Michael Crees produced a spirited performance at Croft Circuit this past weekend (June 15/16) as the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship wrote the latest chapter in its 2019 story.
Coming off the back of a character-building weekend at Thruxton, the Team HARD driver arrived at the recently resurfaced North Yorkshire circuit keen to get back amongst the points-paying positions.
Qualifying proved to be one of the most dramatic in recent memory as the 30-minute session was marred by no less than five red flags. With wet weather incoming towards the end, getting a lap time down on the timesheets as soon as possible proved vital amidst the stoppages.
As the clock ticked to zero, the Burlington Bathrooms and Geberit UK-backed driver scored his best qualifying finish of the season so far, hustling his Volkswagen CC to 22nd on the grid.
Following qualifying, Crees took up his usual role alongside Paul O’Neill on the BTCC’s Facebook Live stream before then joining fellow drivers and fans on a charity track walk of the circuit to raise funds for Children with Cancer UK and Alzheimers Society.
Unfortunately, Crees was unable to take advantage of his career-best qualifying as he suffered his first retirement of the season. Having been in the thick of the action within the top 20 for a majority of the race, the Premier Contract Supplies-sponsored driver slid out of the race heading into the Complex, coming to a stop against the tyre barrier.
Starting from 25th for race two, the GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct driver suffered contact from a rival on the opening lap and ultimately was never able to recover as his front-wheel-drive machine suffered steering issues. Adapting to the problem, Crees brought the car across the line in 25th.
With heavy rain falling before the reverse grid encounter, the biggest question on the grid for the entire field was whether to opt for slick or wet tyres. Crees joined a minority of drivers to bolt on slick tyres in the hope that the track would dry out as the race progressed.
Despite the gamble, lap times unfortunately didn’t begin to fall the way of the slick-shod cars until the final third of the race, by which time Crees and those around him were too far back to make any real in-roads.
Staying latched onto the back of the Vauxhall Astra of Rob Collard, Crees made his move on the penultimate lap and brought what proved to be a character-building weekend to a close in 26th.
Leaving Croft, the Burlington Bathrooms, Geberit UK, Hansgrohe, DPC Group, DDS Demolition, Merlyn Showering, SMG Croydon, MVC Events, MJ Plumbing and Imperial Render supported driver sits 23rd in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship and sixth in the Jack Sears Trophy heading into the next rounds at Oulton in Cheshire on June 29/30.
Michael Crees: “TIt’s been another tough weekend, but it’s all part of the experience. We struggled to really get in the groove and the conditions were challenging to say the least. I think we could have come away with some points but the luck just wasn’t on our side.
“It has been great to meet so many fans this weekend though, the support is unbelievable. On Saturday I joined plenty of spectators to brave the rain and walked the track to raise money for charity – that sums up the BTCC fans in my opinion, they’re just the best!
“Up next we will head to Oulton Park and we’ve got, as always, the aim of making more progress and see if we can get back in the points.”
The image included is from Jakob Ebrey Photography
Second year Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship star Bobby Thompson earned his fourth point scoring finish of the season at the newly resurfaced Croft Circuit in Stockton on Tees last Sunday with a hard fought 14th place finish in Round 12 of the 30-race 2019 season.
The 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver was heading towards another frustrating weekend in Britain’s premier domestic race series when, for the first time since the season opening weekend at Brands Hatch, the weather Gods smiled on him before the start of the third and final 15-lap race of the day.
“It feels good to come away from here with some more points in the bag,” said the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion. “But this weekend definitely highlighted the fact that while we have an excellent car in the wet, we have some issues in the dry that need to be resolved before we get to Oulton Park.
Thompson lapped on the fringes of the top 20 throughout Saturday morning’s two free practice sessions in his #19 GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct VW CC run by Team HARD and while the resurfacing work carried out by the circuit over the winter had transformed the challenging 2.13-mile circuit into a much quicker proposition that years previously, Thompson discovered that whereas he could previously exploit the gnarled, occasionally grip-less and tyre-chewing tarmac, its consistent and highly grippy replacement offered no such advantage.
Further adding to Thompson’s woes was one of the BTCC’s most disjointed qualifying sessions of all time on Saturday afternoon, which saw the red flags flying a record breaking five times, including once an incident in the ultra-fast Jim Clark Esses that left one of the menacing Recitel barriers lying directly in the path of Thompson’s #19 machine.
Although the resulting contact left the front end of Thompson’s car looking decidedly second hand, as the issue was not caused by Thompson he didn’t lose his fastest lap, which was just as well because with the continual stoppages, he was only able to set one flying lap during the session which resulted in a disappointing 24th place on the grid for the first race on Sunday.
