blitzed into turn one by the rear-wheel drive BMW of Rob Collard, where a five-car battle for the lead ensued in the early laps. Neal squeezed by the BMW driver where he was eventually followed by the Eurotech Honda Civic of Andrew Jordan who then set his sights on Neal for the lead.

The two Hondas were nose-to-tail in the closing laps, but Jordan could not quite get close enough to make a lunge on the reigning champion who took his second win of the season, Collard joining themon the podium in third.

Race two saw Shedden take the spoils this time, but only after fighting his way past his two fellow Honda drivers Jordan and Neal, before taking advantage of a collision between leaders Collard and Mat Jackson at the hairpin that left them with punctures, the BMW and Ford men having a war of words afterwards.

Independent Jordan again showed his pace but came up short once more as Shedden held him off up front for his fifth win of the year to extend his newly-acquired points lead, while Plato fought his way from the back of the pack to third by passing the weekend sensation Dan Welch who finished fourth – the best result for both him and the Proton Persona.

Neal – who had struggled in race two with boost issues – fought his way through the pack in the reverse grid race three which became a race of attrition as Tom Onslow-Cole lead the field away comfortably from WSR BMW team-mate Nick Foster early on.

A big crash for Redstone Ford’s Liam Griffin caused the first safety car as machinery littered different corners of the racetrack from incidents, where afterwards Jordan’s great weekend was halted when a collision at turn one with Collard spat the blue Pirtek Honda into the tyrewall.

Onslow-Cole – who had two spins at Cascades in race one – could not hold off Neal on the restart, and as Plato followed him through also the battle came down to those three drivers and Shedden on the last lap, Neal holding on for his second win of the year ahead of Plato and Onslow-Cole.

“I’ll sleep well tonight!” said Neal to ITV4. “With the boost equalisation we thought that we were staring down the barrell of a gun. The team worked really hard, we had a good test at Pembrey last week and they gave me a car that was capable. The car was faultless all the way through; coming away with a result like that is something I didn’t expect this weekend at all.

“When we were in the pack I was conscious about Jason but every lap I made a place he was through as well. Great result for everyone at Honda Yuasa Racing, this Civic is a little beauty at the minute.”

New championship leader Shedden was also happy with the team’s turnaround: “It didn’t look like it after race one, but we turned the car around and race two was a totally different kettle of fish, and the race just seemed to come to me. It looked pretty fiesty and fortunately for me it all fell into my lap.”

Plato was also very satisfied with his two podiums after a damage limitation afternoon: “I was trying to outfox (Neal) on the oil!” he said. “It was a good race, and a great recovery for us after the first race to get two podiums.”

Welch’s performance was not the only impressive underdog display, as Lea Wood was in the top 10 in all three races, taking a brilliant fifth in race three for Central Vauxhall.

Honda’s dream day means that they now leapfrog Plato to the top of the championship, Shedden leading Neal by five points, with Plato a further seven behind in third.

Jordan now holds a six point lead over Collard in the Independents championship, but the pair lost vital points with their seperate incidents on Sunday, despite a solid weekend for Jordan who next heads to the track he won his first BTCC race at two years ago.

The series moves on to Croft in North Yorkshire in two weeks time for round five on June 23/24.

Current championship standings after round 5/10:

1) Gordon Shedden 173
2) Matt Neal 168
3) Jason Plato 161
4) Robert Collard 132
5) Andrew Jordan 129
6) Mat Jackson 127
7) Tom Onslow-Cole 88
8) Dave Newsham 80
9) Frank Wrathall 71
10) Jeff Smith 71
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