Bobby bears the brunt at Silverstone

Bobby bears the brunt at Silverstone

The penultimate weekend of the record breaking 60th anniversary Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season may have been held at the home of British Motorsport but there were few home comforts for BRDC Rising Star Bobby Thompson who left Silverstone without adding to his points tally.

Prior to Sunday’s trio of 22-lap races around the fast, wide open blasts of the 1.64-mile Silverstone National circuit there was a considerable mood of optimism within Thompson’s #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC team, which sported a sleek new black livery for rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the 30-race 2018 Championship.

Not only was the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver, known throughout the paddock as ‘Bobster’ returning to the site of his first career car racing podium, his slippery shaped VW CC was well suited to the track layout as was the case last month at the Rockingham Motor Speedway where the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion scored a BTCC career best 7th place finish.

However set up issues throughout Saturday’s two practice sessions and the crucial 30-minute timed qualifying period and contact from other drivers in two of Sunday’s three races left Thompson feeling frustrated despite finding considerable extra pace on race day.

“I can’t pretend to be anything other than really disappointed with the weekend as a whole,” commented the current BRDC Rising Star, who battled from 27th on the grid to 19th in race one despite stalling at the start and then suffering contact from another driver after fighting his way into 17th position, just two places shy of the points.

“We couldn’t quite get the sweet spot on the car during practice on Saturday and although we found some extra pace in qualifying, so did everyone else and while six tenths off pole position may not seem like much in the BTCC it is massive and around here with such a quick lap and only six corners it is more significant than anywhere else.

“I made a bit of a mess of my start in race one but we had changed so much on the car overnight that I could take advantage of the really good slipstream that you get here and pass a lot of cars,” continued Thompson who took advantage of a couple of other drivers retiring but had overtaken eight drivers on the road within the first 12 laps of an extended 25 lap race before being unceremoniously dumped out of contention at Luffield, dropping him back to 20th and out of the reach of the group battling for the final few points paying positions.

“I know what happened and I don’t want to point any fingers as I have a lot of respect of the person who basically just smashed me out of the way but I had passed him cleanly two corners earlier and was holding the inside line into Luffield when I just got sent flying. The hit broke our rear bumper, Ackerman plate and hurt the rear balance and the car was never the same after that.”

Luckily Thompson was able to continue and even regained one of his lost positions to take the chequered flag 19th and with his teammate Mike Bushell suffering a grid penalty for the second race, Thompson was promoted to a ninth row grid slot for a second race that should have brought home a decent haul of points nut instead brought nothing but more unnecessary damage to the #19 GKR Ltd backed machine.

“I felt that we were capable of getting some decent points in race two especially as we were on the soft tyre, which was the faster of the two options we had. I was going to be on the hard tyre for the third race so I knew that if I had a good run here I could maybe even get into the mix for the reverse grid for the final race which would help massively considering my tyre choice.”

Thompson made a much better getaway when the lights turned green but never got the chance to settle into a rhythm and continue his progress towards the points as a mirror image crash to that which he suffered in race one caused enough damage to the rear of the car to force him into early retirement.

“I lost two places on the first lap just because I didn’t want to get caught up in any of the bumping and barging that was going on and then as we arrived at Luffield I was hugging the inside line and out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of red on the grass inside me and the next thing I know I’ve got two wheels in the air and a broken rear right tow link. I made it back to the pits but there was too much damage to continue and that was basically my weekend over as far as scoring points was concerned.”

For the second time in two races the #19 were faced with a flat out dash to get Thompson’s car ready for the third and final race of the day, for which he would start 31st on the less desirable harder tyre. Despite carrying a few battle scars Thompson made the grid for what was little more than a damage limitation exercise.

“Despite all the damage I had suffered the car still handled pretty well and I was able to pass cars while everyone was still bunched together,” concluded Thompson, who finished 21st and set the fifth fastest lap of the 13 drivers on the hard tyre in race three. “But there was still some really aggressive driving going on and there were a couple of situations where I had to stand my ground, which probably didn’t make me too popular with one or two people but it is frustrating when you catch people who would rather weave around and cost you both a second per lap rather than race and work together to catch the pack in front.

“I feel like I have raced everyone cleanly and with respect all year but even though I am a rookie in the BTCC I won’t be pushed around. I have got a great group of sponsors who all put their money into my racing and without them I would be working as a plumber with my dad. They have stayed loyal to me and when other people’s mistakes stop me from showing my potential and giving them the success that they deserve it can be massively frustrating so I had to get my elbows out and race others how they race me.”