“All week the forecasters had been predicting rain for race day and when it poured down all day on Friday as we were setting up, I was feeling pretty confident for race day,” added the current BRDC Rising Star. “But on Sunday morning everything was dry and while that is great for the BTCC fans, it wasn’t the weather we were looking for.”
Thompson’s troubles began early in race one when, after a cautious start he found that his brake pedal wasn’t as responsive as he needed it to be resulting in a trouser staining moment at the end of the main straight on the opening lap.
“I didn’t make the best of starts and lost a few places but then when I went to brake for Tower Bend on lap one the brake pedal went long and I almost piled into the back of about half a dozen cars. Luckily I was able to run out a little wide and avoid everyone but I knew that something wasn’t right.”
Settling in to the race behind joint championship leader Rory Butcher, Thompson began driving around his issue and moved in to 25th position when the safety car was deployed to clear Rob Collard’s stranded Vauxhall. However as the safety car boards went out Thompson’s brake pedal went to the floor completely and he had no choice but to pull in and retire.
“I could feel the pedal getting longer and longer and I was having to lift off the throttle earlier and earlier just to make sure I didn’t collect anyone in front of me. But then all of a sudden there were no brakes at all and I almost ran into the back of Creesy [teammate Michael Crees] and I didn’t fancy explaining that one to [Team HARD boss] Tony G so I had to call it a day.”
That DNF resulted in a 29th place starting slot for race two, which was held under sunny and increasingly warm skies. The conditions also highlighted another issue that Thompson had been battling with over the weekend, a horsepower deficit.
“The cooling duct package on my car is slightly different to what the other Team HARD drivers have got and the difference is about 15bhp. Of course we had to change the front end of the car after Saturday so I knew I would be down on power on race day and race two just magnified that.”
From his lowly grid slot Thompson was able to manoeuvre his way past half a dozen cars in the early stages but then came upon his teammate Carl Boardley and spent the rest of the 15-lap race trying in vain to unlock Boardley’s defence.
“Carl was driving really well and although I could hassle him through the corners, as soon as we got onto the straights he would ease away so without risking a collision there was nothing I could do,” conclude Thompson, who took the chequered flag in 23rd position. “As the season has gone on my lads have identified several issues that we have with the car when conditions are dry and for sure, the bodywork arrangement on the front of the car is something that we will change before the next round.”
Between races two and three the clouds overhead suddenly reappeared and darkened, dumping their contents all over the track during the preceding Porsche Carrera Cup race and leaving the track fairly sodden for the start of the third and final BTCC race of the day.
“When the rain came I won’t lie, I did a little rain dance in the awning as I knew this was my chance to compete on a level playing field with everyone else,” said Thompson who elected to run on the Dunlop wet tyres even though half a dozen drivers felt that the new, porous tarmac would dry up quickly enough to make slicks the better option.
“There were still plenty of puddles on the citing lap and so there was no way I was going to go for slicks,” continued Thompson, whose passage into turn one was made easier by the fact that Dan Rowbottom’s Mercedes, due to start directly in front of him in 21st, had to start from the rear of the grid.
When the lights went out Thompson made an excellent getaway and vaulted into 16th place as the field slithered its way around the opening lap. Although a safety car on lap two gave the slick shod runners a glimmer of hope on a track that was beginning to show signs of a dry line, when racing resumed Thompson was right back onto the rear bumper of Senna Proctor’s Subaru in a scrap for the final championship point.
A pit stop for Stephen Jelley and a penalty for Aiden Moffat moved the #19 into 14th place and although Thompson remained agonisingly close to Proctor and the Honda of Sam Tordoff, he just couldn’t find a way past.
“I made a couple of attempts at getting past Proctor but it took a lot out of the front tyres and then when I had Tordoff in front of me he was driving a good defensive race and without giving him a nudge to get him out of the way there was chance to make a move stick. The team were keeping me updated about where the guys on slicks were and I had Carl [Boardley] not far behind me and I just didn’t want to risk losing out on a few championship points, especially after the way the first two races had gone.”
Thompson crossed the finish line just inches behind Tordoff to claim two championship points, his first since race three at Brands Hatch and while the points are welcome, Thompson was quick to recognise that there is work to do to make his package a consistent point scoring threat when the rain stays away.
“I obviously pleased to have made it back into the top 15 after a tough couple of rounds and I am really pleased how the car handles in the wet,” says the driver who remains third in the Jack Sears Trophy standings. “But we have to put a lot of work in as a team to make things a bit better in the dry and we will be doing that as soon as the cars get back to the shop before the next round at Oulton.2
Thompson will be back in action in rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the 2019 season at Oulton Park in Cheshire on June 28-29.
