Honda Civic Type R driver Matt Simpson claimed his first victory in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park today - but was then forced to miss the rest of the race meeting due to an engine problem that was diagnosed shortly after his breakthrough win.
Simpson was on top form all weekend and secured his first pole position during qualifying on Saturday, setting a standard of 1min 25.750sec around the 2.23-mile Cheshire circuit.
Come race day, all eyes were on him to see whether he could withstand the pressure and convert his grid advantage into the race lead at the start. Lining up behind him on the starting grid were several proven race winners, namely: Sam Tordoff (Ford Focus RS); Tom Chilton (Ford Focus RS); Andrew Jordan (BMW 125i M Sport) and Matt Neal (Civic Type R).
Simpson made no mistakes and led from start to finish, keeping out of distance of the lurking Chilton until the final lap, when Simpson’s pursuer closed to within +0.265sec as the leader began to struggle with fading brakes.
There was another slight concern during the race because the leader’s Civic Type R was regularly emitting smoke from its nearside-front corner, but Simpson, from West Drayton in Middlesex, kept his cool to claim victory for the first time in 68 BTCC race starts.
Having been demoted by Chilton on lap one, Tordoff spent most of the race fending off Jordan. Neal was a lonely fifth, and Colin Turkington (BMW 125i M Sport) rounded out the top six after progressing well from ninth on the grid.
By rights Simpson should have started the day’s second 15-lap race from pole position, but he was unable to take up his position on the grid; those worrying wisps of smoke seen during the opening race signified a deeper issue that required an entire engine change, which couldn’t be completed in time.
His misfortune elevated Chilton to pole position and Jordan to the outside of the front row. Chilton resisted an attack from Jordan on the drag to the first right-hander, Old Hall Corner, to retain the initiative at the start.
Behind the leaders, Colin Turkington - who had started from fifth on the grid – made a storming start to run fourth, which he converted to third when he slipped past Sam Tordoff at the start of lap two. Matt Neal deposed Tordoff even further before the end of the lap.
Turkington sliced past Jordan for second under braking for Lodge, the final right-hand corner of the lap, at the end of lap three. Two laps later the BMW man repeated the move on leader Chilton and immediately started to pull clear.
Another driver on the move was Neal, who got past Jordan on lap five for third and quickly closed up on Chilton, stealing second place from the Focus at the start of lap eight.
Turkington’s strong race pace stunted Neal’s charge, however, with the BMW man steadily stretching his advantage all the way to the chequered flag for his 46th victory in the championship – and his first of the 2018 season. The 36-year-old tearfully dedicated the win to his mum, Mavis, who passed away recently.
Neal took second with Chilton just resisting Jordan for third, which was an impressive result give he was lugging around 66kg of success ballast after his podium in race one. James Cole (Ford Focus RS) backed up his seventh-place finish in race one with a battling fifth, with Rob Collard (BMW 125i M Sport) rounding out the top six after Tordoff retired a few laps from the end with a fire under the bonnet of his Focus RS. It was an issue that ruled him out of the third and final BTCC race of the day.
The randomly reversed grid for that third race promoted Rob Austin – who finished seventh in race two – to pole position in his Alfa Romeo Giuletta, ahead of Collard, Cole and Jordan.
Collard seized the lead as Austin got some wheelspin away from the start but behind them a nasty multi-car accident in the middle of the pack forced the race to be stopped to enable the marshals to safely clear the wreckage.
When the shortened race restarted, Collard repeated the feat and swept around the outside of Austin into Old Hall Corner to seize the lead. The two pair led away from Jordan, who nipped ahead of Cole for third.
Turkington slipped past Chilton for fifth at the end of lap two and was followed through by Goff. This pair closed on to the back of a stubborn Cole, and it took them a handful of laps to depose the Focus RS, by which point the top three were a long way up the road.
Collard steadily built his lead all the way to the chequered flag, taking his 15th career win, but there was heartbreak for Austin as the Alfa suffered a failed driveshaft on lap nine. That elevated Jordan to second and Turkington to third, ahead of a lonely Goff. Adam Morgan (Mercedes-Benz A-Class) fought up from 11th on the grid to fifth, with Tom Ingram (Toyota Avensis) seizing sixth from Cole on the final lap of the race.
Today’s results mean that with 12 races completed, Turkington has jumped to the head of the standings with 124 points, ahead of Adam Morgan (Mercedes-Benz A-Class) and Goff, who are tied on 112. Ingram is fourth on 103 points ahead of Josh Cook (Vauxhall Astra) on 100 and Neal on 98.
The next Dunlop MSA BTCC event takes place at Croft in North Yorkshire on 23/24 June.