Dunlop MSA British Touring Car rookie Bobby Thompson opened his championship point scoring account in fine style at Snetterton’s 60th anniversary ‘Diamond Double’ extravaganza with a double point scoring effort and a first BTCC career top ten in the spectacular double-points third race.
After celebrating his 22nd birthday with a career best 20th place effort in Saturday’s first of two BTCC qualifying sessions around the twisting 2.96-mile Norfolk venue, the reigning VW Cup Series Champion and his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars squad battled through a dramatic shift in the weather to finally show the touring car world the potential that had largely remained hidden throughout the first half of the 2018 season.
“I had high hopes heading into the weekend but to come away with two lots of points and my first top ten is just the best birthday present imaginable,” beamed the Hornchurch based driver, who slipped from 15th to 18th on the final lap of a wet opening race after contact with another driver before storming through the field from 30th to 14th in race two and then from 27th to 10th in the weekend finale. “The car was the best it has felt all year, the tyres always felt like we had grip left in them and I gelled really well with the new members of my crew. I was happy with how I drove in the last race at Croft but now I feel that I have really started to repay the faith that my sponsors and my team have put in me.”
The heatwave that had held most of the UK in its sweltering grip for some two months and turned the usually plush green grass that surrounds the sinuous Snetterton layout into a starched shade of yellow, broke spectacularly the night before qualifying with temperatures dropping to a more reasonable level on Saturday before plummeting to Donington-esque proportions on Sunday. Almost gale force winds and near constant rain saw shorts replaced with ponchos but it didn’t dampen the spirits of a huge crowd or the driver of the distinctive #19 GKR Ltd backed Volkswagen CC even though visibility was going to be an issue for the current BRDC Rising Star.
“I love the wet but the windscreen wipers seemed to have a mind of their own and just wanted to work when they felt like it which was a bit of a challenge,” said Thompson, who made good progress from the start of the first 12-lap race and tagged on to the back of a three car scrap for 13th between Matt Neal, Colin Turkington and Tom Chilton, just one place out of the points..
“The car felt really responsive and I should have made my move on Colin as soon as I caught them as I was quite a bit quicker than him but he would always get a better exit out of the slow corners. At one point Matt left half a gap for me going through the Bombhole and I just had to go for it even though he started to close the door.
“We made a bit of contact and Matt kept the place and nudging him felt like I was punching my dad in the face, it just felt wrong as I grew up watching Matt winning titles but I just had to go for it and there was no harm done at the end of the day.”
A maiden championship point looked likely as Thompson started the final lap with a move into Riches on Aiden Moffat but contact on the exit of the corner forced the #19 onto the grass and dropped him to 18th.
“It’s obviously disappointing about losing out on a point in race one and when we missed pit lane closing to get out on time for race two it was another blow,” continued Thompson, who was supposed to start from the 9th row for the second ‘regular’ 12-lap race of the day on a slippery but drying track but instead started alongside race one winner Jack Goff who also missed pit-lane closing at the back of the 31 strong field. “But in a strange way I didn’t feel down about it because we were making set-up changes to the car that absolutely transformed it for the conditions and it was an absolute dream to drive.”
Setting the fastest time of all through the second sector Thompson charged through the field to cross the line in 14th place, passing Croft race winner Dan Lloyd on the penultimate lap to pick up not one but two championship points after a lengthy dice.
“It definitely felt like a weight off my shoulders,” commented Bobby on finally breaking his championship duck. “It was a really fun race as there were lots of different lines you could take. Some parts of the track were a bit greasy and so many people put wheels on the grass there was loads of muck everywhere but we chose to put a wet set-up on slick tyres which just gave me tonnes of grip and I could just catch, pass and pull away from people all race long.”
But the best was yet to come in the 20-lap diamond double third race. Starting 27th after a troubled qualifying shootout on Saturday evening, Thompson picked up a couple of places in the early laps as several more experienced drivers hit trouble but despite a grassy moment on the exit of Riches shortly after an early safety car period, a brief rain shower saw #19 machine swiftly catch a snarling pack that covered sixth place back to 18th.
“The last five laps were some of the hardest, but best I have ever driven,” said Bobby who worked his way passed series returnee Ant Wharton-Eales, fellow rookie Sam Smelt and experienced duo Stephen Jelley and Rob Austin in quick succession to start the 21st and final lap directly behind Ollie Jackson and Senna Proctor.
