Paul O’Neill’s Oulton Park thoughts

Oulton Park is a place close to my heart and this isn’t just because I used to live 15 minutes down the road.

Nor is it that it was my very first win in a race back in 2002. (You never knew that did you as ITV never ever show me crying there in the build up to the races on Sunday do they?!)

The reason I love this place is because it’s two things – technical and rewarding for those who are brave – as the slow speed change of direction coupled with the high speed off camber corners make this place a real challenge.

We move on from the problems of punctures at Thruxton to another obstacle for the teams, brakes! This place is at the same level on brake wear as Donington Park, the reason for this is short straights and big brake zones. Forget T1 and T2 (Old Hall and Cascades) but then imagine the brake fluid after standing on the brakes for the first gear T3 hairpin (Island) followed by another 100mph deceleration for T4 (Knickerbrook chicane.)

You’d be feeling jaded and believe me in all the BTCC cars I’ve race around there I was pumping the pedal to get the friction to work at T6 (Lodge Corner).

Matt Neal was telling me that his Honda crew will change discs and pads 5 TIMES per car at Oulton just to keep the brake pedal ‘feeling sharp’. On top of that they use the ‘softer’ Raybestos pad for qualifying and then change to the discs ‘mated’ to the ‘harder’ Project Mu pad for the race.

It’s this attention to detail that gives the big teams the performance edge when they arrive at tricky circuits like this…

Anyway, are you still awake? That’s good because I want to talk about Leicester City’s new signing Dan Welch. What a hero that guy was in his Proton around Thruxton. Watching the onboard footage of rival cars chasing him down was sublime, really teetering on edge and keeping them all at bay! It all ended in a very sad way as his car inexplicably gave up at complex when a podium was definitely on.

But fear not!! Dan and Welch Motorsport turn up at Oulton in fine fettle and to a place that nearly gave Dan his maiden podium in 2012 before he was demoted to fourth by Oulton Park specialist Jason Plato.

His record at the Cheshire circuit indicates to me that he could have an even better time than at Thruxton, with no weight and the same strong TOCA engine that helped him to his best finish at the circuit.

This place is a big traction circuit with the first gear Island hairpin and second gear Knickerbrook chicane so it suits the RWD cars and most notably WSR’s BMWs.

The trio of 125is are looking soooo strong at the minute and Rob Collard is jointly leading the standings with Matt Neal. Rob would admit himself that he played second fiddle to Colin Turkington a lot of the time when they were team-mates but now he’s gone, Rob has taken the bull by the horns!

If the ‘Demolition Man’ gets his qualifying head on and scores big over the three races I can see him opening up a bit of a championship lead. Saying that he’s gotta lug 66Kgs of ballast around but his car will do this better than Matt Neal’s Honda. Top eight qualification will be Robert’s aim.

What about the other two lads? Well, Jack Goff has been a revelation on his rear-wheel debut but only has one podium to show for his consistency that’s placed him sixth in the championship, only 16 points off the lead. Expect at least podiums and / or a win for the ‘Brian Harvey’ lookalike who takes 33kgs into Saturday’s qualifying and the first race.

I feel Sam Tordoff has a point to prove this weekend, he’s the third BMW in the standings and he is a definite championship contender! He has 6kgs less than JG and is two things; a demon qualifier and has a mega record there. Eight top ten finishes in his BTCC career from nine starts, including a win and a second! I think he’ll start on the front row and score handsomely over the weekend.

I think there will be a new challenger top the BTCC’s top six and it’ll bring a smile to a lot of faces; Subaru!! The reasons? Well there’s a few…

Firstly it’s a circuit that favours rear-wheel drive as I just said. Secondly, I’m sure they’ll have ironed out the problems that beset them at Thruxton. Thirdly, they have the Oulton Park master Jason Plato.

Last year BMR and JP had pole in the VW CC with 48Kgs and then two wins in the day, one with the full 75kgs which my colleague Tim Harvey just couldn’t grasp! And to be fair, neither could his team-mates.

I spoke to one of the engineers at BMR and he just quipped ‘JP has a trick and the others just can’t figure it out on the data’. He’s definitely got something but I’m not sure he’ll be able to transfer that to the RWD Subaru but one thing is for sure; this will be his best outing this year.

Cast your minds back to 2013 when a returning Colin Turkington debuted the WSR BMW 1 Series – he scored big all weekend at Oulton with a fifth, third and a second. He was hustling that car all weekend I remember and was rewarded handsomely with the big points from the weekend. I really think this weekend could be the same for Colin, maybe just not two podiums.

There are no long straights so CT and JP will be trying to keep their ‘minimum speeds’ up in the corners to carry momentum through the whole lap and that chassis has shown promise from day dot. Engine upgrades should be bolted on too. P3 for Colin in FP1 at Thruxton was a warning shot and I think at Oulton they will be firing live rounds.

The bromance at 888 is still strong, if not stronger, as Josh Cook and Ash Sutton push each other to the absolute maximum; putting that MG right in the mix. Thruxton was supposed to be a bogey circuit for Ian Harrison’s squad but they looked on fire as both cars ran up the front at some stage of the weekend. I expect these two young guns, carrying 9Kgs and 15Kgs respectively, to be showing the form that a certain Jason Plato did here in the MG once upon a time. One if not both of the southerners should be on the podium early in the day on Sunday. Hard to separate!

Adam Morgan has scored two wins this year and, I keep saying it, but he is the stand out act at the minute for me as he not only is consistent, but consistently right at the sharp end. The biggest points scorer from Thruxton commented live ‘that’ll do’ to the ITV4’s commentary team after being told the race was red flagged and he was the winner, and that just shows what this fella is about.

Comfortable in his family team and showing devastating consistency, this lad is coming of age and handling the ‘big ballast’ well. And that’s exactly what won Jordan and Shedden their titles. I expect the same at Oulton for Preston’s very own ‘Moroccan Sunet’ but he may struggle to make the podium with 57Kgs.

Another BTCC ‘attacker’ who’s the only other person to win more than one race this year is Motorbase’s Mat Jackson. His inter-team battle with 2013 champion Andrew Jordan will be one of the best things to watch this year. The no nonsense Jackson will want to stamp authority on the team and I remember him winning his first BTCC race at this very circuit back in 2007. Team principle Dave Bartrum’s enthusiasm for BTCC is a joy to see and coming off the back of two wins at Thruxton their tails will be high. I’m seeing them hanging around tenth place for the opening round and maybe not harassing the podium at Oulton Park, but saying that the car seems to be on the up.

Others to watch out for are the usual round one man, Tom Ingram! He will be soooo fast with 0kgs of ballast and Gordon Shedden will qualify on the lowest ballast he’s carried into qualifying (39kgs – not including Brands Hatch 0kg starting ballast) since Donington Park 2015, so the Scotsman will fly in qualifying!

So who do I think will do what?

Qualifying: Tom Ingram / Gordon Shedden
Race 1: Tom Ingram / Sam Tordoff
Race 2: Gordon Shedden
Race 3: Stewart Lines (Hahaha, joking)
Race 3: Josh Cook (No LOLs)

One thing is for certain. It’ll be close but don’t expect to see much overtaking unless the boys start ‘pushing to pass’.

Peace out