Brands Hatch | BTCC | 6-7 April 2019
The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship attracted changeable conditions, making for a testing weekend for all drivers, as the season kicked off at Brands Hatch Circuit.
After fully dry practice sessions the heavens opened just in time for qualifying on Saturday afternoon. With no wet testing on the all new Dunlop wet tyre, it was a baptism of fire for all 31 competitors. Sam and I could only manage 9th and 11th on the grid respectively and we were both disappointed after signs of fast pace in the dry. On the bright side I’ve raced into the top ten from worse positions previously, so it was all to play for on Sunday!
Sunday was just as unpredictable, with rain showers falling only minutes before races 1 and 2. The pressure was on to make the right tyre choice and we opted for the safe option of wet tyres for race 1, which forced me to carry my soft option tyre choice on to race 2. However, the drivers who rolled the dice for slick tyres really won the jack pot – the rain stopped as race 1 started, allowing the cars with slicks to build tyre temperature and superior grip. We dropped down the order as far as 15th as the cars with slicks swooped past with little effort. We dealt ourselves this hand so all I could do was keep pushing and in doing so rescued a 10th overall by passing the other wet tyre runners!
The conditions were pretty similar for race 2 but this time everyone went for slicks. It was another difficult race as we had to use the Option Tyre (soft compound) and very early on I knew it was going to be a difficult race against the drivers on the Medium compound. The softs just didn’t last the distance and within 5 laps I was managing the front tyres, which had picked up severe cold graining. Despite the tyre issues, I still made progress with an 8th position and a chance of a reverse grid draw.
In the final race of the day, we were on the Medium compound tyre that had better pace and durability than the Soft. Confidence was high and what made things better was that I would start 4th on the grid after the top 11 would be reversed for the starting grid. I could sniff a podium finish here and was fully focused on making it happen. I was excited to show the pace we have in the car while running at the front.
I got off the line well but got hung out to dry at turn 2, dropping down to 5th. Now stuck behind Tom Ingram, who was on the Soft tyre, I had to be patient but there was pressure from Jake Hill behind to cope with. I got the run on Ingram out of Druids Corner and made a move up the inside into Graham Hill bend. I exited the corner slow, allowing Jake Hill to get a run on my left side, while Tom Ingram was on my right. We entered Surtees Bend three abreast, but we gave each other room and I just managed to sneak ahead into Clearways. With clear air ahead of me I could now stretch my Honda’s legs. Matt Neal and Stephen Jelley were up the road but I arrived on Stephen’s rear bumper and began to put on the pressure. Stephen then made a pass on Matt, but they touched and ran slightly wide out of Graham Hill Bend. I accelerated passed Matt and then dived for the inside into Clearways, passing Stephen for second on the road. Tom Chilton was now the only car ahead and I gave everything I could to reel him in. Despite making inroads, it wasn’t enough – he was too far ahead.
As I crossed the finish line, scoring my first ever BTCC podium, the whole team were hanging over the pit wall cheering. What a feeling! It’s as much a relief as it is a joy. I was screaming and cheering so loudly down the radio on the cool down lap, the poor team have no ear drums left!
I entered the pits and the scrutineers quickly checked the ride height and the weight of the car. I’ve never been so nervous, but everything passed so the podium would stand.
After my TV interview, I sprayed the champagne on the podium and I felt so proud to be up there in front of my team.
I left the circuit and headed for the airport when I received a phone call from my engineer Mike Bushell. He was calling to tell me that Tom Chilton had been given a 5 second penalty because of an incident with Matt Neal, which now meant I was the winner of the race. What a turn of events! I should apologise to Mike for once again screaming down his ear!!!
We had an uphill struggle from the get-go on Sunday, but kept our cool and bagged those crucial points when we didn’t have the pace. When the opportunity to fight at the front came, we grabbed it with both hands and the outcome was both my own and the team’s first ever race win. This is not how I wanted to win my maiden victory, but it’s still an honour to have my name and AMD Tuning’s on the list of BTCC winners.
I now sit in a very respectable 4th overall in the standings as we head towards to Donington Park in a few weeks time.
I’d like to dedicate the victory to all of my sponsors, friends and family who have supported me for so many years. I hope we can all enjoy many more moments like this together!
Images courtesy of LAP – Laborne Action Photography