Gordon Shedden delivers Honda Civic Tourer's second BTCC success. Super-fast Thruxton remains a Honda stomping-ground on excellent weekend. Fourth podium of 2014 for Matt Neal keeps both drivers well in title contention.
Gordon Shedden made it two triumphs in as many meetings for Honda Yuasa Racing's new Civic Tourer in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, as the Scot fought his way to a superb second victory of the 2014 season at super-fast Thruxton.
Shedden travelled to the high-speed Hampshire circuit riding the crest of a wave off the back of his spectacular last-gasp success two weeks earlier at Donington Park that had left him just one point shy of the top of the points table, with team-mate Matt Neal similarly well in contention close behind in fifth.
Thruxton has always been a happy hunting-ground for Honda, with both drivers having ascended the top step of the rostrum there on multiple occasions. They set themselves up to maintain that impressive record by placing second and third in Saturday's qualifying session, Neal ahead by just a tenth-of-a-second.
After battling determinedly past the fast-starting Airwaves Racing car of Mat Jackson in race one, Neal and Shedden proceeded to take the chequered flag in second and third positions, securing a double podium finish for Honda Yuasa Racing and a hefty haul of points in the drivers', manufacturers' and teams' standings.
Shedden grabbed the initiative from his team-mate at the start of race two and made a bold dive for the lead into Campbell on the opening lap, only to run in slightly too deep and slip back to third. The Scot soon reclaimed the position with a classic slipstreaming move on the run down to the chicane on lap three, and lapping as the quickest driver on the track, he then swiftly homed in on fellow Honda driver Andrew Jordan.
Carrying more speed through Brooklands on lap 11, 'Flash' swept around the outside of the defending champion heading into the chicane, thereafter controlling the race until the red flags flew two laps early due to a high-speed accident at Church. Neal wound up a feisty fourth following a crowd-pleasing side-by-side overtake on Jackson that lasted several corners.
The reverse grid draw for race three was not kind to the two Civic Tourers, leaving Neal seventh and Shedden tenth. Running line-astern for much of the race, the pair swapped places on a couple of occasions in a safety car-disrupted encounter, before latching onto the back of the scrap over third.
Sadly, the race did not have the happy ending it looked to be promising. Shedden took the flag fifth but was subsequently demoted to sixth for a yellow flag infringement, whilst Neal found himself unceremoniously turfed off the circuit by Rob Collard on the penultimate lap and was left to limp across the line as last of the classified finishers, with only the fastest lap as a consolation prize for his efforts.
"To come away with two podiums and another win is just great," enthused 2012 BTCC Champion Shedden, who has climbed a spot to second in the drivers' title chase. "It was fantastic to get another victory, and to finish it off by scoring some good, strong points in race three was quite a relief given how much chaos was kicking off out there!
"It was a real dogfight, but we've worked very hard on the Civic Tourer and we comfortably had the legs of the other guys around us - and over the balance of the weekend, we proved that a Honda remains unquestionably the car to have at Thruxton! All-in-all, it was a successful day in the office.
"Every time we drive the new Civic Tourer, we are learning a little more about it. It's still only done three events and has already won twice, and hopefully that development curve will continue as the year progresses."
"I was really pleased with the podium finish in race one and the pace we displayed then and in race two as well," added Neal, who has similarly advanced a position to fourth in the table. "The car was fantastic in race three - the best it had felt all weekend - but the whole race was like wasps in a bees' nest and I got caught up in some of the drama on the opening lap, which cost me a few places.
"Thereafter, the cards just didn't fall my way, which was disappointing obviously, but it does mean I'll travel light to Oulton Park next in terms of ballast and there is still a long way to go in this championship - and plenty of points to fight for."
The trio of podium finishes at Thruxton helped to further extend Honda's advantage over its pursuers in both the manufacturers' and teams' standings, and Honda Yuasa Racing Team Manager Peter Crolla reflected that at this formative stage of the Civic Tourer's development, it was encouraging to be entering the early-season break in such a positive position.
"Overall, I'm happy with the weekend," he mused. "You always want a little bit more, but to achieve the results we did is a satisfying outcome. Both Matt and 'Flash' did a good job in qualifying and each produced great drives in races one and two. All credit to Gordon for his determined performance in race two, because he really wrung the neck of his car and fought tooth-and-nail to emerge victorious.
"Unfortunately, the race three grid didn't do us any favours as it left us at the trickier end of the top ten pack and it was always going to be difficult to move too far forward from there. Nevertheless, we've come away with some more strong results that leave us very nicely-placed as we now head into the five-week gap before Oulton Park."
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