The 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship came to a head at Brands Hatch GPlast weekend and we were fighting to secure a number of titles in both the drivers and team championships. My Cobra Sport AMD with AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing team were on for winning the Independent Team Championship and could also finish third in the Overall Teams Championship against the might of the manufacturers.
I was in contention for the Jack Sears Trophy, the Independents Drivers Championshipand could also finish inside the top 5 of the Overall Drivers Championship!
To me what was most important was winning the Independents Drivers Championship, but I went into the weekend trailing my rival Josh Cook by just over 20 points, basically a full race win of points between us.
With so much up for grabs the pressure was on to absolutely nail this final weekend. My strategy was to treat the event just like any other and chose not to get caught up in the stress of working out who I needed to beat and by how many places. Fortunately, the team took this weight on their shoulders and had created a spreadsheet that calculated the championship finishing positions based on the running order of each lap of each race, so they had a clear picture in real time. They gave me updates throughout the races but only when required, allowing me to drive naturally.
The weather was so unpredictable on both Saturday and Sunday, so picking the correct tyre strategy was going to be key for the races, where a last minute call to run slicks or wets could happen. Qualifying was fully wet but we hadn’t run in these conditions all day, so I couldn’t gauge where we could potentially end up. I was quite relieved after my first couple of runs as we were in a comfortable sixth place but I knew I had a little more in the tank. I left the pit lane and started my final run and the team gave me the heads up that this would be my final lap, so I kept it neat and tidy through the very slippery first sector and then started to take some extra risks in the high speed Grand Prix loop. I arrived onto the start finish and powered over the line to see I had bettered my lap time by some margin. This bumped me up to fifth place with only rear wheel drive cars ahead. These conditions suited the BMWs and Subarus so it felt like a mini pole position. I was so happy, screaming down the radio to the team. I think I was more relieved after such a tough weekend at Silverstone and I had Josh Cook behind me, so the fight was on!
Race day was going to be a real tough one with the conditions changing. In Race 1 the track went from dry to wet midway through the race, leading to some drivers pitting for wets while the front runners chose to stay on slicks. After battling at the front of the field and leading at various stages, I was demoted from second place to fourth on the final corner of the final lap by Matt Neal and Tom Chilton, who were on the more grippy wet tyres. Losing out on a podium in this way was hard to take but it was important to keep focus on the bigger picture. Josh Cook didn’t score any points due to an off and I was now within 5 points of him in the Independents Championship.
In Race 2 the track was damp and most of the field were on wet tyres. I had to avoid a spinning Colin Turkington on lap 1, taking to the grass so as not to T-Bone his BMW 3 Series. This dropped me outside the top ten and it was a real tough battle. I managed to work my way back up to ninth with a pass on Stephen Jelley into Druids Hairpin. It was another frustrating race but the main thing was to score solid points. Things were starting to come together as I had done enough to secure the Jack Sears Trophy and more importantly the team had now won the Independents Team Championship. Our team owner, Shaun Hollamby, couldn’t hold back his emotion when being interviewed on ITV 4, it was a very special moment for a team that has punched above its weight all season long.
We were now heading into the thirtieth and final race of 2019 and it was shaping up to be a true showdown. I was now just one point behind Josh Cook and would start third on the road after eleventh place was drawn out of the reverse grid hat. Josh was down in thirteenth, but was using his Soft Option tyres, which most of the field had utilised in the first race of the day. He was going to be on the attack and very fast so I was determined to drive this final race with maximum aggression.
I lost a few places off the line to Ollie Jackson, Tom Chilton and Jason Plato but quickly got two of them back into Druids Hairpin and Graham Hill bend. I was in fourth place and then went about attacking Senna Proctor and Stephen Jelley ahead – I needed to make my move now. I passed them both at Westfield Corner within a couple of laps of each other, which promoted me up to second on the road. However, I could see a matte grey Honda just a few places back – Josh Cook was on the charge. By lap 5 he was in third place and was right on my tail. Josh almost snuck past on the exit of Clearways corner, but I held him off. Whoever finished ahead of the other on the road would be crowned champion. If I wanted to win this title I needed to fight for it. I grabbed the bull by the horns and attacked every corner one by one. I knew that his soft tyres would start to fade around 10 laps in so I just needed to keep him at arm’s length. My medium compound tyres may not have had the ultimate pace but they stayed consistent, Josh’s tyres slowly dropped off and I edged out some breathing space. He then came under pressure from Ashley Sutton and dropped to fourth which was a big relief. I came towards the finish line in a safe second place and the team were hanging over the pit wall and screaming down the radio at me – you did it, you are Independents Drivers Champion!! It couldn’t have happened any better, in a straight race against my rival.
We ticked all boxes we set out to achieve, with the Independents Drivers and Teams titles, the Jack Sears Trophy and third in the Overall Teams Championship. This silverware is fantastic but I’m also very proud of finishing 5th in the Overall Drivers Championship in amongst the factory backed drivers like Cammish, Jordan and Turkington.
It’s hard to sum up how I feel as I think it’s still sinking in. I’ve described the BTCC like a rollercoaster more than once and this year it’s proved to be nothing short of a loop-the-loop. We’ve endured a few low points, but the many highs have motivated us to keep fighting. I’ve run inside the top 6 in the championship all season long, leading at stages and scoring wins and pole positions too. The success of 2019 is down to a number of key factors and I think we nailed it with the combination of fast machinery, skilled engineers and mechanics as well as three experienced fast drivers in Sam, Mike and I. We all supported each other and pushed each other to do better! Most importantly our success stems down from the support and backing that I received from both the teams and my own personal sponsors and I hope that they have taken as much enjoyment from this season as I have.
2020 is now on the horizon and I have no choice but to aim higher. I look forward to updating you on my plans………
Jack Sears Trophy – for drivers who had previously not scored an overall podium before the 2019 season commenced.
Thanks to Dickon Siddall for the images.