Second year Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship star Bobby Thompson believes that this weekend’s visit to the 2.13-mile Croft circuit near Darlington for Rounds 10, 11 and 12 of Britain’s premier domestic race series gives him a chance to press the restart button on his 2019 season after two disappointing weekends at Donington Park and Thruxton.
After starting the season with three point scoring finishes including a career best sixth place effort at Brands Hatch, Thompson and his #19 GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct squad have endured two point-less race weekends since leaving the Kent venue. Determined to reverse that trend with immediate effect, he 22 year-old Hornchurch based ace points to his strong showing in the final race at the North Yorkshire venue during his rookie year in 2018 as the key to kick starting a sophomore campaign that began so well.
“I’m a proud Essex boy through and through but I can honestly say I’ve never looked forward to going ‘Up North’ as much as I am this weekend, especially after what the whole team suffered through at Thruxton,” says Thompson, who remains third in the Jack Sears Trophy Standings, albeit an increasingly distant one. “We have Croft this weekend, then Oulton Park and Snetterton before we have to go back to Thruxton. That’s nine races and nine good opportunities to score decent points and we can’t let a single opportunity slip through our fingers.
“We started the year on such a high at Brands and we have to get back to that level to be able to really kick on with our year. Rory [Butcher] and Tom [Oliphant] have pulled away in the JST standings after the last few rounds but my goal is to peg them back as much as I can at the tracks where I know our car works well.”
Although Thompson’s maiden visit to Croft did not result in a points finish, the statistics don’t give a true indication of the pace that the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion showed during one of the hottest weekends in recent BTCC memory.
“The only time I had ever driven at Croft before last year’s race weekend was when I first sat in a BTCC car back in November 2017 and so it was basically a totally new experience for me. We had a steering rack failure on my first lap of practice which wasn’t fixed until the start of qualifying so my first proper lap of the track came in a BTCC qualifying session.”
Thompson gained a number of places during the first race and was making good progress in the second race when he was unfortunate to collect an errant bail of tyres that were stranded in the centre of the Jim Clark Esses which required a race ending pit stop. Having to start 32nd and last for the final race, Thompson overtook more cars than anyone else in the race to come home in the top 20.
“I really like the track itself, it is a throwback, quite narrow and not a lot of room for error. The sector out the back is one of the most challenging but fun bits of track we run on all year and as I discovered last year, the tyres bails in the Esses can easily be dislodged. But most of all I found I could really attack the track and the car responded brilliantly. Last year Croft was the fifth round and my race three drive there was followed by the best part of the season for me at Snetterton and Rockingham where I scored all my points. So let’s have a bit more of that this time around.”
Team HARD. Racing today confirms a partnership with CCTV and security technology firm IP NRG Solutions (formally Kent CCTV & Data Limited) that has seen the team add another local business to its ever-growing business hub.
IP NRG Solutions also has a presence on the #31 car of Jack Goff for the 2019 British Touring Car Championship season.
IP NRG Solutions is a young fast paced technology integration company working with world leading technology brands to provide the most innovative technology available on the market.
IP NRG Solutions provides:
- IP CCTV
- IP Access Control systems
- Video and Sound Analytics
- Deep learning and AI solutions
- Visitor Management Systems
- Drone Detection Systems
The company experience comes from working on high risk commercial projects all over the UK from SME to multi-site blue chip. Some example clients are Amazon, West Ham FC and Mercedes F1 racing team.
Team HARD. Racing’s Managing Director, Tony Gilham, is delighted to be working with IP NRG Solutions for the foreseeable future. “Jason (Crichlow) approached us at the beginning of the season about joining our network so whilst we are only just announcing this deal, IP NRG Solutions have been onboard a while now.
It’s a fantastic match to be honest with IP NRG Solutions being a relatively new business and growing at a pace very similar to us at Team HARD. Racing. I firmly believe that we can work together to extract the maximum out of this deal and help each other’s businesses grow even faster over the course of the season.”
Team HARD. Racing are currently in their 8th season in the BTCC with this being the 3rd in which they have run the unique Volkswagen CC’s.
IP NRG Solutions, Jason Crichlow, believes that partnering with a team in the pinnacle of British motorsport matches his companies’ ambitions. “The British Touring Car Championship offers a fantastic platform for us to promote our brand to millions throughout the United Kingdom. I’m sure that many of the fans are business owners themselves and seeing our rebranded company on the cars will help generate new business for us. It was important for us to wait until our rebrand was complete before announcing this partnership with Team HARD. Racing.
