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Expect the unexpected

Even by the ever-unpredictable standards of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this year’s curtain raiser threw up tons of thrills, spills and results that few could have seen coming. Here are just a few of the reasons why the BTCC continues to shock and surprise…

Neal and Goff lead the way
Three-time champion Matt Neal leading the championship can hardly be classed as a major shock but with a brand new car, and little testing mileage, it’s fair to say that even the team wasn’t expecting such a stellar start to the campaign. Furthermore Neal is tied at the top with young gun Jack Goff – arguably another surprise performer on his MG debut – after the two enjoyed a great battle for race three victory.

Oldest winner in town
Matt Neal may not thank us for mentioning this but the 48-year-old also becomes the oldest winner of a BTCC race in the modern era. His impressive win at Brands eclipsed Mike Jordan’s record of 48 years and 65 days. Jordan took his sole BTCC win at Mallory Park in an ex-Team Dynamics Honda Integra ran by his Eurotech Racing team back in 2006, whilst Neal scored his 54th career victory last weekend.

Collard family celebration
Rob and Ricky Collard became the first father and son to win races on the TOCA package. What’s more is that Ricky took his MSA Formula victory immediately before the season opening BTCC race. Rob’s preparations were rushed as he watched his son’s win and subsequent celebrations. It seems this only served to inspire rather than distract the seasoned campaigner, however, as Rob stormed from fifth on the grid to take his own impressive victory.

0.040s – 0.196s – 0.411s
The expectation and anticipation ahead of the new season suggested we could be facing one of the most unpredictable years in the history of the championship. As with any sporting arena, however, you never quite know what you’re in for until it happens. We quickly got our answer with last weekend’s winning margins proving staggering, as all three races went down to the wire. WSR driver Rob Collard won from BMR’s Aron Smith by a modest 0.411s before Gordon Shedden topped the now infamous battle with Andy Priaulx by an incredible 0.040s. Matt Neal and Jack Goff did their best attempt at repeating the feat in race three. Goff’s MG got the run on Neal’s Honda as they approached the flag, but the elder statesman held on by just 0.196s.

Illustrious team-mates toppled
Most of the pre-season talk relating to both MG 888 and Team BMR was their headline signings of former champions. Andrew Jordan switched from Honda to MG machinery and completed a successful pre-season test programme, whilst Colin Turkington and Jason Plato set the pace during official testing at Donington Park. While those within their respective teams will not have been surprised, a few eyebrows were raised when Jack Goff proved to be the main front-runner for the British marque and Aron Smith was the top scorer among the VW runners. Only time will tell if they can stay there!

Easter repeat
There was a déjà vu feeling when Gordon Shedden’s Honda went side-by-side with a BMW into the final corner last weekend, largely because it was almost exactly a year ago when the same thing happened at Donington Park. Colin Turkington looked home and dry at the Derbyshire track last season before Shedden pulled his Civic Tourer alongside on the approach to the final chicane. Both were late on the brakes and the two machines ran off the circuit, with Shedden returning to the tarmac first and crossing the line to take the chequered flag. This time around it was Andy Priaulx attacking Shedden but the Scotsman clung on for another photo finish.

Poles apart
Incredibly Andy Priaulx claimed back-to-back BTCC pole positions with his returning effort last Saturday. The Guernseyman took pole at Donington Park for Honda in the final event of the 2002 season before he moved on to European and World tin-top success. The IHG Rewards Club-backed racer came home last weekend and immediately impressed, edging out the VW duo of Aron Smith and Jason Plato in qualifying. So, successive pole positions, separated by 13 years – it’s a good pub quiz question to remember!

Hatchback success
Honda and Team Dynamics enjoyed a debut success with a third incarnation of the Civic hatchback last weekend. The squad took a maiden victory in 2007 with its S2000 Honda Civic FN2 model and followed up with another first day triumph in the 2012 season with the NGTC Honda Civic 2KC. Now, with the latest Honda Civic Type R, has taken two early victories on-track, even before the production model hits the road later this year.

MG kicks off title defence
With BMW and Honda taking the wins at Brands you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d be dueling it out at the head of the Manufacturer/Constructor standings. With inconsistencies plaguing their respective efforts, despite the wins, it was MG that kicked off its championship defence by topping the order. Two top tens from Andrew Jordan, adding to Jack Goff’s treble, means last year’s winners hold an early five point advantage over Honda.

Brands breakthrough
Gordon ‘Flash’ Shedden has ordinarily endured a torrid time around the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, which due to its usual spot early in the calendar, meant the Scotsman has often seen his BTCC campaign get off to a rather sticky start. Thankfully he can now banish those memories after finally taking a win on the 1.2-mile track. He did suffer some misfortune with a misfire in race 3 but he’s only five points in arrears in the standings, which is a marked improvement on recent seasons.

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