Croft Circuit, Darlington 1st July 2014 - A lively trio of races in round five of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) produced a number of positives for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save Team. While there was just one visit to the podium across the weekend for the team courtesy of a dogged drive by Jason Plato, the consistency shown by the double champion and the ever-improving Sam Tordoff in balmy summer conditions has seen MG overtake rivals Honda in the manufacturers standings.
The initial start of the first race was delayed when the lights failed to turn off at the 2.25 mile Darlington track, but keeping both their cars and their heads cool in the humid conditions, Jason and Sam escaped the melee at Clervaux and Hawthorns, albeit with the #99 MG dropping to third behind Gordon Shedden’s Honda; Sam emerged sixth narrowly avoiding the heavy contact round him.
Over the course of the first race, Jason held off a racey Rob Collard, the BMW yet again the car to beat for the second weekend in a row. Try as he might, Collard couldn’t pass the MG-man on his ‘spiritual’ home circuit, and Jason’s performance was widely acknowledged by his rivals as a defensive driving master class. Similarly, Sam held on to sixth place for the majority of the race, keeping a gaggle of cars including experienced former champions Matt Neal and Alain Menu behind him. Neal was the first to nip past, before Menu seized upon Sam’s lack of front-end grip at the end of the race, opening the door for both he and Mat Jackson to edge out the 25-year-old, relegating him to ninth at the flag.
The second race of the weekend was similarly action-packed and with Jason starting third and Sam ninth, both were involved in the thick of the action. Having dropped a place on the opening lap to the fast-starting BMW of Collard, Jason was fourth with a pacey looking Neal in his mirrors. Both MGs struggled with a lack of grip and this was a contributing factor when Jason was finally overcome by Neal at Barcroft; reigning Champion Andrew Jordan pulled off an identical move the lap after. Sam put in a spirited display and held on to eighth, a place he would defend to the finish.
On the penultimate lap Jason made contact with Menu into Clervaux after the Swiss driver went to the inside to pass him, it was unintentional and Jason went on to take sixth while the Volkswagen retired. Post-race it was deemed to be Jason’s fault and he kept his result, but would start ten places further back for the final race of the day. Following the exclusion of Neal for a ride-height test failure, Jason actually took fifth, and Sam seventh.
The final race of the day saw positions from tenth reversed; Sam started fourth and Jason sixteenth with his penalty applied, both drivers on the soft Dunlop tyre. With grey clouds emerging there was talk of rain before the start of the race, but the humid conditions remained and it was only after the third BTCC race that the drizzle arrived.
Sam made a good start and was in the top five for the opening laps before Shedden’s Honda estate outmuscled him on lap 11 at his home circuit. This relegated the JCT600-backed driver to sixth before Adam Morgan’s Mercedes pushed him down to seventh on the next lap. Unfortunately the conditions didn’t suit the front-wheel drive MG and Sam dropped a further six places on the next two laps, allowing Jason past into tenth on lap fourteen. At the flag Jason was tenth and Sam finished thirteenth on the road, twelfth once the various penalties had been awarded to his rivals.
The weekend didn’t reflect the positive step forward the Triple Eight-run squad has made in reducing the drop in tyre performance at the abrasive Croft circuit, but with two of the MG’s least favoured circuits now complete and just Knockhill to overcome, the team remains positive heading into the second half of the season.
The MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save Team and the rest of the BTCC paddock now head for a lengthy summer holiday, with a five-week gap before the series recommences for the second half of the year at yet another rural circuit, the 2.99 mile Snetterton circuit in Norfolk on the 2nd and 3rd August.
Ian Harrison, Team Principal:
“We knew that Croft would be a tough weekend and so it proved as the BTCC becomes ever more track dependant. Having said that, the team and drivers knuckled down and did the best they could and I can’t ask for anything more than that. We don’t go into these weekends with a fait accompli attitude, so poor results are hard for everyone. On a positive note, some other teams had a worse weekend than we did, which helps put a bit of perspective on things. The season is only half over. It’s all to play for.”
Sam Tordoff, driver #88:
“It was a tough weekend. It wasn’t where we wanted to be, that goes without saying, but we got three points finishes and that means that our rivals aren’t gaining too much ground. We’re ahead in the manufacturers points, which is great and shows that consistency really is key - it means a lot to the drivers, the team and of course MG. But despite that, I think it’s fair to say we’re all glad to see the back of Croft for this year. Next up we have Snetterton and in the past that has been great; I feel really good about going there and hopefully we can get some better results to start the second half of the season with.”
Race Weekend Information
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Croft
Croft Circuit, West Lane, Dalton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire DL2 2PN
2.25 miles (3.4km), 12-turn race circuit
June 28th – 29th, 2014
2014 BTCC driver standings (after round 15 of 30)
1 Colin Turkington (eBay Motors) 228
2 Gordon Shedden (Honda Yuasa Racing) 221
3 Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Racing) 200
4 Jason Plato (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 179
5 Rob Collard (eBay Motors) 170
6 Mat Jackson (Airwaves Racing) 138
7 Matt Neal (Honda Yuasa Racing) 127
8 Sam Tordoff (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 122
2014 BTCC Manufacturers Championship
1 MG/Triple Eight 462
2 Honda/Dynamics 461
2014 BTCC Teams' Championship
1 eBay Motors 394
2 Honda Yuasa Racing 345
3 MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save 299
Photography: Jakob Ebrey Photography.