Tony spoke of Team HARD. Racing’s business hub at the beginning of the season and we met many of the business owners within this network at the season opening networking event at Brands Hatch back in April. So far it’s been a great way to meet likeminded local businesses.”
The Team HARD. Racing business hub continues to grow as we head to Croft next weekend (15/16th June). Motorsport is the teams show and acts as an activation method for businesses from all industries to network and boost revenue. IP NRG Solutions http://ipnrg.com/ or https://www.kentcctvdata.co.uk/) are just the latest to confirm their participation in one of the fastest growing business hubs in the United Kingdom. It’s an exciting time to be with the team.
Howard Fuller returned to the seat of a British Touring Car for the first time in six years today as he partnered current Team HARD. Racing star Jack Goff for a test session at Donington Park. The pair put the #31 and the #19 Volkswagen CC of Bobby Thompson through their paces to eek some critical tenths of a second out of the cars.
Howard last drove in the BTCC in 2013 driving a Vauxhall Insignia with Team HARD. Racing and he couldn’t believe the development the BTCC cars have experienced since his last drive in a car.
“This has been an amazing day for me. I’ve missed the BTCC so much, since I last drove in the series, I’ve still been watching the and it’s clear it has gotten even stronger since I last competed.
I’d like to thank Tony (Gilham) for the opportunity to get back in the driving seat and help develop the car for the remainder of the season. This has been a good test for me and it is great to know that I am still on the pace despite a lengthy spell away from the BTCC circus.
I entered in a one-off round in the TCR UK series last season and was on the tail of Dan (Lloyd) throughout the weekend so really, deep down, I knew that I’d be there or there abouts in the Team HARD. Racing Volkswagen CC.
One of the great things about today is working with Jack (Goff) but in a racing capacity. We often work together away from competitive racing in our day to day jobs, so Jacks been teasing me about not being in the BTCC at the moment. Even he’s pleased that I’m back in the mix!
I’d also like to thank current driver Bobby Thompson for letting me use his car for the day. I think he’s going to be pleased with the developments and steps we have taken when he next gets in the car at Croft.
I’m now working hard to secure a drive for the 2020 season!”
Meanwhile, current BTCC star Jack has had a topsey turvey start to the season with his overall position in the championship not reflecting both his and the cars pace.
“Despite still being over the moon to have secured a last-minute drive for this season it’s been a disappointing start to the season, through no fault of our own really.
Today’s test has been a good one, we have ironed out some of the issues with the car making it a more consistent package over a race distance but also in qualifying where we have been struggling. I’ve finally got some extra laps in the car after missing preseason so when we head to Croft we should be able to hit the ground running!
It’s been great working with Howard today, we have a very similar driving style so we have been able to compare and adjust the setup to our liking. I often work with Howard away from the BTCC and I won’t lie I’ve been giving him some stick for not getting back in the frame, he’s finally listened to me, so I guess I won’t be teasing him at work anymore. It’s all in good spirt!”
Bobby Thompson will return to the #19 car sponsored by GKR Scaffolding and Autobrite Direct next time out at Croft on 15th-16th June, picking up where Howard has left off as he pushes to add to his current points tally and close the gap to the Jack Sears trophy leader, Rory Butcher.
Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship star Bobby Thompson produced a career best performance to date on the opening weekend of the 2019 season at a damp and foggy Brands Hatch Indy circuit, serving notice that he will be a major force to contend with in his second season in Britain’s premier domestic race series.
A career best sixth place effort in the opening race, coupled with his first official fastest lap in BTCC competition and a maiden Jack Sears Trophy win highlighted a day that ended with the 22 year-old Hornchurch based star sitting 12th in the overall points table.
With the fabled 1.21-mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit shrouded in fog on race morning, the driver known throughout the paddock as ‘Bobster’ capitalised on intermittent rain and interminably greasy track conditions to convert Saturday’s promising 19th place effort in qualifying into a race day showing that backed up his pre-season claim that he would be a contender for points in every one of the 30 race slate this year.
“I’m obviously delighted with how the weekend went,” commented Thompson as the 30,000 spectators that lined Brands’ natural amphitheatre throughout the action packed day. “But this is where I feel I should be and where our overall package should be so I am keeping my feet firmly planted as we all know we have to put in the same effort at every round.
“But I’m definitely going to enjoy today’s performances tonight before it is back to work on the car tomorrow and it is just a relief to give my sponsors something to cheer about at the start of what will be a massively competitive season.”
Sunday morning’s mist and drizzle left Thompson and his #19 GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct outfit run by Team HARD with a major dilemma about whether to go with slick or wet tyres for the opening 24-lap encounter. The call was for slicks but with the 30-car field split evenly it was clear that the opening race was going to either go very well, or very badly. It soon became clear that Thompson had chosen the correct option.