Thompson returns to his home track at Brands Hatch for the final weekend of the 2018 season in two weeks’ time where he will look to improve on his current position of 28th in the overall points standings, 17th in the Independents Championship and 10th in the Jack Sears Trophy.

Thompson’s charge dampened at Knockhill.

Thompson’s charge dampened at Knockhill.

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson endured a nightmarish maiden weekend at the spectacular but sodden Knockhill circuit in Fife at rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the UK’s highest profile domestic race series, leaving the 1.24-mile track just north of Edinburgh without adding to his points tally.

Fresh from a seasons-best seventh place finish at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver arrived at one of the UK’s most scenic and unique circuits in a buoyant mood, despite the fact that the undulating layout of the only non-English track on the calendar hasn’t traditionally suited the VW CC he pilots.

“My first trip to Knockhill was certainly a memorable one, even if it was for all the wrong reasons,” reflected Thompson, whose sole classified finish of the weekend aboard his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC was a 20th place effort in the third and final race of the weekend. “The track itself is awesome, but it is just a pity that we only managed a handful of laps when it was dry. I was still pretty confident on race morning when we saw that all the races were going to be wet, but missing race one was just a killer and we never recovered from that.”

The eighth race weekend of the BTCC’s  record-breaking 60th anniversary season began well enough for the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion, who was comfortably inside the top ten during the opening half of the first of two free practice sessions when a slight error resulted in the BRDC Rising Star suffering his first off track excursion of the season.

“I just overcooked it slightly on my seventh flying lap going through turn one and spun,” recalled Thompson. “The car felt so good and I was just attacking a bit too much a bit too soon. The problem was that I hit a ditch, which ripped the front splitter off and caused a bit of damage which meant I missed the whole of second practice.”

Heading in to qualifying with half a dozen laps under his belt was hardly ideal but with the ITV4 on board cameras now installed worse was to come for when the signal was given to start the critical 30-minute timed session, Thompson left the pits completely unaware that an oil line was loose and that the distinctive #19 GKR Ltd machine was doing its best impression of the Exxon Valdez. Half way around his out-lap and with cars skating off the road behind him, smoke billowing in to the cockpit was Thompson’s first warning, which came too late for the engine, triggering a long, and expensive repair job on Saturday night as a new power unit from Swindon was installed.

“The team signalled for me to go out and do our usual one lap and then pit to cross over the tyres and as I came out of the second corner I said to my engineer that the rear end felt a bit loose but apart from that everything seemed fine until I got to Clark’s corner and smoke started appearing in the cockpit. I pulled off as soon as I could and then I realised that the rear end felt loose because I had oil over my tyres.”

With no time set in qualifying Thompson was face with starting the first of three 24 lap races from 31st and last on the grid but when Sunday dawned shrouded in grey cloud and seemingly incessant rain, the well-known wet weather expert still felt at least one, possibly two points scoring finishes were obtainable. However, those hopes were extinguished the moment he pulled onto his grid slot and the BTCC grid officials spotted a trail of oil coming out from the underside of the #19.

“It is tough to summarise a race that basically didn’t happen,” said Thompson, who recorded his second DNS of the year and now faced starting race two from 31st and last on the grid as well. “We got the car back to the garage and the engine builders from Swindon checked to make sure it still had all its oil, which it did. It was simply a case of some of yesterday’s oil that went into the sills under the car started leaking out as the car warmed up. This was more frustrating than yesterday as we knew that nothing was wrong with the car and that basically killed our weekend but I understand what the officials were saying and you can’t have a car that is leaking oil going out on track, especially in conditions like we had.”

With the rain intensifying and the #19 machine now sporting a freshly valeted underside, Thompson made a good start to race two, passing several cars until an early race safety car period triggered the end of his challenge when the driver directly behind him failed to slow down for the safety car boards, giving Thompson’s car a whack to the rear that forced Thompson into the pits for repair the damage.

“I’ve always said that I love racing in the rain but race two was the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced,” added Thompson, who returned to the track three laps down but was classified as a non-finisher in 24th place when a red flag brought about an early conclusion to proceedings. “Being at the back meant I couldn’t see a thing but I picked up a couple of places and was moving forwards. Obviously someone behind me misjudged their braking in the spray and gave me a whack which meant I had to pit and lost three laps.

