So the first three rounds are out of the way, and many of the questions that were thrown up ahead of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship have been answered.
The watchword driving out of the circuit on Sunday was continuity. Two under-pressure wins for reigning champion Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic hatchback and one for the eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport of Colin Turkington thrust them to the top of the standings. The wily Matt Neal, who took two podiums and a fourth place on an impressive debut for the factory-backed Honda Civic Tourer, splits them in the standings.
Jordan and Turkington are in the same cars as last season and that enabled them to hit the ground running. Jordan’s team has refined its Civic without reinventing the wheel, while the BMW has improved aerodynamics and a stronger engine. Underneath, though, they are basically the same machines as in 2013 and it is that familiarity that helped them steal a march on the rest.
The Honda Civic Tourers are new for this year but they have the same underpinnings as the Honda Civic hatchbacks that were used in 2013. There is more weight at the rear, obviously, and that means the handling is very twitchy. That needs to be ironed out before Neal and team-mate Gordon Shedden can go for wins, but three podiums at Brands means that there is potential. Harvesting points when the car is not at its best is something that is going to be beneficial later in the season.
Much like Formula One, the British Touring Car Championship uses two types of tyre. There is the harder Dunlop rubber but the drivers also have to use a softer compound for one of the races. The drivers nominate before qualifying which race they want to use these softer white-walled covers. That option had been the undoing of the KX Clubcard Fuel Save team last season, with Jason Plato’s MG hampered. However, Plato’s sensational pace in the third race at Brands Hatch – when he climbed from 11th to third place – showed that the poor handling is a thing of the past.
If it had not been for the car dropping in to limp home mode while he was sitting on the front row due to an electrical problem (which Plato cured with a quick reboot of the car) that consigned him to a finish outside the top ten in race two, then the MG 6 man could well have left Brands Hatch leading the points.
Beyond the big hitters, many eyes were on the former champions returning to the category. Swiss ace Alain Menu struggled to get consistent handling from his Chrome Edition Restart VW CC but seared through the field from 17th to fifth place in the final race of the weekend – although that was slightly tarnished by a heavy collision with Tom Ingram’s Speedworks Toyota Avensis. Italian Fabrizio Giovanardi thought he might struggle to get on top of the Airwaves Racing Ford Focus and so it proved, but he left the meeting feeling he had cracked it. A ninth place in race two was a highlight before spinning out of the points in race three.
There are only 13 points between Jordan at the head of the standings and Rob Collard’s eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport in sixth. It shows that the BTCC is set to deliver another cracker of a season in 2014.