Neal leads the way after frantic BTCC Donington races

Rob Collard cut a path through from sixth on the grid to win Race 2

Last weekend’s British Touring Car Championship races at Donington Park saw three different drivers take race wins, but Matt Neal remains at the top of championship standings. In this series more than most, consistency matters.

MG man Ash Sutton qualified on pole for Race 1 in only his second BTCC appearance, with a chunky – by BTCC standards – half-second advantage over team-mate Josh Cook. But it was Mat Jackson who got the best start in the Motorbase Ford, barging through to the lead from third on the grid as Sutton bogged down and went backwards.

After a brief safety car period to extract a number of cars from assorted gravel traps, Jackson drove into the distance. Cook did his best to keep pace, but the MG was never in a position to challenge.

Third, though, was the subject of much squabbling, initially between Sutton and the BMW of Rob Collard, then as the 1-Series’ soft tyres faded, Speedworks Toyota man Tom Ingram stuck his oar in. A dive up the inside into the first corner secured the final podium position for Ingram. Slightly unnerved, Sutton fell into the clutches of Collard and team-mate Jack Goff.

The race came to a premature end when Matt Simpson turned Dan Welch around on the run up to Coppice; Simpson retook the racing line for the corner, only to find Welch broadside across the road. Heavy contact was unavoidable. That brought out the safety car, but James Cole’s Subaru then erupted into flames which prompted a red flag. The result was declared after 15 of the scheduled 18 laps.

BTCC Donington Park Race 1 top 5 finishers after 15 laps

  1. Mat Jackson — Motorbase Performance/Ford Focus ST — 18:16.822
  2. Josh Cook — MG Racing RCIB Insurance/MG6 GT — +1.860
  3. Tom Ingram — Sppedworks Motorsport/Toyota Avensis — +2.077
  4. Jack Goff — Team IHG Rewards Club/BMW 125i M Sport — +8.794
  5. Ashley Sutton — MG Racing RCIB Insurance/MG6 GT — +9.149

Despite hauling maximum ballast, Mat Jackson held onto the lead for most of Race 2, albeit hounded by Tom Ingram. But the danger man was Rob Collard, who fired from sixth on the grid up to third on the first lap. The wily Collard picked off Ingram going into the chicane, then dispatched Jackson with a similar move in the closing stages of the race.

In contrast to the relative calm at the front, a titanic battle raged for third. Despite holding second for so long, contact with Jack Goff and fading tyres dropped Ingram well out of the contention for the podium. Sam Tordoff was involved, too, but was muscled out wide and had to drive through a gravel trap.

When the flag fell, it was the BKR Volkswagen of Aron Smith that finally took the position – repeating his result from Brands Hatch – the Irishman keeping his nose out of the dust-ups ahead. A ballast-free Gordon Sheddon cut through the field from 11th to fourth in his Honda, while team-mate Matt Neal progressed up to sixth. Goff split the Civics in fifth.

BTCC Donington Park Race 2 top 5 finishers after 19 laps

  1. Rob Collard — Team JCT600 Racing w. GardX/BMW 125i M Sport — 25:07.394
  2. Mat Jackson — Motorbase Performance/Ford Focus ST — +1.670
  3. Aron Smith — BKR/Volkswagen CC — +3.307
  4. Gordon Shedden — Halfords Yuasa Racing/Honda Civic Type R — +3.429
  5. Jack Goff — Team IHG Rewards Club/BMW 125i M Sport — +4.939

Sam Tordoff was drawn on pole for Race 3 and led the way, joined by team-mate Jack Goff who nipped past Josh Cook at the start. Matt Neal held station in third, biding his time until the BMW’s soft tyres dropped off.

Neal’s patience paid off, despite Tordoff and Goff’s best efforts. Neither could do a thing to prevent Neal scything past at McLeans – his favourite passing place. Gordon Shedden was also able to capitalise on the ailing Beemers, following his Honda team-mate through to take second. Tordoff held onto third, but Goff was unable to fend off Rob Collard and Ash Sutton.

BTCC Donington Park Race 3 top 5 finishers after 16 laps

  1. Matt Neal — Halfords Yuasa Racing/Honda Civic Type R — 19:08.350
  2. Gordon Shedden — Halfords Yuasa Racing/Honda Civic Type R — +0.222
  3. Sam Tordoff — Team JCT600 Racing w. GardX/BMW 125i M Sport — +2.690
  4. Rob Collard — Team JCT600 Racing w. GardX/BMW 125i M Sport — +2.908
  5. Ashley Sutton — MG Racing RCIB Insurance/MG6 GT — +4.142

Elsewhere, the Team BMR Subarus endured a tough weekend. The new Levorg GT was expected to struggle for straight-line speed, and so it proved. Jason Plato took a best finish of 16th place in Race 3, so the squad left having failed to pick up any points. James Cole’s Race 1 conflagration, which put that car out of action for the rest of the day, was a further blow.

His 12-6-1 finishes mean Matt Neal retains the championship lead he brought to Donington. But the margins are far from comfortable, with Gordon Shedden, Jack Goff, Rob Collard and Mat Jackson all within 17 points of Neal.

There have been six different winners from the first six races, so it is far from clear who has the upper hand. But as we said at the top, consistency is what really matters here.

The next round of the British Touring Car Championship takes place at Thruxton on 8 May.

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By Only Motors

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