Neal is the man to beat
15:37 04 August 2011
Equalisation, or the lack of it, has caused the majority of the disputes in this year’s British Touring Car Championship campaign, with both reigning champion Jason Plato and current point’s leader Matt Neal dissatisfied.
The engine in Plato’s Chevrolet Cruze is normally aspirated and the reigning champion believes that the turbo powered engines of his rivals have a power advantage while Neal considers that measurers to contain the turbo engines have been unfair to him.
Probably both are right and you can expect more discontent as the second half of the season gets under way at Snetterton this weekend.
Leaving the politics aside the racing has been superb, with the wily Neal leading the table after five wins, while his Honda Civic team mate Gordon Shedden has two victories to his credit.
The Honda has proved to be the fastest car in the series, with Neal and Shedden taking four of the five poles this year and Plato quickest at the last round at Croft.
However Neal was a double winner at Croft while Plato could only manage a fourth place followed by a retirement in race two which meant he had to start race three from the rear of the grid before fighting up to 11th place.
This has left Plato 40 points behind his arch-rival Neal which the Cruze racer will find hard to close down in the second half of the series.
By rights Shedden should be Neal’s closest challenge but fourth, fifth and sixth places at Croft saw him lose momentum after a good haul of points at the previous Oulton Park meeting.
This has left Mat Jackson as Neal’s nearest rival and the Motorbase Ford Focus driver has been getting stronger as the season has progressed. With three victories, all in the reverse grid final race of the weekend, he could well be a massive danger to Neal’s attempts to regain the title.
Completing the list of race winners this year is Andrew Jordan and the young Vauxhall Vectra racer has looked impressive at every round to leave him in fourth place and a potential race winner this weekend.
Fifth place in the points belongs to James Nash, in another Vauxhall Vectra.
He crossed the line first at Snetterton back in 2009 but was later penalised for causing Robert Collard to crash out of the lead and would like to make amends.
Talking of Collard he is the leading BMW racer and the new technical infield section at Snetterton may play into the hands of the rear wheel drive machine and he could have his best weekend of the series so far.
The Aon Ford Focuses have been a disappointment this year and have drafted Tom Onslow Cole back into the team to give Tom Chilton and Andy Neate additional support.
Having been a front-running team last year the squad will be hoping developments over the six week summer break will get them nearer to the front of the grid.
With Onslow-Cole vacating the VW Golf former Champion of Snetterton Martin Byford has stepped in to take up the reigns and could well be a top ten contender this weekend.
Probable the biggest unknown is how the new 300 circuit layout will affect the different types of car racing in the series.
Will the greater torque produced by the turbo engines wreck their tyres as they power out of the slower corners? Will the greater traction afforded by the rear wheel drive BMWs benefit from the addition of the slower corners or will the normally aspirated Chevy Cruz be a better around package?
It’s going to be a fascinating meeting but somehow you always believe that Neal will be in the thick of the action and taking home sufficient points to keep his series lead intact to roll on to Knockhill, Scotland in September.