“Coming into the final corner I could see Ollie defending and both he and Senna ran a bit wide on the exit so I got a good run on them and just hugged the pit wall as we went three wide to the chequered flag. I knew I had got Ollie but it was touch and go with Senna as we were literally centimetres apart at the end.”
Initially the timing screens placed Bobby in 11th place but a subsequent one-second penalty for the factory Vauxhall driver elevated the #19 machine into tenth place and third in the Jack Sears Trophy standings, sparking wild celebrations in the Team HARD garage and one or two emotional scenes after the toughest half-season of Bobby’s career to date.
“This feels like a win for me, my family and for my team,” said Bobby as he reflected on his weekend. “The new engineer Timo made some massive changes to the car and I am just grateful to Tony [Gilham] for keeping faith in me. We all know that we weren’t where we needed to be in the first half of the year but it wasn’t because the guys weren’t working hard because they grafted non-stop but now I feel like I started to repay the sponsors that have put me on the BTCC grid which has been my dream since I was a kid.
“If you had told me I would have my first top ten finish this weekend at the start of the summer break I wouldn’t have believed you but the team have worked so hard and made a lot of changes that we really needed and now I think we can score points in every race.”
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson knows that the first half of his debut season in the UK’s premier domestic championship hasn’t been as successful as he would have liked but the 21 year-old Hornchurch based driver says he is still honoured to be part of the BTCC ahead of one of the most significant race meetings in the 60 year-history of the series this weekend at Snetterton.
“It is such an honour to be a part of this meeting,” says Thompson. “They are going to be talking about it for years to come and I hope I will still be in the BTCC to listen to all those stories in another ten or so years’ time. A lot of people are saying that this is going to be the biggest BTCC meeting since 1996 when they supported the British Grand Prix or the meeting where Matt Neal won £250,000 as the first independent to win a race outright. I wasn’t born when they supported the Formula One and I was too young to remember Matt’s win but all I know is that this is going to be the biggest race meeting of my life.”
Although the reigning VW Cup Series Champion, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on the eve of the three races at the Norfolk venue, has yet to open his championship account with his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC squad, Thompson says that a positive tyre test at Snetterton during the mid-season break coupled with his charging drive in the final race at Croft, leaves him in a buoyant mood as he heads to the site of his first race win, something he achieved as a series rookie in the VW Cup Series in 2015.
“I can’t deny that my first half a season in the BTCC has been anything but a steep learning curve and after winning the VW Cup Series title last year it is tough knowing that you are going out there every time not fighting for a win but just fighting for a point or even a place in the top 20,” says Thompson. “But the third race at Croft was the first race all year where I could just catch, pass and pull away from anyone around me. I don’t think I have ever driven harder in my life but it felt great and it was good to give my team a real reason to pack up with smiles on their faces.”
The highlight of the BTCC’s spectacular 60th anniversary Snetterton weekend will be Sunday’s double-points 60-mile third race and after Thompson’s stirring drive on worn tyres in boiling conditions at Croft, the fact that Snetterton is expected to be one of the hottest meetings temperature wise in recent memory, has given Thompson an added boost.
“I really feel that we turned a corner at Croft, quite literally as the handling of the car has been a problem all year,” smiled Thompson. “I just changed my approach to driving on worn tyres and it worked. Obviously I know Snetterton really well and while the long race is a step into the unknown for most of us I genuinely think that my #19 GKR Ltd car will be a real contender at the business end of the day.”
Looking back at his maiden VW Cup Series win at Snetterton, Bobby admits that a repeat performance would be one of the biggest upsets in BTCC history, but as a pre-weekend goal it is something he is aiming for.
“I remember arriving at Snetterton on the back of my first podium at Spa but also with a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I should have had two podiums but in the second race the car was something like 100 grams underweight,” added the current BRDC Rising Star who attributed his DQ to a last minute trip to the toilet, something his team still remind him of. “I put it on pole and when the lights went out I got a good start for once and didn’t have to defend much on the opening lap. From then on I just took it lap by lap and everyone kept getting smaller and smaller in my mirrors until they weren’t there anymore.”
Smashing the lap record and winning by nearly seven seconds, Bobby says it took a while to sink in not just that he won but how he won.
“Obviously I was delighted with the win especially as a rookie in the series as it was my first win since my karting days but I was most proud of the lap record I set. I think I was something like seven tenths of a second quicker than anyone else and all season nobody had been able to win by more than a second or two. I think that made everyone in the paddock at the time realise the potential I had.”
