It seems like no time since the 2014 British Touring Car Championship began back in March. It was lauded as the most anticipated season ever with an unprecedented seven former champions lining up on the grid at Brands Hatch.
Fast forward six and a half months and the series is returning to the Kentish circuit with the title once again going down to the wire. MG driver Jason Plato trails BMW’s Colin Turkington by 50 points but the Englishman has a track record of pulling things back dramatically at the last round. I can’t wait to go to my first BTCC event since 2012 – here’s five reasons why this weekend’s grand finale should be a belter…
5. The racing has been as good as ever
If you’re under any illusions about the current state of the BTCC, look no further than the above video of the first race from this year’s Knockhill meeting. The competition is the fiercest it has been in nearly two decades and the entertainment has been non-stop all season. Expect this to continue on Sunday.
4. VW could spoil the party
Last time out at Silverstone, all four Volkswagen CCs finished in the top ten in race three, and championship contender Jason Plato has cited them as a real threat for victory. Aron Smith won at Brands in 2012 and has already won twice this year, whilst former double champion and 2014 series returnee Alain Menu has seen his fortunes finally improve of late and will be hungry to finish the season with a win. Success for VW could really shake things up for the title protagonists.
3. The Hondas are desperate for a result
It’s been a tough season for the Honda teams: after seeing their drivers win the championship for three years running, Andrew Jordan, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden have all dropped out of contention prior to this weekend’s finale. That’s despite Jordan and Shedden both looking like favourites earlier in 2014. MG still have a strong chance of denying Honda the Manufacturer’s crown too, leading them as they do currently by 28 points. Matt Neal earned his team a suspended penalty for voicing his frustrations at what he perceived as inequalities dealt out by the series organisers. He has since apologised for ‘bringing the sport into disrepute’ but it is clear that the Honda drivers are craving a strong result to end a difficult season. As with VW, an improved Honda performance could really spice things up for Plato, Turkington and the title battle.
2. Plato has ‘nothing to lose’
On Chris Evan’s Radio 2 show on Friday, Jason Plato talked of how he has ‘nothing to lose’ this weekend, being 50 points shy of series leader Colin Turkington. Some may choose to write the Englishman off already, but that’s a perilous game to play given the remarkable turnarounds Plato has delivered in past season finales. Last year, Jason went into the final meeting 49 points off Andrew Jordan’s total, but finished the year second to him by a mere five points. In 2009, Jason became the first (and to date, only) driver to win all three races at a season finale. He has a habit of closing down massive gaps late in the season and should never be ruled out of contention until it is mathematically impossible for him to win.
1. Title showdowns are ALWAYS thrilling
The BTCC has a habit of delivering fantastic climaxes year after year. Who can forget Plato’s first title, won in monsoon conditions at Brands in 2001 when Yvan Muller’s Vauxhall caught fire so dramatically? Or Fabrizio Giovanardi cruelly denying Jason his second crown at Thruxton in 2007? Or Turkington’s first championship, won at Brands in a titanic three-way duel in 2009? And then of course there was last year. Andrew Jordan was the favourite heading into the weekend, but looked to have thrown it all away when he was ruthlessly taken out my midfield shenanigans in race two and had to start right at the back for race three. He drove a champion’s drive, though, and emphatically claimed his first title.
That’s the sort of drama we can expect on Sunday. Both Turkington and Plato know how to win titles at Brands Hatch. Colin may have one hand on the trophy but as I mentioned last week, this is the tenth time Jason has entered the final event of the season still with a chance of being champion. If anyone can put up a fight to Turkington, Plato’s the man. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a thrilling ride…