It’s always nice to have a day at the funfair. And if there’s a couple of racing drivers to talk to while you’re there, then so much the better. With BTCC back on our screens and heading to Donnington Park this weekend, Top Gear took a well-deserved away day to Alton Towers to talk backmarkers, NGTC and oil spills with two of the sport’s young hotshots, Andrew Jordan and Frank Wrathall…
ANDREW JORDAN – PIRTEK RACING HONDA
TG: How was your weekend at Brands Hatch?
AJ: It went very well, probably a bit more than we were expecting before. For most of the Saturday we’d been the quickest Honda apart from qualifying. I think Matt [Neal] was 0.08sec quicker than us, so not a huge amount. And then in Race 1 there was some contact at Turn 1 that broke our front bumper, front splitter, so it was pretty horrendous to drive, but we still managed to get a sixth. So that’s our target, when we’ve got a bad race, do some damage limitation and come away with as many points as possible. Then we got from sixth to second in the next race. Race 3 we were leading but couldn’t quite hold Plato off, disappointingly. But still, two seconds and a sixth was a good consistent weekend. I think we’re third in the Driver’s Championship, and we’re leading every other championship. So it was a good, solid weekend, and there’s still a lot of progress to be made. We’re still working very hard at it behind the scenes. You can’t get too complacent and think ‘Oh, I had a good weekend’. Everyone will get better, so we need to do that as well.
TG: How do you feel about the ongoing NGTC debate? Was it heartening to see Matt Neal win in an NGTC car at Brands?
AJ: Well, in a way it was, but in another way not because I was catching him, so I wanted a couple more laps. But yeah, I think that’s the route to go. The tyre wear’s better with the bigger tyre. Even though the car’s heavier, it’s got bigger brakes to compensate for it. It’s all pointing in the right direction so we’re quite happy, and made the right decision going with Honda.
TG: It’s a varied grid this year, and varied in terms of drivers’ abilities. Is that going to become a problem, do you think? [Andrew was irked at Brands Hatch after ES Racing's Chris James held him up during qualifying]
AJ: Yeah, I’d say a little bit. You’ve got your usual guys who are very quick and very competent, and then there’s some who aren’t so. But that’s the way it is and so you can’t pick faults just because some people aren’t as good as others. They’ve got, I suppose, in a way, as much right to be there as we have. It’s just frustrating at times but that’s the way it is.
TG: Do you think it’s a good era for BTCC at the moment?
AJ: Obviously it’s still going through the transition, so I’ll be quite pleased when in 2013 everyone’s in the same spec of car. It’s still quite hard for people with different specs of cars and different boost levels. But it’s the way it is. It always makes for good racing. The race at Brands was very close, very entertaining, and we have to remember that it is a show for everyone to come and watch. So if they have a good day and see a good day’s racing, not too much contact, then everyone’s done their job right.
TG: Were you pleased to not get caught up in Mat Jackson’s oil spill in Race 3 at Brands?
AJ: Yeah, I don’t know how I missed that really, it was just in front of me. I think I was defending to Jason [Plato] and took quite a shallow line in there and then missed the oil. But it could have ended in tears, so I was quite relieved to get through and see the red flag. But no, it was a good solid weekend and we can go to Donnington with our heads held high, riding a wave, good confidence.
TG And are you looking forward to Donnington, with it being your home race?
AJ: Yeah, I had a great weekend there last year, two seconds and a win, scored more points than anyone, I think only Jason [Plato] equaled that amount of points throughout the year so I’m really looking forward to it. I want to come away from there with a win or two. So we’ll do our best. But it’s always nice, just a half hour down the road, so it’s not like it’s a big trek. Got a lot of guests coming, a lot of friends coming.
TG: And is it a track you enjoy anyway?
AJ: Yeah, I love it. The undulations, the Craner Curves, the high-speed corners. I’ve been going there for years, so it’s always nice to drive there and it’s nice when you have a circuit where you’ve had some good results, that always gives you a lovely boost going in there. I’m very excited.
FRANK WRATHALL – DYNOJET TOYOTA AVENSIS
TG: How was the weekend at Brands? Were you where you expected to be after winter?