Adding even more sunshine to this weekend’s proceedings will be Bobby’s sponsors Rio Soft Drink who will have a major presence in the paddock at Snetterton with an abundance of free drinks to give away, a timely boost on a weekend where temperatures are set to soar.
“Rio have just embraced the BTCC and everything it has to offer,” says Thompson. “They are the brightest company by far in terms of their logos and it is amazing to have such a household name as a partner. The deck chairs they brought to Thruxton will be back and that is a perfect way for fans to have a bit of fun and get an extra bit of ‘sunny’ into their weekend.”
Here are all the times that fans of team BT19 need to keep in their diaries for the weekend.
Saturday July 28th
09:30 – 10:10am – Free Practice 1
12:10 – 12:50pm – Free Practice 2
15:10 – 15:40pm – Qualifying 1 (Live on http://www.itv.com/btcc/qualifying-live)
17:40 – 17:55pm – Qualifying 2 (Live on http://www.itv.com/btcc/qualifying-live)
Sunday July 29th
11:30am – BTCC Race 1 (Live on ITV4)
12:50 – 13:15pm – Pit lane Walkabout/Drivers Autograph Session
13:50pm – BTCC Race 2 (Live on ITV4)
17:15pm – BTCC Race 3 (Live on ITV4)
By Josh Bashford
The British Touring Car Championship is celebrating its 60th anniversary this weekend at Snetterton. To mark the occasion Alan Gow and TOCA have decided to spice up the already scorching action by tweaking this weekend’s proceedings. Here’s the low down:
Spectators who attend Snetterton on Saturday will be treated to an extra qualifying session as there will be two this weekend. The first session (15:10) will be run as normal with cars running their championship ballast. This session will set the grid for race 1 at 11:30 on Sunday.
For the second session, a shorter 15 minutes session will be the last action of the day with all cars ballast free. This session will determine the grid for the 3rd and final race on Sunday, the 60th anniversary race.
Races 1 and 2 (11:30 and 13:50) will be run as a normal race weekend; normal ballast, grid positions and race length. Race 3 (17:15) however will be run completely ballast free with the grid positions determined by the second qualifying session on the Saturday. The race will also be longer, 60miles (nice touch TOCA) which is the equivalent of 20 laps. This race 3 being 8 laps longer expect drivers who look after their tyres to rise to the top of the charts. Oh, and it’s also double points so it’s important to make this one count!
We are really looking forward to this weekend after more adjustments to the car over the summer break. The drivers are determined get some good points this weekend and it’s in good knowledge that we were quick at Snetterton in 2017 with the VW CC. It’s all to play for once again!
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a special place. Racing through the forests at the highest of speeds. Our VW Cup drivers are lucky enough to experience the extreme undulations of this iconic circuit once every year. The drivers up for the challenge of the 4.35mile blast through the Ardennes Forest were Jamie Bond #56, Toby Davis #34, Callum Jenkins #19 and our Team HARD Scholarship winner Ethan Hammerton #23.
As we enter the second half of the season it’s clear that Jamie #56 is in contention for the championship title after a string of strong finishes at Snetterton and Brands Hatch. Toby #34 is also in with an outside chance after taking his first win of the season at Rockingham back in April. The pair are 30 and 56 points behind leader Chris Panayiotou; all to play for then.
It was an early start for the Team HARD crew as free practice got underway at 9:55 local time in the beautiful sunshine. It was a session that proved to have it’s ups and down. We had clear running for both Jamie #56 and Toby #34 who both didn’t have any major issues to report. The pair finished P3 and P10 respectively.
It was disaster of a session for Ethan #23 who’s car was chucking out plumes of smoke, could this of been the end of the weekend already for our scholarship winner? With the car back at base the problem was with the turbo, the crew got to work to fix the issue, but it would be touch and go as to whether Ethan would make qualifying and the rest of the weekend. Callum #19 reported a lack of power in his GKR Scaffolding Golf GTi which was evident as he was 12mph down in the speed traps, a disaster on the kemmel straight and up towards the infamous bus stop chicane. Lot’s to work on in the three hour ‘wait’ for qualifying.
With the sun still beaming down on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps qualifying would prove to be another interesting session for the boys and girls. Jamie #56 placed his Wrightsure.com Golf Gti P6 and in front of championship leader Chris Panayiotou for race 1, a job well done at this point in the season. Callum #19 and Ethan #23 in their fully restored GKR Scaffolding Golf Gti’s would line up in P11 and P17 with Toby #34 finished P13 after power steering trouble.
