Will Burns secured the best qualifying and race results of his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship career so far as he brought the first half of his maiden season to a close with some promising performances at Croft this past weekend (10/11 June).
Burns produced competitive pace in both wet and dry conditions across the meeting in his Auto Aid/RCIB Insurance Racing Volkswagen CC, but would unfortunately see his challenge for a breakthrough overall points finish derailed by a pair of retirements.
Returning to Croft for the first time since 2015, Burns would have to tackle the Yorkshire circuit in the wet for the first time on Saturday, with the two free practice sessions giving him the chance to acclimatise to the tricky conditions ahead of qualifying.
An impressive showing in the second outing saw the Weston-Super-Mare racer emerge as the fastest of the Team HARD contenders and filled him with confidence ahead of qualifying, however that session would prove to be short-lived affair due to a massive incident.
Oil dropped on the already slippery circuit would result in no less than ten cars crashing off circuit, with Burns extremely lucky not to get caught up himself. With the session red flagged and not restarted, the exploratory lap times in the opening nine minutes would form the result.
Burns therefore ended the session twentieth overall on the timesheets, before subsequent driver withdrawals following the incident would put him a best ever eighteenth on the grid for race one, albeit not in the circumstances he would have wanted.
Much improved weather conditions greeted the Cases Ltd, Eurocams and Weston College supported driver as he took to the grid for Sunday’s opening encounter, however a frustrating start to proceedings would see him suffer contact at the final hairpin on lap one.
Shoved back to 21st position, Burns would immediately fight back though and moved back up to eighteenth on the next tour, before settling into the thick of a huge battle at the bottom of the top twenty for the remainder of an action-packed race.
Knocked back to twentieth four laps from the end, Burns would produce some impressive overtaking moves in the final couple of laps to finish in seventeenth position – a result that would prove to be the highlight of an otherwise nightmare day for the Somerset racer.
Race two lasted five laps for Burns before an oil cooler failure forced him to retire in the pitlane, while race three would only last two corners before heavy contact from another car broke his wheel and forced him to pull off circuit into retirement again.
Despite the two disappointments, the 26 year old still heads into the championship’s summer break in buoyant mood ahead of the important two-day Dunlop tyre test at Snetterton on 5/6 July, before the next rounds of the season at the same circuit on 29/30 July.
Will Burns: “There’s been plenty of highs and lows this weekend, so to produce some good performances in both wet and dry conditions is particularly pleasing, especially around a circuit that I don’t have much experience around.
“While I qualified well, it didn’t come in the circumstances we would have wanted. It was a horrific incident and I wish all the best to Luke Davenport, Aron Taylor-Smith and Jeff Smith in their recoveries.
“I showed that we do have pace in FP2, finishing quicker than my team-mates, and then again in race one when I was really pleased to fight through to seventeenth, but luck seemed to desert us for the rest of the day.
“I was confident we could have been challenging for my first championship points, but it wasn’t our day. I’ll bounce back for Snetterton and I think the two-day test will be crucial to set us up for more progress in the second half of the year.”
A fantastic drive from twenty-second through to twelfth position in race two was the highlight of an otherwise frustrating fifth meeting of the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season for Mike Epps at Croft this past weekend (10/11 June).
Heading into the weekend off the back of a career-best eighth place finish last time out at Oulton Park, Epps was in a confident mood as he returned to one of his strongest circuits from 2016 – a star performance in race three last year having seen him climb from thirtieth on the grid to fifteenth.
Epps would encounter challenging wet conditions throughout the opening day in Yorkshire, with the 25 year old getting to grips with the treacherous track surface throughout free practice ahead of the all-important qualifying session later in the day.
The 25 year old wouldn’t get the opportunity to show the true pace of his Auto Aid/RCIB Insurance Racing Volkswagen CC however as a frightening multi-car incident led to a red flag and eventual cancellation of the session with just nine minutes on the clock.
With no flying laps under his belt before the stoppage, Epps’ best lap-time put him twentieth on the grid for the opening race of the day on Sunday, which would take place in dry conditions following an improvement in the weather overnight.
A positive start to the race would see Epps battle his way through to fifteenth position by the end of the second lap before heaping the pressure on those ahead, with one driver having to cut the chicane to stay ahead – a move he was later reprimanded for.
Unfortunately for the Anytime Fitness, Simply Race and iPro Sport supported driver, his challenge for a points finish would end on the next lap when two lots of heavy contact to the rear of his car at the final hairpin sent him off track and tumbling down the order.
Recovering to the circuit back in P27, a spirited fightback over the second half of the race would end with Epps bringing his battered Volkswagen home in 22nd at the chequered flag, putting him in the same position on the grid for race two.
The Hemel Hempstead racer would get his sole opportunity of the weekend to show his real potential in that encounter, with a composed march through the field seeing him pick his way through to the points positions within the opening five laps.
While a number of other drivers made contact around him to gain positions, Epps cleanly worked his way into twelfth position by the finish to record a seventh points finish of the season so far and put himself firmly in contention for a top ten result in the final race of the day.
Unfortunately for Epps, his challenge would come to an end after just two corners though as heavy contact from behind at Clervaux sent him sideways, before another big hit at Hawthorn would cause instant race-ending suspension damage to his Team HARD machine.
