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News 2011: Airwaves Racing Take Independent Championship Lead at Croft

June 19th

Airwaves Racing Lead Independent Championship

Airwaves Racing leave Croft as Independent Championship leaders after a spectacular weekend's racing action that saw both the Motorbase-run team and driver Mat Jackson secure their maiden wins at the North Yorkshire circuit.

An awesome performance during all three races of round 5 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship means the team now head into the mid-season break on a high having secured their third win and seventh podium visit of the season; leaving the Airwaves team at the top of the Independent teams standings and Mat Jackson chasing the overall Championship lead trailing current leader, Matt Neal by a mere nine points.

Despite Jackson and Griffin both setting good times during Saturday morning's free practice sessions, the following qualifying session produced another disappointing result for the Airwaves Racing team with Jackson qualifying in 9th and Griffin 20th position for the first of Sunday's three races.

Jackson Celebrates Third 2011 Race Win

Another Sunday morning downpour, similar to that seen during the BTCC's last outing a couple of weeks ago, left the Croft circuit greasy for the first race of the day. Changeable weather throughout the morning meant that the team deliberated over tyre choice right up to the wire with Jackson bravely settling on a mix of front slicks and wets on the rear, as team-mate Griffin, opted for wets all round.

Starting in 9th position with 27kg of ballast on board, Jackson had a lot of ground to make up in the Ford Focus ST to keep his Championship hopes alive. Following a dramatic start that saw race leader Plato slide off at the first corner to re-join the group in 3rd, the racing order shuffled around before settling back down with Jackson dropping down on to 12th position as he struggled to find the dry line on the greasy track for the first few laps. Jackson's brave tyre choice started to pay off seven laps in as his sector times improved and he started to work his way up into 10th. The deployment of the safety car during lap 8 would prove to be the turning point and catalyst of an awe-inspiring race by Jackson in what was arguably the drive of the BTCC season so far.

Jackson was untouchable as he expertly picked his way through the BTCC pack, out-manoeuvring many of the cars in front of him before pulling off a stunning and fearless pass of both Tom Boardman's Seat and Alex MacDowell's Chevrolet as they battled for position at the hairpin, before zoning straight in on the Pirtek Vauxhall of Andrew Jordan to steal 6th and another vital Championship point for fastest lap.

Jackson's determination and boldness didn't falter once and the Airwaves driver closed the gap on Gordon Shedden's Honda at Sunny In, where the Focus pulled ahead, moving Jackson up into 4th as they exited Sunny Out. A nail-biting final lap delivered an incredible action-packed race finale as Jackson caught the lead group and expertly worked his way past both Jason Plato and Rob Collard to chase down race and Championship leader Matt Neal in a dramatic race to the finish line for first place, narrowly missing the top spot by 0.055 seconds to claim 2nd place and his sixth podium so far this season.

Hertfordshire-based Airwaves Racing team-mate, Griffin, battled well mid-field considering his inexperience in changeable conditions and this being his first visit at the circuit in a front wheel drive car to pick up an extra couple of spots on the circuit, up into 18th position.

With a slightly drier track at the North Yorkshire circuit, both Airwaves Racing drivers opted to run with full slicks for race 2. With 36kg of success ballast on-board, Jackson got off to a good start  but Collard's BMW was quicker off the line and a nudge from the WSR driver going into Hawthorn Bend, pushed the Focus off the track and through the barrier before Jackson managed to claw it back on track and snatch back third position from Shedden. Unfortunately Griffin was punished heavily for a mistake on lap 4 when he clipped the inside of the barrier at Jim Clark Esses, damaging his Ford's front suspension and headed into the adjoining field at high speed, where he stayed for the remainder of the race.

Back on circuit; following the safety car, Jackson made an excellent restart on lap 7, sitting in 3rd place right on the rear bumper of Collard's BMW. Over the following laps Jackson was caught by both Shedden and Plato where he battled gallantly against the Chevrolet driver to retain his 4th place position and the Honda moved ahead. Throughout the race Jackson drove hard and fought off numerous challenges from Jordan before the tyre wear and ballast took their toll on the Focus at Tower Bend and Jordan moved past the Airwaves Focus. Ahead of Jackson, Shedden's Honda was struggling with damaged bodywork on the final lap and the Airwaves driver pushed hard to take advantage in the closing moments, managing to get within just 3 tenths of the Scotsman, but was unable to pass, finishing in a solid 5th place.

