Despite many years of racing at Snetterton Circuit it’s fair to say that it’s my bogey track on the BTCC calendar. Heading into Round 6 of the Championship last weekend, I was unsure about how things would go and my expectations were definitely a little lower than normal. In this championship where everything is so tight, it’s important to make your bad weekends good ones!
After qualifying on Saturday we were content with a P11 starting position for Race 1, but on reflection I could have been further up the order if I’d pieced together the perfect lap. When you’re not at one with a circuit, it’s hard to get into a rhythm and it’s easy to make one or two small mistakes per lap that cost time.
Starting outside the top 10 with 30kg of success ballast a bold strategy was in order for Sunday. This weekend we had to use the Hard, Medium and Soft compound tyres across the three races, but we didn’t need to choose until moments before each race. On Saturday evening I phoned my sister Jillian and brother in law Gordon Shedden. They were adamant that I needed to take a risk and use the slower Hard compound tyres in Race 1, the Medium compound in Race 2 and save the super fast Soft tyres for Race 3. This was risky because most of the grid would likely use the better tyres in the first two races, leaving me vulnerable, potentially falling down the order without a shot at any points. Gordon’s stand point was that I needed to get out of sequence with the top ten and if I could hold position in the first two races, then I had a real shot at some big points in Race 3. Who wouldn’t listen to a Triple BTCC Champion!
Race 1 went better than we could have expected as I held my starting position of 11th despite being on the sluggish Hard tyre. In Race 2 I ended up dropping one place after contact with BMW driver Tom Oliphant knocked me out of the top ten. We were two races down and I’d only scored 9 points, not to mention that I’d be starting P12 for the finale. What was even more concerning was our lacklustre pace on the medium tyre, which didn’t bode well for the Soft compound. My team mate Sam and I were running slightly different set ups but were complaining of the exact same issues, so we needed to make a fundamental set up change if we wanted a shot at some silverware in Race 3. Sitting in the team truck there were a few worried faces and it felt like all the good work we had achieved in the first half of the season was slipping away. The engineers, Mike and Craig, proposed a pretty bolshie set up change, which was very much a risk, but a risk worth taking.
This was it, could we get inside the top 5 or even on the podium?! The first lap was busy and I didn’t make much progress. I could see Jake Hill who was also on the soft tyre was slicing through the field so I knew I’d better put the hammer down. I took some real risks and lunged passed Rob Collard and Matt Simpson at the final corner, then cut back on Colin Turkington out of Ogies. Looking ahead I could see that Ash Sutton, who started 2nd overall and was on Soft tyres, hadn’t passed Jason Plato on Hard tyres for the lead yet and they weren’t to too far ahead. Passing Jake Hill, Sam Tordoff and Andrew Jordan meant I was now on the tail of the lead two. They were going for it hammer and tongs and it was a battle I didn’t want to get involved in, so I sat just off their tails and waited for the right moment. It was quite an entertaining race!! I then spotted Josh Cook in my mirrors who was on the Soft tyre and charging through the field – it was time to make a move.
Coming on to the back straight I got the most almighty run and closed in on Plato and Sutton who were side by side. I initially went to the right of Sutton but he closed the gap so I had no option but to go to the left of Plato and take the inside line for the chicane. We were three abreast and weren’t going to give an inch. I braked late but I noticed Plato braked even later and attempted to go around the outside of the left hander, but he out braked himself, taking him wide and into the side of Sutton who spun spectacularly. I turned into Brundles and exited the corner unscathed and in the lead!! With only two laps to go I all I needed to do was stroke it home, which is what I did.
I had one win to my name already after being handed first place after Tom Chilton was penalised at Round 1 of the season, so crossing the line to take my first BTCC victory on the road was hugely special for me, the team, all my sponsors and of course my friends and family. I remember looking up to the British Touring Car Championship when I raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup for Celtic Speed. It’s been a long time coming and it’s a combination of everyone’s support that has got me to this stage. I can’t help but dream about my next one!
Last weekend was very challenging and a lot of brave moves, both on and off the track, were required to be made. I leaned on my my team and supporters to help me make the right decisions. These choices paid off and the reward came in the form of third place in the standings and a 10-point gap to fourth. This is a long season full of many ups and downs, but I’m fully fired up and prepared to take them on!
Next up, Rounds 19/20/21 at Thruxton Circuit on the 17th/18 Aug.