Race Diary Brands Hatch GP 2017
Well, what a way to round out our Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season! Just shows what a rollercoaster the BTCC can be. First, another race win at Brands Hatch with the car driving superbly under changing conditions. Then a second top five finish followed later in the day to complete our best season to date in the ultra-competitive championship.
On a circuit that suits our Laser Tools Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class, I started the weekend with the second fastest time in the opening free practice session, which is a 40-minute period to allow the teams a chance to fine tune their 2-litre turbocharged race cars for the weekend ahead. The weather was difficult to predict, showers on occasion but the track would then dry quite quickly. In the afternoon’s qualifying session we were afflicted by two stoppages and a heavy shower, but the Mercedes was flying and I qualified on P2 on the grid for the opening race, my best qualifying performance of the season. The car always works well at Brands Hatch, particularly on the longer GP circuit. It was feeling particularly good and I was confident of good results on race day.
Therefore I started the opening race from second on the grid on a road that was wet but drying, meaning last-minute tyre choice was critical. We started on the slick, treadless, tyres and I was cautious into the first corner, but pole-sitter Jack Goff lost grip, enabling me to take the race lead. But then I had had to cope not only with the treacherous conditions but pressure from championship leader Ash Sutton (Subaru Levorg). And behind Sutton was Tom Ingram’s Toyota Avensis, which eventually took second place from Sutton and then set off in pursuit; we then spent half the race running nose-to-tail. But the car never put a wheel wrong and withstood 15 laps of pressure to win by just 0.345 of a second!
It was hard but not hard, strangely; the conditions were tough and the track was really slippery but I love those conditions and I always feel at home in them, possibly because it is a bit like the track surface in my early oval racing days. The car felt great and although I knew Tom was behind me, I felt confident. I’m so pleased for the team after an up and down season, but it feels so good to get a second win.
We started the second race on pole position thanks to our race one win but carried the regulation success ballast meaning his car was 75 kilos heavier! As the lights went out, I blasted away from pole position and hung onto the lead, keeping Tom Ingram at bay and then Mat Jackson (Ford Focus) who nipped through into second place. As we duelled, Colin Turkington’s BMW 125i M Sport was carving through the field and rocketed up from 15th on the grid to second and latched onto my tail. To keep his championship hopes alive, Turkington needed the best possible finish and as he closed he whacked the back of my Mercedes, forcing me wide and dropped me back to fifth place. If I’d have lost the lead but kept second, I could have accepted that I suppose, but fifth felt like poor reward for my efforts. I hadn’t put a wheel wrong; I was defending and had managed to hang on to the lead for 12 of 15 laps. Even with the ballast the car felt good and we had taken a real step forward with the set-up and I was looking good for another win.
The final race of the season was started in wet conditions but the road then started to dry and my wet weather tyres began to overheat on the drying track. I persevered as long as I could but eventually fell to 14th place. The tyres were deteriorating all the time. I was just counting down the laps and hoping we could get to the end!
This second win of the season placed me 13th in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and seventh in the Independents’ Trophy for the non-manufacturer drivers. Laser Tools Racing finished 12th overall and eighth in the Independent Teams’ competition in a very competitive season. Now we start to firm up our plans for 2018.