Wow, that’s certainly been a busy few weeks! Since the last update, we’ve finished getting the cars ready, been out to the Circuit de Calafat in Spain for some warm-weather testing, attended the season launch event, and successfully complete our first race weekend of the 2019 BTCC season – including what we thought was our first outright race win of the year too, but sadly that wasn’t to be. More on that in just a second.
Before we get to all the action and the ups and downs of the ever-frenetic Race 3 of a BTCC weekend, let’s recap on how we got there. After a successful test schedule in Spain, we were all excited to see what the Focus RS was capable of this year, but poor weather conditions during qualifying (which sadly saw newcomer Ollie Jackson slid off into the gravel and end his session) meant Tom Chilton was the best placed RS starting in P13.
Race one was no easier, especially when it came to race set up. The damp but drying conditions split driver’s opinions on the wet or slick tyres. But after a similar situation last year, when slicks proved to the better tyre to be in, Tom was one of a handful of drivers to make the brave decision to start on slicks. After a dicey couple of laps, Tom kept it on the black stuff and with heat in the tyres soon started carving his way through the field to finish P3 and claim a podium finish in the first race of the year.
Race 2 saw both cars run the softer tyre, usually faster but around Brands it definitely appears slower than the medium tyre. Not as happy with the balance of the car on the softer tyre (plus added success ballast), Tom did well to keep up with the front runners and finished P9, claiming more valuable Championship points. Meanwhile, Ollie’s weekend looked to be getting better after a DNF in Race 1, when he scythed though the pack from the P28 starting position up to P16 and looking set for a points finish. But it wasn’t to be; heavy contact saw him grapple with the stricken car, and he did well to bring the RS home in P18.
For race 3 both cars were back on the favoured tyre, and Tom’s ballast had dropped to just 6kg. The reverse gride draw saw him starting ion P3, and he made full use of it with a flying start – but not as fast as the rear-wheel drive BMW of Stephen Jelly who leapt into P2 behind Matt Neal. Tom chased them down, passing the BMW on lap 8 to take second place before besting three-times BTCC-champion Neal as the two raced through Clearways on the following lap. With a clear run ahead of him, Tom took a commanding race win… or so we all thought.
Regrettably, his move on Neal was deemed as an illegal overtake by officials following the final race, handing Tom a 5-second penalty and therefore relegating him to P2 in the amended race results.
Still, that’s two podiums in the first three races, and Tom currently sits second (by just 4 points) in the Driver’s standings. A great start to the 2019 season, and we can’t wait to see how we get on at Donington next time out.