“But I knew that others would have problems and so we went back out as we only did seven laps yesterday and none in race one and even with no time to adjust the set-up our lap times were in the top 15 and a 12th row starting slot is much better than a 16th row starting slot, especially in these conditions.”

Even though the rain was beginning to abate ahead of the third and final race of the weekend, Thompson admitted to making a cautious start just to avoid incurring any potential damage and ended the first lap in 29th position. But with the ability to actually race for the first time all weekend Thompson quickly began picking off drivers one at a time despite the lack of overtaking opportunities, moving ahead of Mike Bushell, Matt Simpson, Ollie Jackson, Carl Boardley, Ollie Pidgley and Jason Plato in the opening ten laps before setting a series of laps quicker than race leader Tom Chilton, including a 56.260-second effort on lap 16 that would stand as the fourth fastest lap of the entire race and the second fastest of all by a Front Wheel Drive car.

“If only race three was race one then our weekend would have been a lot different,” concluded Thompson, who passed Brett Smith, Tom Oliphant, James Cole and Senna Proctor in the second half of the race and was closing on Glynn Geddie for 18th place when his rear tyres began to go off. “The car was really good and I could just attack with confidence in the grip levels although I think I used the rear tyres a bit too much as in the last couple of laps they started to go off and Jason was able to pass me back right at the end.”

Thompson eventually took the chequered flag in 20th place and remains in 27th position in the overall BTCC Championship points table, 18th in the BTCC Independents standings but slipped to 10th in the Jack Sears Trophy table with six races of the 2018 remaining starting in three weeks’ time at the ultra-fast Silverstone National circuit in Northamptonshire.

Tough start to Thompson’s maiden Highland fling!

Tough start to Thompson’s maiden Highland fling!

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson will start tomorrow’s trio of British Touring Car Championship races at the spectacular Knockhill circuit in Fife from 31stand last position after an oil leak aboard the #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC brought his timed qualifying session to a premature end after less than half a lap.

Thompson’s oily and somewhat spectacular demise at the very start of Saturday’s usually frantic 30-minute qualifying period was the final act of a day that began promisingly but turned sour when the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver, by his own admission, ‘overcooked things’ at Duffus Dip while sitting tenth fastest during the opening free practice session of the weekend.

“It is hard to know where to start after a day like this,” shrugged a philosophical Thompson as he watched the remainder of qualifying from the pit wall that overlooks the rolling 1.27-mile Scottish venue. “Obviously this is my first time here and I just overcooked it slightly on my seventh flying lap going through turn one and spun. The car felt so good and I was just attacking a bit too much a bit too soon. The problem was that I hit a ditch, which ripped the front splitter off and caused a bit of damage which meant I missed the whole of second practice.”

Following his superb showing at Rockingham two weeks ago and another strong performance from his Team HARD teammate Mike Bushell in practice, there was an optimistic mood in the #19 camp heading in to qualifying, although within 30-seconds of the green flag going out to signal the start of qualifying, hope had turned to despair.

“The team signalled for me to go out and do our usual one lap and then pit to cross over the tyres and as I came out of the second corner I said to my engineer that the rear end felt a bit loose but apart from that everything seemed fine until I got to Clark’s corner and smoke started appearing in the cockpit. I pulled off as soon as I could and then I realised that the rear end felt loose because I had oil over my tyres.”

With a liberal soaking of oil covering half the lap the session was red flagged and the reigning VW Cup Series Champion was left contemplating a race day that was challenging enough to begin with on a track that traditionally doesn’t suit the VW CC but is now as mountainous as the spectacular countryside that surrounds Knockhill.

“Looking at the positives, firstly the car felt good this morning, secondly Mike [Bushell] has shown we have a decent package, thirdly I’m now in great shape to move into the top three in the Dunlop Forever Forward standings and lastly, the ITV4 viewers should get to see plenty of overtaking as I’m carrying their on-board cameras for the races. And it is supposed to rain as well and I love driving in the rain!”

If you aren’t making the journey to Knockhill for race day, here are the start times for all three BTCC races, which as always, will be live and uninterrupted on ITV4.

Sunday August 26th

11:50am – BTCC Race 1 (Live on ITV4)
13:05 – 13:35pm – Pit lane Walkabout/Drivers Autograph Session
14:25pm – BTCC Race 2 (Live on ITV4)
17:20pm – BTCC Race 3 (Live on ITV4)

Knockhill ‘my biggest challenge yet’ says Thompson.

Knockhill ‘my biggest challenge yet’ says Thompson.