FW: It was a bit of a funny one for us really, because we finished building the car so late, literally on the Saturday morning. All we’d done with the car was have a quick shakedown at Blyton Park on the way to the circuit. So we had no expectations whatsoever. It was a fresh car, first time we’d run it, so we had no data to really put a base set-up on there, so it actually went a lot better than we expected. The car was really quick out of the box. We ended up qualifying 8th, 0.4sec off pole, so we did really well. I was pleased with the potential of the car from the word go, considering we hadn’t had any set-up time. Unfortunately Sunday didn’t go to plan at all. We had third gear break up in race one, which wrecked the gearbox and put me out of race two as well.
TG: And then that devious Mat Jackson with his planned oil spill….
FW: Yeah, it was like something out of Mario Karts or something.
TG: They were saying Wacky Races on the TV.
FW: Yeah, it did cause a lot of chaos. I managed to keep out of it, just. But when it came to the restart, I was due to start ninth and that was from starting 21st the first time round, so I’d made up a lot of positions and I had a really good early part of the race. But we had a problem with the car, it wouldn’t restart. So by the time we’d bump-started it, I had to start last and ended up with a drive-through penalty. So it was a bit of a subdued end to the weekend. But at least we saw the chequered flag, so we know the car’s got a lot of potential. It’s just a case of a bit of time.
TG: So you think it is just potential at this juncture?
FW: Yeah definitely. We’re going testing next week, just to spend a bit more time playing with different things on the car and getting a base setup, and hopefully that will put us in good shape for Donnington.
TG: So are you looking forward to Donnington? Do you think you’re going to have a good weekend there?
FW: Yeah. Donnington’s up there with my favourite circuits, definitely, especially since they modified the chicane. It just gives the track a much better flow. I think nearly all the drivers enjoy driving Donnington Park, the Craner Curves, the whole hairpin section. It’s absolutely immense. It’s so enjoyable to drive and produces good racing as well. It’s a big event for me and my team being there, the only Toyota out there on the grid. Sorry, the only full Toyota out there on the grid. We’re just up the road from the Toyota plant in Burnaston, so we’ll have quite a few people from the Toyota factory there supporting us and hopefully we can do the car justice.
TG: With the various levels of driving ability up and down the grid, has that been an issue for you?
FW: Last year, especially with the development of the car, I had a lot of opportunity to race against everyone on the grid, from when we were struggling and qualifying last to when we were qualifying on the front two rows and finishing on the podium. I think there’s a massive depth of quality in the field and getting into the top 10 is hard. There are so many good car and driver combinations. No matter how your weekend’s going, you’ve got someone to race against and a tough battle out there. So I’d definitely say that with the top 15 drivers, there isn’t much between us.
TG: But what about the people who aren’t in that top 15? Obviously Andrew Jordan had his spat with Chris James at Brands….
FW: There’s maybe two or three drivers on the grid who maybe are a bit slower than they should be. But you’re going to get that with anything and they deserve a shot at racing in Touring Cars. Just to make it onto the Touring Car grid is an achievement and I’m sure they’ll improve. I know Andrew had a problem with a backmarker but personally, I haven’t had any issues yet. But I think if I’d had the same problem Andrew had had, I’d be maybe a little bit annoyed.
TG: Were you pleased to see an NGTC car win a race?
FW: Yeah. It wasn’t too much of a surprise, to be honest. I think that the way we developed the NGTC last year and got it right to the front proved that it was the route to go down for this year. I’d like to think that our car’s every bit as good as [Matt Neal’s] Honda, but obviously it gives us a bit of a boost knowing that there’s every chance that we could get on the top step of the podium this year.
TG: So is it a case of “roll on 2013″ in terms of wanting to have everyone in NGTC cars?
FW: Judging from Brands Hatch, the parity between the cars is pretty close. And I think that no matter what the rules are, different circuits are going to suit different cars, whether they’re rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, different engine characteristics, different handling. It’s a case of doing the best job on the day, whatever the rules are. But I think we’re in for a good year, really.
TG: Do you think we’re seeing a renaissance for BTCC?
FW: Yeah definitely. I think NGTC is improving the look, the sound, the visual aspect of the machinery, especially. Personally, I think the cars look awesome. They look like big, mean, proper Touring Cars. And also, with the development costs not spiraling out of control, the series is now quite accessible for someone to either buy or build an NGTC car. It’s definitely making the BTCC go from strength to strength.
Words: Greg Stuart