Steve Parrish, the former motorcycle racer who now works for the BBC described Casey Stoner last year as “the fastest man on two wheels”. Mr. Parrish obviously didn’t see last year’s British Touring Car round at Knockhill, it may very well have changed his mind; Paul O’neill, whilst firing his Toyota Avensis over Knockhill’s hill-top chicane was without doubt the fastest man on two wheels – not bad in a family saloon.
For me, the sight of O’Neill launching the Avensis quick left then right with only the left-side Dunlops on the ground was the image of the season. While the majority of BTCC field tackled the section in the same manner, none did it with as much aggression and precision as Paul.
The little section of track, with its sausage curbing, is an iconic piece of Scotland’s premier race-track and offers photographers and fans the opportunity to witness remarkable action. But the hill-top chicane isn’t the focus here; it’s Paul himself because, sadly, Paul won’t be entertaining us from behind the wheel of a touring car in 2013. He only made a couple of outings during 2012 with the Speedworks Toyota but showed exceptional pace in each race and it’s a great shame that a deal couldn’t be put together for this coming season.
Paul’s been on the touring car scene for over a decade and has impressed all the way. Having taken 3 class podiums and 2 class poles on his way to 8th in the British Touring Car’s production class in 2001, Paul stepped up to the semi-works egg:sport team in 2002. His first win came with the team that year at Oulton Park and it wouldn’t be until the following year, 2003, while driving for the works Vauxhall team that Paul’s second win came at Snetterton. Despite these two triumphs being his only in the BTCC, Paul has remained a crowd favourite and widely regarded as a top-line driver with a likeable character and positive attitude. It seems then that a lack of available funding is the culprit for keeping Paul off he grid for 2013.
The silver lining to this cloud is that with no drive Paul can continue his excellent work for ITV, where his intellect and passion really shine. There are also rumours that Paul may be looking for a drive in the superb British GT series, a championship he competed in during 2008. It would be great to see and his entry would without doubt be a boost to the series. Plus, I need him to be fit and race-ready for when my lottery numbers come up and Craig Venn Racing is launched because Paul O’Neill is surely one of the most underrated touring car drivers of his generation and all the BTCC teams have missed a trick in signing him up for 2013.