17:25 soon arrived and with-it time to race, the boys worked wonders to change Toby’s #34 gearbox in time for race 1 of the weekend. The time to race on one of the most iconic circuits in the world was upon the drivers and with the adrenaline pumping it came as no surprise when the 17 VW’s piled into La Source. The two GKR Scaffolding GTi’s and Toby’s #34 C.L.E.A.N Golf GTi all made it through with a clean front end. However, Jamie #56 made contact with another car whilst taking evasive action from the spinning Panayiotou. Fortunately, Jamie could carry on and finished the first lap in P6 as he started. Jamie #56 soon caught at passed the likes of Walton, Witts and Taylor down into turn 1 on successive laps and before you knew it the championship contender was in P3 which he would keep for the remainder of the 30minute race.
It was a remarkable race from our Welshman Toby Davis #34 who managed to pick his way through some robust driving from our competitors to finish the day in P4 from what he described as a ‘somewhat lowly grid position’. Toby’s #34 race management at Spa is further proof of how far he has come in the VW Racing Cup with Team HARD. Consistent points finishes are key to any championship.
More good news for the squad, Callum Jenkins #19 who is new to the championship put in a fine performance to finish the race in P8 and take the top rookie trophy despite having a spin at Campus (turn 14) on the opening lap. After the spin Callum #19 regrouped and much like Toby #34 calmly picked his way through an ever-diminishing field, as the saying goes ‘to finish first, first you must finish’ that certainly applies to Callum here.
Ethan’s #23 day had been very troubled from the get go and unfortunately for our scholarship winner the race also proved disappointing through no fault of his own. Ethan #23, who was running as high as P6 was for much of the race after a good start was forced to retire with just three laps remaining due to a lack of power from the engine. Further disappoint struck Ethan has he fell just short of the 75% completion rule and therefore didn’t classify. It was just one of them days for the 17 year old.
With all day to prepare for the final race of the weekend we went into the race with spirts high. Toby #34 was placed highest on the grid with P3. It was a frantic first couple of laps with all of our drivers making good progress up the field. Leading the charge was Toby #34 who had climbed to P2 and was putting the pressure on the race leader Witts #14. Toby saw his opportunity to take the lead and sent his C.L.E.A.N Golf GTi down the inside at the bus stop chicane. Witts #14 closed the door on the Welshman and the two made slight contact into the first part of the chicane, into the left hander Toby #34 held the upper hand and was in front but an over optimistic dive down the inside by Witts #14 put both in a spin. Toby would continue to finish a fine P2 despite the damage incurred from the lap 2 clash. Callum #19 performed spectacularly to finish P4, his highest finish of the season. Jamie ended the race in P6 after he was forced into the wall on the run down to Eu Rouge, another solid weekend for Jamie who moves ever closer to the summit of the championship. Ethan #23 who ran as high as P6 again suffered more engine trouble and eventually retired with only 4 laps completed.
Overall it was a good weekend for the team who saw its driver collect three trophies. Spa never disappoints and the mix between this iconic circuit and the thrills and spills of the VW cup made for some fantastic racing all over the grid. Spa, we will see you next year!
By Josh Bashford
Team HARD. racing will give Dan Welch the chance to sample the latest RML specification NGTC car at the upcoming mid-season Dunlop MSA British Touring Car test.
Dan will add some valuable experience and knowledge as the team look to build on a relatively inconsistent start to the season. With flashes of the ultimate pace, Team HARD. will be looking to run through a development programme with various drivers to find what they are looking for following lots of winter upgrades to the car.
Dan commented, “Tony and I have been in communication throughout the last few seasons and have helped each other out on numerous occasions. The time felt right to jump in the seat to see what the new RML cars feel like and to hopefully add some valuable feedback to the team. We have always remained interested in the BTCC and will never rule out a return so jumped at the chance to get back involved for the day. What the future holds is unknown but let’s see how the test goes and build from there.”
Tony added, “Dan is a very experienced racing driver so we are looking forward to seeing what he can add to what we are already learning about what is essentially a new car. He has proven over the years that he has the pace to compete at the front and so will be very interesting to hear his thoughts and feedback this Thursday at the test. He has good knowledge of engineering and has ran his own team for years so the knowledge should be very good for the team as a whole.”