Epps now lies in sixteenth position in the overall standings as he finishes the first half of the 2017 season already twenty points better off than his final 2016 tally, with the championship now entering a seven week summer break before the next rounds at Snetterton on 29/30 July.
Mike Epps: “I don’t really feel like we got a chance to do anything this weekend to be honest. We showed a glimpse of our potential in race two, which proved we’ve gone in the right direction with the car, but other than that it was really a case of the circumstances going against us.
“I was racing cleanly with everybody in the opening race but then just smashed off for no real reason at the hairpin, and then race three was over before it had started really as we got bashed around again, so race two was the only one where I was given the chance to show my pace.
“I think we actually could have had a really good weekend here if things had gone our way, but sadly once again we’ve seen the poor driving standards of others cost us in two races and the policing of that needs to be stricter as we’ve reached the point where there’s just too much contact.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get out for the two-day tyre test at Snetterton in early July, as that will give us a chance to try some things with set-up ahead of the next rounds. The car should go well there, so hopefully we’ll come back stronger and be back in the top ten after the summer break.”
On a difficult and emotional weekend for the whole Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship paddock, Jake Hill again showed strong pace and great race craft in his TAG Racing VW Passat CC, maintaining his record of scoring points at every BTCC race weekend in 2017.
A soaking wet Saturday saw tough conditions for all Team HARD’s drivers, so going into qualifying it was always going to be challenging, with Hill initially in the top-ten but dropping to 18th overall as the Red Flag came out.
Luke Davenport had run across the grass and the oil cooler had been pulled loose, spreading oil onto an already greasy surface. As a result a frightening 11 car accident saw Davenport, Jeff Smith and Aron Taylor-Smith all injured and taken to hospital – Davenport with multiple injuries, Smith with broken ribs and Taylor-Smith with a broken leg, and several other drivers incredibly fortunate not to have been hurt themselves.
“I saw the Red Flag and immediately the team radioed to slow right down, and when I went past it was like an aircraft accident with bits of cars and badly broken chassis everywhere. It reminds you that these cars are incredibly strong but these were such heavy impacts that it’s amazing the drivers aren’t more seriously hurt. It’s horribly that Luke, Jeff and Aron are hurt, and I really feel for them all and their friends and family, and hope to see them all back on the grid with us very soon” said a sombre Jake after qualifying.
With all three drivers withdrawn it meant a 16th place start for Hill, and when Proctor and Plato ran wide Hill crossed the line at the end of lap one in 14th place. Starting on the option ‘hard’ tyre and with an unknown set-up after no dry weather running, Hill struggled for pace but fought a superb defence, holding off Austin, Jackson and a recovering Plato for several bruising laps. With Price and Cole tangling, it meant as Plato, Austin and Jackson forced by, Hill fought his way to a very hard-earned 13th place – which became 12th when Jackson was penalised.
“That was so hard! I got bashed about several times and on the option tyre with an unfamiliar set-up we were struggling, so I’m delighted to score some points. Also I have apologised to Stephen Jelley as I hit him an pushed him off earlier – it was my mistake and was a genuine error. I have been penalised for it which I think was only fair.”
On the ‘Prime’ tyre for the remaining races and starting 12th, a blistering first lap saw BRDC ‘Rising Star’ Hill slice past Plato and Austin at turn one, and as Chilton and Ingram dropped out he finished lap one in a remarkable 8th place – and 2nd in the Independant’s Category behind Mat Jackson.
Great pace saw Hill edging closer to Jackson but Plato’s Subaru was closing fast and the 95 time race winner soon edged by in the factory-supported car. This left Hill racing with race-one rival Austin closing. As they approached Tower Bend, Austin lunged to the inside from a very long way back and slammed into the side of the #24 machine.
Instantly this broke the rear suspension and caused a high-speed off at the Jim Clark Esses (see photo below). Crawling back to the pits Hill’s crew speedily replaced the broken toe-link, and allowed Hill to complete the race, albeit by now 4 laps down and in a very frustrated 25th place.
“After hitting me in race one Rob (Austin) came and apologised which was nice! Then he hits me and breaks the suspension and ruins my race. It’s beyond frustrating as the car felt really good and we were quicker than Jackson so could have challenged for the Independant’s Win. It’s such a shame for TAG Racing and all my other partners and guests because we deserved a top-ten finish there.”
Starting 25th Hill battled with Ingram, Newsham and Goff, working his way forward and eventually making his way to 19th position, but frustrated at what might have been after the race two incident.
“It’s been so tough with the terrible accidents on Saturday and then not being able to get the result we should have in race two. The TAG Racing crew have worked so hard so a huge thanks to all of the boys for their efforts. We have had some guests from Ecoflam and Zynth here this weekend, and as always a huge ‘thank you’ to all of our superb partners Rolec, Sportif Cars, Brisky Racing, Ecoflam, Danfoss, AW Supply Services, Bill Rawles Classic Cars and we were delighted to welcome SpinCar and Litchfield on board with us at Croft.
The series now heads into a summer break, with racing resuming at Snetterton on the 29/30th July, but the teams testing at the circuit at the Dunlop Tyre Test on the 5th and 6th July.
“I’m looking forward to a couple of decent days testing to try some of the set-ups we really want to try. Most of the tracks remaining will suit the car, so if we can get some solid data from testing we should be in good shape” smiled Jake.
“Looking forward to re-grouping and really going for it in the second half of the year!”