Understandably cautious when the lights turned green, Thompson slithered through a tense opening lap in 24th place as the wet shod runners pulled away but by the fifth lap the track conditions had already turned in his favour and on lap six the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion set the fastest lap of the race as he began picking off rivals one by one.
“I felt confident in our tyre choice and I knew that as long as I avoided any trouble in the first few laps we could get a really good result. It was such a satisfying feeling just driving up to people and passing them and then moving on to the next car.”
By the tenth lap Thompson was in the points and by lap 17 the #19 machine had cracked the top ten. Chasing the Mercedes of Adam Morgan up towards the leaders, Thompson set what would stand as the fastest lap of the entire race on lap 15 and when he passed the Honda of Rory Butcher he also took over top spot in the Jack Sears Trophy running order.
Even with the rains returning in the closing laps, Thompson was so far ahead of the nearest wet shod runner that there was nothing to worry about although the worsening conditions prevented him from launching a final assault on Morgan for what would have been fifth place but there were still scenes of jubilation in the Team HARD garage when he crossed the line in sixth place for the best finish of his BTCC career to date.
“We had a bit of luck with the tyres but regardless of that the car felt good and it just gives everyone a major boost for the rest of the day,” added Thompson, whose efforts meant a career best start on the third row for the second race of the day, which would also play out on a damp track.
Unlike race one, everyone save for Tom Oliphant opted for slicks for the second 24-lapper and from the outside of row three Thompson made a decent start to complete the opening lap in eighth. A solid pass on Aiden Moffat at Graham Hill Bend a lap later put the #19 machine into P7 but as the race settled down several of the more fancied runners who had started the race out of position following the wrong tyre choice in race one began to make their move and after some intense battling Thompson slipped back to 15th.
The second half of the race was spent squabbling with the works Honda’s of Dan Cammish and Matt Neal and the defending series champion Colin Turkington and although a second straight top ten finish wasn’t possible, a late re-pass on Turkington saw Thompson claim 13th place at the flag for several more valuable championship points and, perhaps more significantly, second place in the Jack Sears Trophy.
“Race two was obviously a lot harder than race one but we showed that even when everything is equal in terms of tyres and track conditions we still have legitimate top 15 pace,” added Thompson, one of the current crop of BRDC Rising Stars who also works as a fully qualified ARDS Race Instructor. “Even though we fell back a little bit we showed that we could race and battle with the factory cars and there were two incidents where I just put myself in the wrong position and in the BTCC when that happens you can lose three or four places at a time. But the car had the pace to stay with the Honda’s and BMW’s and passing Turks late on was a really sweet.”
The weather finally calmed down for the third and final race of the day leaving things as a straight scrap for the first time and once again Thompson remained in the thick of the tussle for points even though the #19 GKR Scaffolding machine was beginning to develop a tendency to understeer, especially coming out of Druids Hairpin.
“We were on the harder tyre for race three so we knew it would be tough to hold off a couple of guys behind us on the softer rubber but even though the car wasn’t handling as well as it was earlier in the day we were still competitive,” continued Thompson, who spent much of the race battling in close quarters with Jason Plato.
“I knew I had Jason right behind me and he made a couple of moves which I managed to defend but I didn’t want to defend too much as I felt we could both catch the pack in front. I think he felt the same because we spent a lot of laps nose to tail but without him trying to pass.”
Lying in 13th place with five laps to go Thompson, Plato and Dan Cammish finally caught the pack that were squabbling over ninth place but just as Thompson thought a second top ten in the space of three races was possible, Plato made his move.
“I must have left just enough room going into Stirling’s for Jason to get his nose alongside and although we raced wheel to wheel all the way down the main straight, I was on the outside line going into Paddock Hill Bend and I had to lift and that let Cammish through as well. It is a shame as I thought I had the pace to pick off one or two of those in front but it was a good battle none the less and we came away still in the points.”
Thompson crossed the line in 15th place for the final championship point, and in doing so equalled the total number of point scoring finishes he achieved during his entire rookie season. Adding his first official fastest lap into the mix plus his first Jack Sears Trophy victory and there were plenty of reasons to smile at the end of the day.
“I’m obviously very pleased with my overall performance and the performance of my crew. We are 12th in the championship and second in the Jack Sears Trophy and we’ve shown we have the pace to compete for the overall win in that and to fight for points in every race.
“There is still lots of work to do and my engineers are convinced there is plenty more pace still to be found so I’m going to be heading to the next meeting at Donington Park in a very good position indeed.”