It’s been a steep learning curve joining the British Touring Car Championship after making the switch from endurance racing. The 2017 season finale at Brands Hatch certainly threw in some extra challenges for good measure.
I love Brands Hatch as a circuit, especially when we get to drive the full GP loop as it has some of the fastest corners in the country. Things got really interesting in qualifying as it started to rain just as the session started and the session was stopped twice due to cars sliding off the slick track. Leaving just 15 minutes remaining, the session restarted and it was now fully dry. I hooked up a pretty committed lap which pushed me into the top ten, only to be pipped in the final seconds and dropped down to 12th. I was hoping for more, but I had to be content as it was my best qualifying result to date and the second event on the bounce where I was the leading Ford!
Sunday’s races were certainly challenging. We chose to start race 1 on wet tyres as we were faced with a damp track, while the majority of grid took what I thought was a risk and chose slick tyres. Quite quickly I realised that I was on the wrong tyres as the cars around me on slicks had better grip and the track was only going to improve. All I could do was tour round and keep the car on the track as the surface got dryer and dryer and my wet tyre turned to jelly. I did manage to pass Jason Plato and hold off Andrew Jordan who also chose wet tyres. This mistake cost us 12 places in the race as I finished 24th overall.
We now had a big challenge ahead of us heading into race 2. I got off the line well and made progress in the early laps, getting into 19th place with close racing between Andrew Jordan, Josh Cook and Adam Morgan. It was three abreast at times and it was down to who would back out first. I started to catch the group in front and set the third fastest lap of the race. I then hit a patch of water which sent the car wide and dropped me back to where I started in 24th place. In the final laps I snuck passed to secure 21st overall. Another disappointing result, but it’s tough out there and the racing is close right through the field.
I had hoped we were done with making difficult tyre choices, but the Brands Hatch weather system decided that the final race of 2017 needed some spicing up. Some very light rain fell as we left the pits for race 3 and the surface of the track had a very consistent sheen making it extremely slippy.
Everyone was taking the safe option, switching to wet tyres. However my engineer Sergio was keen to take a risk and stay on slick tyres. After what had been a very difficult day, what the hell!!
I actually made a good start despite the lack of grip and was positioned well heading into turn 1 only to have the most almighty oversteer out of the corner which dropped me down the order. The cars with wets drove off into the distance while myself, Depper and Simpsonstruggled away on slick tyres. It was really sketchy but I drove as hard as I could to generate tyre temperature and the car started to come to me.
The pack ahead were gradually coming into my hands and I began picking off the cars. At the middle stage of the race the track was really in my favour and I was now challenging for 11th overall. Then it started to rain once again and it was now a case of holding on for dear life as my tyres lost tyre temperature and grip. I was urging the rain to stop as it was just getting interesting. There were still 5 laps remaining and the track was now really slick, but I held on (just), only losing one position to Chris Smiley on wet tyres, to finish in 12th place.
Images – Matt Sayle