BTCC DIARY 2013 – EPISODE 11 – ROUND 10, BRANDS HATCH

DSCF1872All words and images by Craig Venn…

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. The mantra sprung to mind throughout BTCC finals day as I stood, often motionless with eyes closed and fists clenched, wearing a complimentary – but not at all flattering – Honda-sponsored bin-liner, regretting my original and somewhat naive choice of attire. As the rain came down relentlessly over a sodden Brands Hatch I learned a valuable lesson in the differences between the terms ‘water resistant’ and ‘water proof’ – it appeared that I’d opted for an intermediate set-up where fully wet was the way to go – and it was evident that the day was not one for standing on grass embankments, rather for sitting at home watching motor racing on the television.

Regardless, I found myself arriving at the gates of Brands before the sun had risen – little did I know at the time that it seemingly never would – for a day of touring car action and the crowning of a champion. 

Before the matter of crowning the BTCC champion of 2013 however, some 5900 miles away was the not-so-insignificant Japanese Grand Prix: with the wonders of modern technology, round 15 of the Formula One World Championship was set to be recorded by myself and many of the visitors to Brands Hatch, but an invitation from the circuit owners saw many early risers adopt slumped positions in the Kentagon restaurant to watch the race accompanied by bacon sandwiches and cups of tea; a nice touch, I thought, and a unique experience it was to watch Sebastian Vettel win once again while Brands Hatch sat dormant just metres away.  

With the Grand Prix over and rain lashing at the Kentagon’s windows, common sense made way for adventurous curiosity: the Brands Hatch in use for the season finale is longer than the one used to kick-start the season in March and so my customary wander around the circuit’s perimeter became a quest for sheltered vantage points and you never know, it might not have been raining on the far side of the circuit…

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…I wouldn’t find out. I barely made it passed turn one – the world famous Paddock Hill bend – before my bones began to shake from their mountings and it became difficult to tell whether my shoes were full of rain water or my own tears. I ducked into Hailwood’s restaurant for my 13th and 14th cups of tea of the day – only when racing cars emerged would I do so too.

By the time the Porsche Supercup field lined up on the grid for the curtain-raising race the conditions had become “marginal” according to the circuit announcers – once a puddle at the foot of Paddock Hill now more of a lake. The race wasn’t without incident but it was completed and given the better stability and greater weight of a touring car, it seemed that the title fight would go ahead also.

Of the five drivers still in contention – Jordan, Neal, Shedden, Turkington and Plato – it was Jordan’s title to lose: he held a 34 point lead over nearest challenger Neal with a further 15 covering Neal’s second to Plato’s fifth. Plato and Turkington would need minor miracles to succeed while Neal and Shedden realistically needed to gain points on Jordan in each of the day’s three races. Jordan just needed to keep his head and finish.

Plato, who had previously declared himself out of contention, had clawed back a solitary point in Qualifying by claiming pole-position. Jordan lined up third, Shedden fourth and Turkington sixth while Matt Neal started 16th having thrown his Honda off the road in Qualifying – a hard hit for a man still struggling with a broken hand.

Plato would gain yet more points in race one by leading every lap – one of which was the fastest – and claiming a dominant victory in worsening conditions while Shedden followed him home in second.  Jordan drove a canny race to claim fifth – the title not quite his just yet – and Matt Neal’s valiant charge saw him through to sixth. In contrast to his title rival’s fortunes, Turkington’s race lasted through just the one corner following the lightest of touches with his team-mate Rob Collard. The Irish former champion dipped two wheels into the gravel and the ensuing 180 degree spin saw his other team-mate, Nick Foster, make heavy head-on contact; both BMWs were out on the spot, the bell having been rung on Turkington’s title fight.

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With Plato starting to believe he could win the title once again I, believing I would never feel my toes again, made for the Kentagon – time for another cup of tea – where I found…everyone. With no room to lift a hot beverage to my face I once again braved the conditions before taking solace in Charters, the most remarkable motor racing book shop, where I took time to leaf through, and drip on, an original copy of Juan Manuel Fangio’s autobiography. So distracted was I by the countless books on offer that I almost forgot the miserable weather and the fact that I’d have to endure it for a further two touring car races.

It was in Charters that I also discussed the merits of each touring car title contender with a fellow fan: both of us declared our belief that Andrew Jordan would be victorious and claim a maiden title, and a deserved title it would be…

…the 24 year-old Jordan has impressed throughout 2013 and made his intentions clear from the start: he wanted to win the championship and nothing less would suffice. But the year got off to a bad start for him and Eurotech Racing, the team run by Andrew’s father, Mike: Ryan Lawford, number two mechanic and friend to Andrew, tragically died in March of 2013 and it had been Andrew’s goal to win the British Touring Car Championship in honour of Ryan from the very start. Now only two races stood in his way…

Back in the unforgiving rain I witnessed Jason Plato take a second faultless win of the day from his team-mate Sam Tordoff. Gordon Shedden finished a distant seventh courtesy of a “moment” on lap one when contact was made and Shedden’s Civic lurched sideways; a boot-full of throttle and an arm-full of opposite lock saw the Honda swing violently the other way before Shedden regained control in the midst of a marauding pack.  But the real drama lay with Jordan: after slowing to avoid an incident ahead of him Jordan was side-swiped by a charging Matt Neal. The result was broken rear suspension for Jordan and after a brief spin through an advertising hoarding he retired his Civic; the championship leader was out!

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So too was Matt Neal – a spectacular turbo fire ending his title chances – and so with Jordan posting his first non-score of the season the once “out of contention” Plato edged nearer: 15 points now separated the pair with Shedden a further five points adrift.

It had all come down to this: the title deciding race. Since March I had intently followed the BTCC, present at every round bar one, sunburnt twice, lost countless times, run over by Bobby Davro and damn near drowned but now I was going to see a champion crowned! If you were to include that missed round at Knockhill, I will have spent pennies shy of £280 for close to 100 races, 30 of which were courtesy of the British Touring Car Championship. I had spoken to drivers, fans, team bosses and even once caught myself winking at a grid girl; I had experienced the real fan’s experience to its fullest, all for a cost less than a one-day grandstand ticket to next year’s British Grand Prix.

And now I was going to see a champion crowned…

Thanks to his retirement in the second race, Andrew Jordan started the most important race of his career from 24th position, whilst Plato and Shedden would start from seventh and first respectively. Plato would need to finish in the top 3 to have a chance of title success while Shedden had to win and hope Jordan didn’t score – all entirely possible, and the rain kept on falling.

Plato’s pace and championship chances would slip away as rapidly as his car’s handling, the former champion crossing the finish line in 10th, but Shedden, having demonstrated firm and fair defensive driving from a sensational performance by rookie Jack Goff, took victory in the season’s final race! But what of Jordan? Through the mist and the spray, with a tribute to his late friend Ryan Lawford on his HANS device Andrew Jordan finished ninth, earning seven points and the most prestigious title in British motor racing. 

Throughout the year, as the season built to its climax, I’d been looking forward to Brands Hatch take two, the season finale, the culmination of so much hard work by the teams and drivers who had entertained me all year long, but when the chequered flag finally fell and Andrew Jordan held aloft the coveted trophy, it dawned on me: when all is said and done, there’s nothing left to say or do…until next year.

The End.

aj

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