BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 fights to victory on Donington GP debut
A battling performance on track saw BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 secure victory as it made its first Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship appearance on the Donington Park GP circuit.
The Suffolk-based team headed to the East Midlands venue eager to rebound from a challenging outing at Knockhill, with Tom Ingram eager to maintain his title challenge and team-mates Tom Chilton, Ronan Pearson and Nick Halstead all optimistic about strong results on track.
Free practice would prove to be a challenging start for the team as the mixed weather conditions that have affected recent events once again returned, with Ingram suffering dramas in FP1 when a hub failure saw him forced to pull off on the side of the circuit.
Chilton would be the quickest of the quartet as he set the second-fastest time in the more favourable conditions in FP1, where Pearson missed out on the top ten by less than a tenth of a second.
Halstead meanwhile also set his best time in the first session, but would end FP2 as the quickest Hyundai having managed to put in a lap before rain showers rendered the remainder of the times irrelevant.
The best track conditions would be reserved for qualifying, where Ingram made light of his lost track time in practice to grab a place on the front row of the grid for the third time this season, with Pearson maintaining the strong form he had displayed at Knockhill to take ninth place.
Chilton would qualify less than a tenth of a second behind in eleventh, although Halstead would be forced to start from the back of the grid after his session ended early with a trip into the gravel at the chicane.
The opening race on Sunday would be held in wet conditions, with Ingram grabbing the lead from Sutton at the start before his rival battled back ahead on the second lap. From there, Ingram held station despite the best efforts of Jake Hill to get ahead, being forced to defend hard in the closing laps before taking the flag in second spot.
Unfortunately for Ingram, a contentious penalty post-race for not allowing Hill enough room when he tried to go around the outside at the final corner saw him drop back to third in the final results.
Pearson would climb into ninth in the early laps before being shuffled back down the order on lap three, not helped by a hit from Andrew Watson at the hairpin that cost him places. With the Scot also suffering with the balance of his car in the conditions, he had to settle for 14th at the finish, leaving Chilton as the second-best of the Hyundais as he picked up a solid tenth place.
Despite being forced to start from the back, and with his car starting to develop a gearshift issue, Halstead showed solid pace in the worst of the conditions and would take the flag in 24th place.
Race two proved to be a masterclass from Ingram, as he fought his way to the front in the early stages with impressive moves on both Hill and Sutton enabling him to grab the lead. Once out front, the defending champion set the fastest lap as he eased away to secure a second win of the season and regain ground on Sutton in the standings.
Chilton would dice throughout with the BMW of Adam Morgan before taking the flag in eleventh spot, with Pearson repeating his race one result having run in the points throughout – taking the flag as the best of the Jack Sears Trophy drivers. Battling his gearshift issue, Halstead would take the flag in 20th place.
The reverse grid final saw Chilton on the front row of the grid, but he would line up slightly outside his box at the start to pick up a five-second time penalty.
Despite that, and the loss of his hybrid system, Chilton was able to hold station towards the sharp end of the field on track but would suffer from the loss of performance in his tyres having been forced to overcompensate for the lack of additional hybrid boost.
A mid-race caution period also didn’t help negate the penalty he was carrying, with Chilton crossing the line in eighth place before his penalty dropped him back to twelfth.
From P12, Ingram was running ahead of Sutton on track and working his way forwards when Dan Rowbottom clipped the tyre stack at the chicane whilst running ahead, damaging his car and picking up a puncture. Unfortunately for Ingram, that failure occurred as he was forced to go around the outside of the Ford driver, with the resultant delay allowing Sutton to nip ahead as he crossed the line in seventh place.
Pearson’s race appeared to be over when the bonnet came loose on his car and forced him to return to the pits, dropping him to the back of the field and well behind the remainder of the field. A series of searing laps – including the fastest lap of the race – showed what might have been before the caution period allowed him to close onto the cars behind.
When racing resumed, he charged through to 15th place to grab the final championship point and maintain his Jack Sears Trophy challenge, whilst Halstead wrapped up his weekend with another top 20 finish.
Tom Ingram, #1 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“Turbulent is probably the best way to sum up the weekend. We lost track time in free practice with the issue we had in FP1 and then in qualifying, I didn’t get the most out of it which possibly stopped us from getting pole position.
“We managed to get ahead of Ash at the start of the opening race but he was able to reclaim the place and I was happy enough to hold off Jake for P2 before we got a penalty that I really don’t understand. To come back from that and win race two was great and in race three it was a shame as we got caught up in Rowbottom’s issue as it allowed Ash to come sailing through and finish ahead of us.
“Without that, we’d have outscored him again and closed the gap, but we didn’t have the luck on our side. We’ll keep pushing and hopefully Silverstone will be good for us.”
Tom Chilton, #3 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“We got off to a good start in practice when we right up towards the front and fought hard in the opening two races to try and recover from not being as high as we hoped in qualifying. When the reverse grid put us on the front row for the final race, I knew we were in a good place but coming round to the start, I just couldn’t see the grid box with all the markings on the circuit.
“I ended up slightly out of position which meant a five-second penalty and that was annoying in itself, but when I went to use the hybrid, the system failed. To try and hold position with no hybrid meant pushing the brakes and tyres harder and they just dropped off a cliff. I was able to let Tom through and then try and protect him, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.”
Ronan Pearson, #14 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“I was delighted after qualifying as I knew we had more to come with the car, but the rain in race one made it a tough start. We didn’t quite get the set-up right and I also got hit at the hairpin so we dropped back to P14, but when things dried up, the car was much improved.
“I would have liked to get higher in the second race but felt confident going into race three only for the bonnet to pop open at the start – which meant I had to pit. The red mist descended a bit after that and I just put in qualifying laps to try and get as close to the rest of the pack as I could.
“The safety car let me catch the pack and then I was able to pick people off and come back to the points, which I certainly didn’t expect. There’s a lot we can take away from this weekend and carry forward to Silverstone.”
Nick Halstead, #22 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“It’s always tough for me when we get mixed conditions in practice as it’s difficult to get into the groove and then in qualifying, I got caught out by some gravel which ruined the starting position. I had an issue with the gear shift in the first two races which made it difficult but I was happy with the pace I showed, particularly in the wet in race one.
“I had some great battles in race three and even though I made a few silly mistakes, I’m pleased with my pace relevant to the cars ahead and am looking forward to going to Silverstone and Brands Hatch as two circuits that I think will be better suited to me.”
Justina Williams, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Team Owner said:
“It’s great to come away from the weekend with another victory, and the fact we set the fastest lap in two of the three races also shows the pace that we had in the car.
“With a bit more luck on our side, there was certainly the potential for more points across the three races but all four drivers have done a good job this weekend and we remain in the hunt heading to Silverstone and a circuit where we hope to be strong.”