Dynamics duo to push on at Oulton
Halfords Yuasa Racing duo Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden are Cheshire-bound as they continue their quest for the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship laurels – with Oulton Park next on the calendar for the country’s premier motor sport series.
With three meetings of the campaign completed, Halfords Yuasa Racing tops the Teams’ standings, Neal leads the way, tied with Team JCT600 with GardX’s Rob Collard in the Drivers’ classification and fellow multiple title-holder Shedden is in close contention in fifth. Both men have tasted victory champagne already this year and between them, have tallied more than ten triumphs at Oulton Park in seasons past.
Halfords Yuasa Racing duo Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal starred at both Brands Hatch and Donington Park, with the latter then leading the championship from his team-mate, but the multiple champion squad have not had it all their own way since.
At Thruxton, a double non-finish for champion Shedden put a hole in his points tally. He heads back to the scene of his breakthrough BTCC success ten years ago fired-up to rediscover the rostrum.
“I’m feeling good,” said Sheddon. “I think I was ready to go again at about 6:30pm on the Sunday at Thruxton, because I wanted to immediately erase the memories of that weekend!
“Oulton is a fun track to drive and usually produces good racing – although overtaking isn’t easy – and the large and enthusiastic crowds generate a good atmosphere.
“Ballast is quite a penalty there, due to the stop-start nature of the circuit, its undulating layout and heavy-braking zones. That will put even more emphasis than usual on qualifying – particularly with a full grid of 32 cars.
“The flipside to Thruxton in that respect is having dropped a few spots in the standings, I’ll be the lightest I’ve been going into qualifying for well over a year, with the obvious exception of the first round of the season when everybody is on zero ballast – so I’ll need to make sure I get my finger out to really take advantage of that.
“We’re still trying to maximise the potential of the Honda Civic Type R – I don’t think we’ve completely aced it yet – so to be as competitive as we have been everywhere so far is really encouraging, and we’ve got some good ideas to improve it further. Hopefully we can come away from Oulton with three good finishes and a strong points haul to put us firmly back on the championship trail.”
Neal fared slightly better at Thruxton, with a race three podium making up for earlier disappointment. Twelve months ago he claimed a brace of podium finishes around the picturesque and challenging Cheshire circuit and returns with his sights firmly set on defending his championship advantage in the chase for the coveted crown.
“When things were going wrong at Thruxton, I remember thinking, ‘at least on the positive side, I’ll be nice and light going to Oulton’ – and obviously now that isn’t the case,” said Neal.
“That said, I’ve always stressed that I’d rather carry the weight than not because it means the points are in the bag. Oulton Park was one of the first tracks I ever raced at and I used to test there a lot. It’s an enjoyable circuit to drive – very fast and not very forgiving, with not much run-off if you make a mistake and overtaking is notoriously tricky. It’s got a little bit of everything, which means you need a car with good balance and high-speed stability – a strong all-round package – and that’s where the Honda Civic Type R really comes into its own.
“Qualifying will be tough, especially as Oulton is probably one of the worst circuits we go to for ballast, with a lot of slow corners followed by long uphill straights. That certainly won’t make it easy for us, but everybody towards the top of the table is in the same boat. It’s so incredibly tight in this championship right now that you have to be absolutely on peak form and I need to remain realistic and focus on the long game, but if we can keep on racking up the points, we’ll be doing just fine.”