Shedden clinches BTCC title
Gordon Shedden claimed his maiden British Touring Car Championship title with a race to spare.
By William Esler
Last Updated: 21/10/12 5:40pm
Gordon Shedden claimed his maiden British Touring Car Championship title with a race to spare, becoming the first Scottish champion since John Cleland in 1995.
It has been a topsy-turvy season for the Scot - after a nightmare start to the season as his new NGTC Honda Civic suffered major technical issues at the opening meeting, Shedden bounced back with four wins in the next six races. Even a major fire at Snetterton in August couldn't derail the 33-year-old's challenge.
Matt Neal won the first race with a dominant drive in treacherous conditions made worse by Mat Jackson's Ford Focus dropping oil on the track with five laps to go.
Pole-sitter Tom Onslow-Cole got away well in the BMW, but fellow front row man Andrew Jordan lit up his front tyres on the slippery track, dropping back as the cars made the dash to Paddock Hill Bend.
Jordan made his way back into the top three and he, Neal and Onslow-Cole streaked away at the front enjoying their own private battle. The race was neutralised, though, when Ollie Jackson went into the gravel causing a safety car.
The race was far from a classic, with overtaking at a premium, although Jason Plato seemed easy pickings for some drivers as the MG driver struggled for outright pace, eventually finishing eighth.
Neal took the checkered flag by half a second ahead of Jordan who had to defend heavily into Clearways on the final lap from Tom Onslow-Cole. Irish youngster Aron Smith impressed in fourth, ahead of Gordon Shedden who extended his Championship lead with fifth.
The weather deteriorated for race 2, but it was Smith who tamed the conditions to take his maiden BTCC win.
Tom Onslow-Cole made a lightening start to lead into Paddock Hill Bend, ahead of the Dubliner as the Honda's bogged down on the slippery surface.
Plato rear-ended Shedden at Druids, firing him into the back of Rob Collard, spinning the BMW driver out of the race - handing the Independent's Championship to Jordan. That incident also eliminated Will Bratt and the safety car was called for.
The race resumed on lap 6, but problems struck immediately as Dan Welch was spun off at Paddock Hill Bend as Andy Neate got together with Nick Foster, and Dave Newsham was spun out one corner later by Jason Plato - once again bringing out the safety car.
As the race got back underway on lap 10 Smith led from Onslow-Cole, while behind them Neal let Shedden into third to aid his title cause. That became second when Onslow-Cole outbraked himself at Surtees dropping from second to 14th.
Just two laps later Neate caused another incident, with a ridiculous piece of driving. Having run wide at Graham Hill bend, the MG driver proceeded to pull wildly across the track, hitting Adam Morgan and spinning the Toyota driver into the barriers at high speed, causing Aaron Williamson and Onslow-Cole to go off trying to avoid the incident.
The damage caused by Neate's assault on the Toyota meant Morgan missed the day's final race. The incident was another black mark on Neate's record book after his embarrassing spin during qualifying.
Frantic maths work on the Honda pitwall established that with the bonus point for fastest lap, second place would be enough for Shedden to take the Championship and he was told to hold station behind Smith during the final laps. Neal completed the podium ahead of Plato, moving the Honda driver back ahead of his long-term rival.
"All I ever wanted as a kid was to race touring cars - it was never about F1 - and it was John Cleland who was my hero," the new Champion said.
"I never thought I'd ever get the chance to race them, though, let alone win a race and now I'm the Champion. It is mind blowing..."
A boat may have been a better choice for the final race than a touring car as the drivers took to the track for the final race. The weather had closed in at the Kent circuit, making it very dark as the race got underway.
Jackson and Frank Wrathall both made a good start from the front row, ahead of Plato as Neal and Shedden got the jump on Andrew Jordan.
Neal got past Plato on lap three to take third and secure second place in the Drivers' Championship, and that became second a lap later when Jackson retired from the lead with a throttle problem.
Plato continued to fall backwards as the race progressed with the MG easy pickings for Shedden, Jordan, Austin, Smith and Newsham.
For the final race of the season, things were pretty calm after that, particularly for a BTCC race, as Wrathall streaked away at the front to take his first victory by seven seconds.
2012 Drivers' Championship
1. Gordon Shedden - Honda - 409
2. Matt Neal - Honda - 387
3. Jason Plato - MG - 376
4. Andrew Jordan - Honda - 346
5. Rob Collard - BMW - 303