VX Racing lead the way‏ at Brands

The opening round of the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) which took place yesterday at Brands Hatch circuit, Kent, gave VX Racing plenty to celebrate with the team taking the lead in all the championship standings – Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’/Constructors’ titles.

A 1-2 in the first race gave Matt Neal victory and Fabrizio Giovanardi second place, with Neal’s success bringing VX Racing the 100th win with Triple Eight Engineering. “A dream start to the season” said Neal of taking the first spoils.

In the second race Neal backed up his win with a third place podium finish, while Giovanardi took 16th after a puncture forced him to pit from fourth place. It was Jordan who impressed the enthusiastic BTCC crowd with a spirited drive from 16th place on the grid to a fifth place points finish. Neal added another 3rd place finish in the final race of the day, while his team mates were both forced to retire – Jordan with a transmission problem and Giovanardi from accident damage.

Yesterday’s qualifying session resulted in a VX Racing front row lock out with Neal taking the first pole of the season with Giovanardi alongside him and Jordan close behind in fifth place.

The first race showed the advantage that the rear wheel drive BMWs hold on the grid, with Colin Turkington and Rob Collard both using their traction to power ahead of the Vauxhalls. Neal dropped back to third, while Jordan had a better start than Giovanardi to snatch fourth and drop his Italian team mate to fifth place. A short safety car period for a Honda in the gravel kept this order until the restart, when Neal closed on the BMW of Collard, finally taking second place from him when his rival ran wide. 

By lap 8 Neal had forced his way past Turkington to take the lead and with Jordan on his tail, his team mate was also able to overtake the BMW to lie in second place with Giovanardi in fifth behind Turkington and Collard. The champion passed Collard for fourth then inherited third place when team mate Jordan had to pull off track with driveshaft problems, a disappointing end for the youngster who had been lying in a podium position in only his first race with the team. The champion showed his prowess with a challenge on Turkington which put him up to second, and he took the chequered flag 0.4 seconds behind team mate Neal.

Neal said of winning the opener:”It was a dream start to my season, but I had to fight for it. I was relieved when Andrew was behind me, but when he had a problem Turkington was back behind me and then Fabrizio got stuck in the mix which was good. He started coming on strong at the end which was a bit worrying. My car was excellent, although like others, it was sliding around a fair bit. Great start to the weekend for us.”

The mandatory ‘success’ ballast gave the advantage to the rival BMWs at the start of the second race. Neal was on pole with an extra 45 kgs and Giovanardi second on the grid carrying an additional 36 kgs after their earlier 1-2. The combination of extra weight and the rear wheel drive advantage of the BMWs they were unable to fend off the charges of Turkington, Collard and Jelley behind. Jordan, after his retirement from the first race was able to take the start for the second race, after the VX Racing mechanics worked quickly to make the necessary repairs ahead of the second race. Starting from 16th place the 19 year-old showed his determination by moving up three places on the opening lap.

Neal and Giovanardi, in fourth and fifth place, were poised to move forwards at the first possible opportunity and when Jelley made a mistake the duo were quickly past him. Meanwhile Jordan was displaying his potential, calmly picking off his rivals ahead and pushing each lap. With only six laps to the chequered flag Giovanardi picked up a puncture, forcing him to pit. He returned to the track in 16th place, his final finish position. Neal held position in third to cross the line with his second podium of the day. Meanwhile Jordan had impressed with a sterling performance, improving from his 16th place start position to finish fifth, bouncing back from his earlier retirement with an abundance of style and maturity.

Jordan said after the second race, “I thought we could get into the top eight even though we were starting in 16th, but to get fifth was even better. There were a few ‘Matt Neal’ moves and a little bit of contact in Clearways, but there weren’t any big lunges and we brought the car back in one piece so it was good. Starting from sixth for the third race I’d like to get on the podium.”

The final race of the day featured the customary BTCC reverse grid. With Jordan starting in sixth, his more experienced team mates were behind him with Neal in eighth place and Giovanardi in 16th position. Success ballast adjusted after the second race made Neal slightly lighter, but Jordan had 9 kgs added to his car. Jordan slipped two places at the start after being pushed off line, but he then started to claw his way back. Neal held position for the first few laps with Jordan having regained ground and sitting in eighth behind him.

Giovanardi had a lightning start to lie 11th at the end of the opening lap, only to be the innocent victim of an incident between two BMWs squabbling for position which put him to the back of the field. He continued on but the accident damage finally forced him to retire from the race. Neal, on a charge, hunted down Adam Jones to take sixth place with Jordan following behind to lie seventh. The first race winner then made light work of Dan Eaves, then Turkington to steal fourth place before taking Gordon Shedden for third. Jordan also passed Eaves for sixth place, but a transmission problem forced him to pit and retire from the race.

Giovanardi said of his day, “I was involved in an accident that wasn’t my fault at all; I tried to continue but the car wasn’t right. We have a few points, it’s only the first weekend and there’s a long way to go, so I’m not worried.”

A win, a second place and two third place podiums were welcome rewards for the team’s efforts to stay ahead of the competition. Celebrating the milestone of taking 100 victories with Triple Eight Engineering also capped off a successful opening race weekend. 

Ian Harrison, Team Principal, VX Racing and Managing Director, Triple Eight Engineering, said of taking 100 victories with the Vauxhall BTCC team, “We’re very pleased to have reached this milestone. It’s taken 13 years to get here, but we’re delighted to have achieved this.”

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