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson isn’t getting carried away following his Rockingham Motor Speedway heroics as he prepares to make his first ever visit to Knockhill for rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the 2018 campaign, saying that the undulating 1.24-mile track just north of Edinburgh poses his biggest challenge of the season so far.

Three point scoring efforts from the last five BTCC races including a maiden top ten at Snetterton and a career-best seventh place at Rockingham for the driver of the #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars VW CC has made the BTCC paddock sit up and take notice of the 22 year-old Hornchurch based ace.

But despite a stellar reputation in the VW Cup Series resulting in the 2017 title and a place on the BRDC’s Rising Star scheme, Thompson knows that you are only as good as your last race and with the Scottish circuit offering a far different type of challenge than any other he has faced, the driver known throughout the paddock as ‘Bobster’ is approaching the eighth weekend of the BTCC’s record breaking 60th anniversary season with caution.

“We have now had two meetings where the whole Team HARD package has been moving forward,” says Thompson. “A lot of people have made a reference to how Rockingham suited our ‘slippery’ VW’s and that Knockhill won’t suit the car as much and for sure this is definitely a track that favours the RWD cars but the way the team have been developing our cars I don’t think we will be at as much of a disadvantage in Scotland as people think.

“Obviously the circuit is new to me and is a very different style of track to anything else on the BTCC calendar but I genuinely think we can still contend for points here just because of the engineering changes the cars have undergone in the last six weeks or so. I’m not saying that we will be in the top four in qualifying like Mike [Bushell] was at Rockingham but if the weather is a bit mixed then anything is possible.”

Having qualified a career best 18th at Rockingham, Thompson also added how critical finding some clear track in qualifying will be, not to mention the uphill start/finish line that has caught many a driver out over the years.

“I’ve been studying last years’ races at Knockhill and it is definitely a track where you have to be super aggressive on the kerbs and really committed around the whole lap,” concluded Thompson. “Qualifying is going to be massively important and so are the race starts. I haven’t always done a great job of putting myself in the right position in qualifying so far and it is fair to say that over the first half of the year my race starts were a weak point. However in the last two rounds I have been making places not losing them on the opening lap as it is just a case of getting more race starts under my belt. Track position in qualifying is always a bit of a lottery but if I can qualifying the top half of the field I know we have the car to be able to stay there in the races.”

Here are all the times that fans of team BT19 need to keep in their diaries for the weekend.

Saturday August 25th

09:50 – 10:30am – Free Practice 1
12:30 – 13:10pm – Free Practice 2
15:25 – 15:55pm – Qualifying (Live on http://www.itv.com/btcc/qualifying-live)

Sunday August 26th

11:50am – BTCC Race 1 (Live on ITV4)
13:05 – 13:35pm – Pit lane Walkabout/Drivers Autograph Session
14:25pm – BTCC Race 2 (Live on ITV4)
17:20pm – BTCC Race 3 (Live on ITV4)

Thompson’s magnificent seventh at The Rock.

Thompson’s magnificent seventh at The Rock.

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson produced one of the best performances of his career to shatter his previous best BTCC results with a pulsating drive from 28th to seventh in the third and final race of the day at the Rockingham Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Just two weeks on from his first career point scoring drive and a head-turning maiden top ten finish in Britain’s highest profile domestic race series at Snetterton, 22 year-old Thompson gained not only the best finish of his rookie season so far but also the respect of the BTCC paddock on a weekend where the son of an Essex Plumber proved emphatically that he belongs with the touring car elite.

Under laden and occasionally damp skies at the concrete lined 1.94-mile Corby circuit, Thompson and his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars team ensured that they left their mark on the most unique racing facility in the UK on possibly the BTCC’s final visit to Britain’s only true ‘Roval.’

In actual fact, the current BRDC Rising Star and reigning VW Cup Series Champion could potentially have left ‘The Rock’ with a clean sweep of top ten finishes in rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the 30-race BTCC 60th anniversary season such was the pace of the #19 GKR Ltd VW CC had it not been for a gear linkage issue in qualifying, a turbo wastegate issue in race one and an assault from Ollie Jackson in race two that earned the Audi driver and official reprimand from the series.

But whereas these issues would have put paid to Thompson’s chances in the first half of the season, seemingly nothing was going to stop the popular Hornchurch based driver from taking home a well-deserved haul of points.