As the sun broke through the clouds in the late afternoon, a lucky reverse grid draw saw Airwaves Racing benefit with Jackson moving up into a favourable third place behind the WSR run BMW of Nick Foster and Team AON Ford Focus piloted by Tom Chilton. Jackson got off to a blazing start off the line taking Chilton on and moving straight up into 2nd place by the first corner. A move on Foster's BMW wasn't far behind and Jackson's BTCC talents were deployed once again as he passed the WSR man at Tower Bend to steal the lead.

Once ahead, there was no way that Jackson would risk a mistake to gift his much anticipated maiden Croft win to one of the BMW's waiting in the wings.  The Airwaves Racing driver stayed focussed whilst displaying his remarkable race craft and kept his head to maintain his lead throughout, even whilst under increasing pressure from Collard and Foster who both chased hard and were right on the bumper of the Mountune-powered Focus during the final laps.

After leading the final race of the day from the opening lap, Jackson repaid the hard work of the Motorbase team by securing his third win of the season and seventh visit to the podium for the Kent-based squad. This weekend's results leave both Jackson and the team perfectly positioned as the current Independent Championship leaders ahead round 6 of the BTCC in seven weeks' time where they will get to compete on the all-new Snetterton circuit layout.

Jackson's team-mate and BTCC rookie, Liam Griffin fared better in race 3 in more settled conditions working his way through and managing a 16th place finish overall having started at the back of the grid.

Airwaves Racing Team Manager Oly Collins said:

"A fantastic result today after what was quite a difficult day yesterday. Mat drove brilliantly in all three races to give us a nice big point's haul to help us in our Championship push. It will be interesting to see how the next seven weeks pans out; we have a lot of work scheduled in during the break to further improve the Airwaves Focus, as long as TOCA don't try and slow the turbo cars down anymore, as you would have to say that this weekend the naturally aspirated cars have had incredible pace despite their lack of winter development. A massive well done to all the guys and girls at Airwaves Racing for working so hard to achieve this weekend's result."

Airwaves Racing driver Mat Jackson said:

"Qualifying left us in a lowly 9th and looked like it was going to be a hard weekend ahead. Race morning produced some unfavourable conditions and left us with a difficult decision to make on the tyres. In the end we took a risk by going against the grain of the majority of the grid and opted for a mix of slicks and wet. We knew it was going to be tough, but bided our time and stayed on the track to let the circuit dry out; that was when things came our way and we managed to get up into 2nd on the final lap, narrowly missing out on another victory. The result meant we had a good start position for race 2, unfortunately with the success ballast we struggled with the added weight and to match the pace of the less laden guys, but were happy with 5th and the points for the Championship. We had a great turn of luck with the reverse grid for race 3 to start in third. I knew we needed a good start to get past the new global Focus and the ever fast starting BMW to stand a chance and luckily managed to overtake on the first lap. Collard put us under a lot of pressure but the Focus held out in front and we bagged another great win. I'm delighted for the team and the sponsors to go into the break on the back of such a fantastic result and on a personal level it feels great to finally get my first win at Croft and get that monkey off my back."

Airwaves Racing driver Liam Griffin said:

"I struggled with the mixed conditions this weekend and found race 1 particularly tough having only ever raced at Croft once before in a rear wheel drive car. To be honest in race 2, there's been a lot of talk about farmers having concern with the recent droughts so I just thought I'd help them out and have a look at how their crops were doing, and I'm pleased to report that we're in for a bumper yield this year! On a more serious note, the Airwaves boys did an amazing job turning the car around for me again in just over an hour for race 3 and I really started to learn the circuit, so there are some positives that we can take away and work on over the seven week break."

Event Information:
Croft Circuit length:  2.25miles
Laps: 15
Race distance: 33.75 miles
Address: Croft Circuit, Croft on Tees, North Yorkshire DL2 2PN
Tel: 01325 721815
www.croftcircuit.co.uk