Thursday, October 11 2012
For the quartet of drivers heading to Brands Hatch on 20/21 October with a shot of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, the task ahead is straightforward: take home the 2012 trophy. However there are a myriad of possibilities and strategies facing Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato, Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan.
For Jordan it's reasonably simple: even if he took pole position and won every race taking the fastest lap, he'd still need Shedden and Plato to have disastrous weekends. It's the 15 point gap between these two where things get really interesting.
Shedden's average finish in 27 races has been sixth place, and if he just managed this at Brands Hatch then his tally will be 394 points. Plato could close to within one point of this total with pole, two wins and two fastest laps in the first two races. Surely a simple task for the double champion's aggressive style?
But Shedden has made the podium in nearly half of his races, so is a sure bet to do this at least once at Brands Hatch. Ignoring retirements, he has a reasonable chance of passing the 400-point barrier - 51 more than Plato's current score, and he only has an average finishing position of seventh place so far.
If retirements are ignored, the average for both is third place, making them certain podium contenders. On the face of it, Plato's task is easier if they're both up front - the points gap between places is bigger and a Plato-Shedden 1-3 in each race with the MG man on pole makes him champion. However it's the reverse grid race that could swing the balance back in Shedden's favour.
Plato's strategy is surely the simplest: go all out for glory in the first two races and finish well ahead of the Scotsman in the finale. For Shedden it's all about keeping an eye on his MG rival and minimising the cars between them. But there is a third driver in all of this who could make all the difference.
Reigning champion Neal hasn't given up on his own aspirations - his reaction to his Silverstone retirements made that clear, after all history beckons if he can take a fourth crown. However his task is even harder - there are more random elements when fighting an adversary in a different team, but it's almost insurmountable when the driver is in the same car, just as competitive, and 31 points - a win and a fifth place - in front. His best hope is to be there to carry the baton if it all goes wrong for Gordon.
Neal has publically stated his intention to ensure a Honda driver takes the title and the relationship between the pair would suggest that this is genuine - if anything could have broken the bond, it would surely have been the unfortunate clash between the pair at Oulton Park last year. Therefore Shedden can afford to have a maximum-attack Neal covering Plato's every move whilst he sits behind ready to pick up the pieces: if Neal heads Plato he takes valuable points away from the MG man, if the tables are turned then they'll swap positions before the flag falls, minimising the damage.
The cold facts suggest that Shedden is in pole position to take his first BTCC crown, something he has threatened to do ever since his debut for Team Dynamics in 2006. However it's likely to go down to the reverse-grid final race where anything can happen. Don't bet against the element of surprise and shock in the championship, after all statistically a brand new package turning a wheel just days before the opening round would be in no position to win, but that's just what Plato did back in April...
Tickets for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on 20/21 October are available from £25, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.