“The car was just mega all weekend,” beamed Thompson who was among the top ten in the final free practice session and still turned in a career best 18th place effort in qualifying despite suffering a minor gear linkage problem that prevented him from making a final run when the track was at its fastest. “From the moment we hit the track it just felt on rails and Timo my engineer just kept tweaking it all weekend and each time we changed something it just kept on feeling quicker and quicker.”

Comfortably inside the top ten after the first raft of timed qualifying runs, Thompson says that although he was disappointed not to qualify where he felt he could, the fact that the car was so strong, plus an unsettled forecast for race day, meant he knew he would be able to move forward in the races.

“Obviously with my teammate Mike Bushell qualifying fourth I felt that that was where the car was capable of qualifying so to be on row nine isn’t great,” commented Thompson, whose best lap was still just six tenths off pole position despite him completing fewer laps than anyone else on the 31 car grid. “But when you know that you have the right package underneath you it just gives you the confidence to go into a race with the right mindset and that is what I did.”

With spots of rain making the track slightly greasy and on the less favoured option tyre for race one Thompson made a good getaway and gained four places in an incident strewn opening lap before the safety car intervened. Already in a points paying position and with a car that he knew would be kinder on its option tyres than others, Thompson felt confident of further progress, especially in the kind of conditions he revels in until disaster struck just as the field took the restart.

“Suddenly the car had a problem with the turbo wastegate and so I had to pit as the field restarted,” commented Bobby. “The guys got me back out but I just lost the lead lap and had to basically let everyone go so I didn’t interfere in their race which was doubly frustrating as the car was just so quick.”

With a fastest lap just two tenths shy of race winner Adam Morgan despite being on the option tyre Thompson took the chequered flag a lap down, which meant a twelfth row start for the second race, which played out in similarly uncertain weather conditions.

“We have had so many races this year where we have started out of position because of a minor issue in the previous race but now I have the confidence in the car to just come through the pack whatever gets thrown my way,” continued Thompson, whose race two rise from 24th was meteoric.

With the infamous Dean Hairpin claiming its fair share of victims on the opening lap Thompson emerged unscathed in 14th place under safety car conditions at the end of the opening lap and when the green flag waved again on lap four, in his own words, Thompson just ‘went for it.’

“There were spots of rain everywhere but nothing too major and I love those conditions so I just went for it and as other people seemed to be a bit cautious I was just able to pass people and pull away.” 14th soon became 10th and on lap ten he passed Rory Butcher for 9th and closed in on Matt Simpson for eighth. The Honda was quickly dispatched with an outside move at Tarzan only for Thompson to be forced wide on the exit of the corner, which allowed Ollie Jackson’s Audi to close in.

“I think the ITV4 TV pictures tell the story,” said Thompson. “I was ahead and I left Ollie room and that is all I can say.”

While Jackson had his licence endorsed for the incident it came as cold comfort to Thompson, who was forced to return with damage to the rear of his #19 machine and was faced with starting 28th on the grid for the final race of the day.

“I was thinking ‘Oh no not again,” continued Thompson. “To not score any points with a car as fast as ours would have been cruel to everyone on the team so I just had to take every opportunity and make sure I wasn’t taken out by anyone else’s mistake.”

A sprinkle of rain just before the start helped Bobby’s cause as several drivers ran wide at Dean Hairpin, elevating him into 17th place at the end of the first lap. And if the fans in the stands were impressed by his race two charge, they soon realised it was just an appetiser for the main course, which Thompson served up as soon as green flag racing resumed on lap 4.

Passing an average of one car per lap, sometimes two, Thompson was simply sublime, breaking into the top ten with a pass on the works Honda of Dan Cammish on lap 10 and then dispatching Tom Oliphant, Jackson and race one winner Adam Morgan on successive laps to take seventh place by the 13-lap mark.

Sadly for Thompson and his cheering supporters the chequered flag waved before he could make up any more positions but it didn’t matter to the driver, or his team, who finally proved to the wider BTCC audience what they had known all along; that the driver of the #19 is a BTCC race winner in waiting.

“I can’t thank my team enough for giving me the best car I’ve ever driven,” said Thompson, who moved into a season’s best eighth place in the Jack Sears Trophy standings thanks to his race three result. “But most of all I have to thank my parents who work non-stop to help raise the sponsorship to keep me racing. They live every lap with me and so this result is a great way to repay them and we will be celebrating this as a family tonight.”

Thompson’s next chance to take on the BTCC establishment comes in two weeks’ time at Knockhill in Scotland.