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.