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.
Team HARD. and Brisky Racing are very proud to announce that Mike Bushell will continue with the team in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship in 2019.
Following on from a much stronger second half of the season so far and off the back of a real solid performance at Silverstone, this is a clear statement of intent as the team look to continue their upturn in performance in to 2019. Topping the times in free practice and a top 5 qualifying time before the lap being taken away showed genuine pace and a drive up to 7th in race one before the 3rd strike and a back of the grid penalty for race two stood in the way of our push for silverware.
The CC has been extensively developed over the winter and throughout the season and we now believe we have a package to rival any other team and driver combination on the grid. We still have more to come and will be looking to build in certain areas where we need to in order to compete at the front consistently. We are still a young family team, but are very determined to succeed at the very top and in Mike we have the perfect driver to do that.
With the confirmation of new sponsor Fox Transport for Mike in 2019, we have been able to get a deal done early so we can really work hard in the coming months to hit the ground running come the start of the 2019 season.
Tony said, “Mike is an unbelievable talent and I have never met a more driven and ambitious driver in my life. He has extensive knowledge about the car and has been a real asset for the team in the engineering department. He is the complete package and one that we wanted to hold on to in our quest to be a top team in the best championship in the world. It is amazing for the team to have a deal in place already for 2019 and will enable us to improve in all the areas where we feel we can really work on over the winter.”
Mike added, “”I am delighted to be staying with the team for the 2019 season. After the struggles early on this year, hard work and the determination to not give up has rewarded us with strong pace and several great points finishes. Topping the timesheets at Silverstone in Free Practice was a real highlight, not to mention achieving the team’s best ever qualifying with 4th place at Rockingham. The key to success in the BTCC is consistency. I always look up to the likes of Tom Ingram and Speedworks who stick together, keep making progress and are now fighting for the overall driver’s title. I see Team HARD. as the perfect place to further my racing career as my relationship with the team goes beyond the race weekends and I have been able to be heavily involved with the preparation and engineering. We’ve become a family and every success is shared between us all. We’ve had some real flashes of speed this year and we have a great winter testing plan lined up to build on the solid package we have now. All of this would not be possible without the help of Tony Gilham and I look forward to rewarding the faith he has in me”
Tony continued “The whole team are behind Mike and we must say a huge thank you to every single person involved in what we are building. We have shown glimpses of pace but now it is time to take it to the next level.”
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)
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)
“I can’t believe that we have only got three race weekends to go and then my rookie season is over. I know that a lot can happen in nine races but after the last two rounds at Snetterton and Rockingham I wish we had another 30 races to go.
“I’m starting to sound a bit like a broken record but before Rockingham I said that the Diamond Double race at Snetterton was the most significant race of my career so far. Well I’ve got to say now that race three at Rockingham is the most significant race of my career so far and I have had so much support on social media after that drive. Who knows, maybe after this weekend I will have to change my mind again. I certainly hope so!!
“We have now had two meetings where the whole Team HARD package has been moving forward. 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 as Silverstone and Brands Hatch at the end of the year but the way the team have been developing the 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 was at Rockingham but if the weather is a bit mixed then anything is possible.
“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. The BTCC is manic enough on a track twice as long and twice as wide so if you are in mid pack you won’t get a second to yourself and it will be non-stop action all the way. I don’t want to make any predictions apart from keeping it on the track and trying to qualifying in the top half of the field and then staying there in the races.”
Rockingham was a fantastic weekend for not only me but the team. Qualifying 4th and two 6th places is a great weekend for anyone in this super competitive championship! However, I was left a little disappointed with the race results as our qualifying and free Practice pace didn’t translate into race pace and longevity. And I’m hungry to fight for wins!
So, the build up to Knockhill has been very intense with lots of numbers and calculations on how we best improve the car for the future. Getting really involved in the engineering side has given me the opportunity to quantify my changes and adjustments. I love Knockhill. My first ever BTCC race was there in 2013 and I still hold it as one of my all time fondest memories.
I’ve since had pole positions and wins in the U.K. Renault Clio Cup there and I am looking forward to the return north of the border!
Firstly, Rockingham was completely surreal. I had no idea that BTCC was even possible this year, I want to thank everyone at Team HARD for giving me this very special opportunity to show myself on such a national stage.
It was altogether a great weekend with pace improvements each time out and finishing positions much higher that I could have imagined.
I have raced at Knockhill once before, it was in MSA Formula (now British F4). I achieved my highest results of 10th in my part year in that series at Knockhill so that’s encouraging! I remember how much I loved driving the track so I’m looking forward to having the chance to drive it again. More finishes and more pace that’s all I want from the weekend!