It was business as usual for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save Team in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) this weekend as the multiple champions secured a hatful of points finishes and a podium at Oulton Park amidst a dominant display by rear-wheel drive powered rivals.
From the outset of the Oulton Park weekend, it was clear that the weather would play a large hand in the outcome of results at the weekend. A heavy downpour on Saturday morning gave teams time to sort out a wet setup on the International circuit of the Cheshire track, a layout unfamiliar to some of the paddock, as it hadn’t been used by the series for almost twenty years.
Qualifying yielded a strong performance from both drivers with Jason Plato second (1:42.959); narrowly missing out on pole-position after the session was curtailed following a competitor’s off-track excursion. Similarly, Sam was unfortunate not to lock out the front row for the Triple Eight-prepared MG6 GTs and finished fifth with a 1:43.493.
Sunday morning brought sunshine and a dry track, ensuring the fourth weekend of the BTCC would yield interesting results for the thousands of spectators that lined the banks of the stunning 2.69-mile track.
Race one delivered an unusual race by BTCC standards, with little overtaking and most competitors holding station, neither advancing nor dropping back. Jason and Sam were helpless in their attempts to defend against the might of the rear-wheel drive rivals, and it was little surprise to see them drop back on the first lap. Jason and Sam put in yet another dogged display and held on to secure third and sixth respectively, once again showing the Triple Eight cars to be the fastest front-wheel drive contender.
The sun held out to the middle of the afternoon and race two took place in warm conditions with the sun beating down hard on the parkland circuit. As the lights went out Rob Austin blasted his rear-wheel drive Audi A4 between Jason’s MG and the Honda of Gordon Shedden. Jason didn’t relent though and on the third lap leveled with the Audi driver but couldn’t pass due to the traction generated by Austin’s A4. With Championship rival Shedden close behind and with title hopefuls Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan having a terrible weekend, Jason defended against the Honda man and pocketed a healthy haul of points for fourth.
Sam broke away from Mat Jackson’s Ford then set about harrying Shedden’s Honda and looked set to secure yet another top-six finish. However, a slow puncture gave out on the final corner Lodge, allowing Mat Jackson, Tom Ingram and Arron Smith to nip past, but the 25-year-old held his nerve and got the car to the line in ninth.
Prior to race three a monumental downpour flooded the leafy International circuit and handed a further boost to the rear-wheel drive fraternity. The reverse grid did the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save team few favours and Jason dropped to fifth with Sam starting ninth. All competitors bar United Autosports’ James Cole started on wet tyres, and Jason was determined to get back on the podium in the final race of the weekend, Sam wanted a top-five finish.
An early safety car period for a trio of cars off on the opening lap, one of which was Neal, ensured the field bunched up and gave the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save drivers a chance to go on the offensive.
Jason did just that, nipping past Rob Collard’s BMW at Lodge for fourth, before passing Championship leader Turkington for third at the tricky Shell Oils Corner, rubbing the BMW on his way past. Sam inherited sixth after Jackson spun on the opening lap, and Collard and Ingram retired, but had a monumental challenge ahead of him in the shape of Austin’s Audi. On a drying track the Audi looked less of a threat but try as he might, Sam couldn’t get past cleanly, taking sixth at the flag.
Post-race Jason was handed a 1.5 second penalty due to the contact between his MG and the BMW of Turkington at the Shell Oils hairpin. This swapped the pair and relegated the Oxfordshire ace to fourth.
As the team pack up and focus on the next event at the former RAF bomber airfield, Croft, Jason moves up to fourth in the standings (149 points) closing the gap to the new championship leader, Turkington. Sam’s trio of points finishes sees him hold eighth place (102 points) in the Driver’s Standings and within a handful of points of fifth.
The haul of points from Oulton see the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save team (3rd – 247 points) significantly close the door on second-placed Honda Yuasa Racing to just 40 points and on the Teams Championship leaders, eBay Motors to 53 points. In the Constructors Championship MG now sits just 18 points off Honda, cutting their lead by 22 points in Cheshire.
Jason Plato, driver #99
“It was good to get points, but we certainly didn’t expect to be so far off the BMWs. They were on a different level this weekend. There’s meant to be performance parity, but once again the rear-wheel drive cars streaked ahead at the start and into the distance. It's a BMW championship, I'm afraid. We've reached the point where we can't do any better because we're not allowed to. When all the NGTC cars are developed, RWD is inherently better; better weight distribution, better traction. They need extra weight or a longer first gear. That's not just based on today; it's based on 20 years' experience. I think they'll win races everywhere, and with circuits such as Croft and Knockhill coming up, Colin could be way ahead come September.”
Sam Tordoff, driver #88
“I was happy-ish with how the weekend went. We scored good points, but we weren’t where we thought we would be. In previous years the MG has been the car to beat, so we went into the weekend thinking we’d be the benchmark, especially given the changes we made over the winter. However the BMWs were surprisingly quick and despite it being great to drive, the new layout didn’t allow for overtaking which made it quite a static race; the only real overtaking at the front was done at the start, by the BMWs and Audi. If it wasn’t for some bad luck in race two we would’ve had three top-six finishes, which I would’ve been happy with given the pace of the rear-wheel drive contingent. It wasn’t a bad weekend at all, but circumstances outside of our control stopped it being really good.”
Ian Harrison, Triple Eight Team Principal
“NGTC has been a great success in terms of giving teams the opportunity to compete in the BTCC. What has become clear however, is that as the cars have now been developed close to the maximum of their performance within the regulations, the NGTC technical regs favour a RWD platform. Naturally we will have to look to the future to see which RWD platforms are available to us because unless the disparity is addressed, we, like other teams, will certainly be forced down the RWD route. If other teams follow suit, the championship runs the risk of not reflecting the automobile industry which is predominantly FWD.”
2014 BTCC driver standings (after round 12 of 30)
1 Colin Turkington (eBay Motors) 183
2 Gordon Shedden (Honda Yuasa Racing) 174
3 Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Racing) 156
4 Jason Plato (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 147
5 Rob Collard (eBay Motors) 125
6 Matt Neal (Honda Yuasa Racing) 116
7 Mat Jackson (Airwaves Racing) 105
8 Sam Tordoff (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 102
2014 BTCC Manufacturers Championship
1 Honda/Dynamics 386
2 MG/Triple Eight 368
2014 BTCC Teams' Championship
1 eBay Motors 300
2 Honda Yuasa Racing 287
3 MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save 247
Photographs: Jakob Ebrey Photography