Podium and popular Jack Sears Trophy success for BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8
The BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 team secured another podium finish, as well as a first Jack Sears Trophy victory of the campaign, on what proved to be a hugely challenging weekend of action as the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship made its annual trip to Knockhill.
The Suffolk-based team headed for the Scottish circuit bidding to strengthen its position in the championship standings, with defending champion Tom Ingram going into the weekend sitting just six points away from the points lead.
Saturday’s two practice sessions would be run in tricky wet conditions, with Ingram leading the four-strong line-up with the second best time in FP2, whilst both local hero Ronan Pearson and experience team-mate Tom Chilton also showed strong pace – with Pearson ending both sessions in the top ten and Chilton only a fraction of a second behind.
For Nick Halstead however, practice would prove to be a write off, with an unfortunate gearbox issue that required the team to change his box leaving him to watch on from the sidelines and without a lap to his name going into qualifying.
In drying conditions for the two-part session, both Ingram and Chilton were able to make it through to the final stage of qualifying and the shootout for pole, with Ingram ultimately qualifying in fifth place and Chilton in ninth.
Pearson would only miss out on a Q2 appearance by two-tenths of a second in P14 whilst Halstead was pleased to come away from the session having qualified off the back of the grid in 26th place considering his lack of track time.
The opening race kicked off in dry conditions with Ingram moving up a position into fourth and Chilton holding station in ninth, whilst Pearson was on the fringes of the points and Halstead had moved up two places before the heavens opened and the circuit was hit by a huge downpour that left teams scrabbling to pit for new tyres.
Chilton and Pearson both dived in early, with Ingram and Halstead following soon afterwards, with the safety car then being called out to recover a car from the grass.
As those cars which had gambled on staying out then either pitted or slid off the circuit, Ingram moved into the lead of the race with Chilton following behind in third spot, and the pair held station to the finish to bag a double podium finish, with Pearson scoring his best result in ninth and Halstead taking the flag in 17th.
There would be heartache post-race however, with both Ingram and Chilton excluded from the race when they failed the ride height test, which demoted them to the rear of the field for the second race. It promoted Pearson up into seventh, with penalties for two more drivers the seeing him classified in fifth, whilst Halstead found himself in 15th for his second points finish of the season.
Dry conditions in the second race of the weekend would see the team score a solid double top ten, with Pearson putting in a mature drive to cross the line in seventh, and Ingram showing the pace in the Hyundai i30 Fastback N to come through from the back to take tenth place.
Chilton would miss out on the points by just a tenth of a second, whilst Halstead ran well in the top 20 for much of the race before being shuffled back to 21st as a number of quicker drivers recovered through the field after dramas in race one.
The final race of the weekend saw Pearson drawn on the reverse grid pole, with the action being delayed when a torrential shower hit the circuit just before the start. After the race kicked off behind the safety car, Pearson led the early stages before another caution period backed up the field behind, but the rookie retained his place at the front after the restart before being overhauled by the quicker cars of Ash Sutton and Josh Cook.
Running in third going into the final lap, Pearson would slip to fourth behind team-mate Ingram who had worked his way through the field from ninth spot to secure more valuable points, with Pearson still taking his place on the podium as winner of the Jack Sears Trophy – having scored the best combined results amongst the drivers without an overall podium result.
Chilton would find himself struggling with the set-up of his car in the conditions and had to settle for 20th place at the finish, whilst Halstead was one of a number of drivers to be caught out by the conditions as he went off at the hairpin and was forced to retire.
The team now prepares to head for Donington Park for the next round of the season, which sees the full Grand Prix circuit being used for the first time in two decades.
Tom Ingram, #1 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“Having the win taken away from us in race one was really hard to take, particularly when we had outscored Ash and were going to be leading the championship with a few points in hand. It was hard to try and bounce back from that as we know it is difficult to overtake around here, and with him being up towards the front, we were playing catch-up.
“At the moment, the championship fight is coming down to the odd point here and there, so it was vital that we scored as many points as we could from the remaining two races as every single point counts. I was hopeful going into race two as the car really comes alive on the soft tyre, so to get up into the top ten was a really pleasing result. Race three was just crazy, as we started in a monsoon and by the end, almost had a dry line; it was just mental how much things changed.
“It was good to end the weekend with a podium, even if Ash was able to get the win and extend his lead. We’ve just got to knuckle down and fight hard across the three meetings left to run.”
Tom Chilton, #3 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“The car has been fantastic this weekend, so it feels like a real kick in the teeth to be coming away from the weekend without a single point when we had one of the best cars on the grid. I really enjoyed the opening race in difficult conditions and to then lose the podium was really tough to take but we win as a team, and we lose as a team and we just have to move on from it.
“I was pleased to make up ground in the second race but in race three we were on a dry set-up and the car was just a real handful in the wet conditions. It’s a weekend of what might have been, and whilst it was great to see Tom and Ronan on the podium at the end, it’s a shame I wasn’t up there with them.”
Ronan Pearson, #14 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“It’s a fantastic feeling to come away from my home meeting having led a BTCC race for the first time and having scored my first Jack Sears Trophy win. After qualifying, I felt a bit disappointed, but race day was just brilliant. We made the call to switch tyres at the right time in race one and it allowed us to get up into the top ten for the first time, and then in race two, I drove with my head and seventh place was another solid result.
“Being drawn on pole and going to the grid being cheered on by my family, friends and sponsors was an epic feeling and to be on the podium as the Jack Sears winner is a real bucket list moment in front of my home fans. I feel I’ve really shown what I can do this weekend, and now have something to kick on from in the final rounds.”
Nick Halstead, #22 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“Losing the track time in practice and then having changeable conditions in qualifying was really tough, but the weather in race one really turned things round for me. We made the right call at the right time with the tyres and it was just a shame that we missed the window to stay on the lead lap as we’d have ended up on the top ten otherwise.
“To get P15 was still a great result in challenging conditions but I was also really pleased with race two. It was always going to be difficult with quite a few quick guys behind on the grid, but my sector times were really encouraging and a big positive for me to take away from the weekend.
“Although it was a shame to make a mistake in race three, I got to watch a fantastic race unfold and now I can just look ahead to Donington feeling confident after two weekends where I think I’ve shown good pace.”
Justina Williams, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Team Owner, said:
“This has been a weekend of hugely mixed emotions for the whole team, and to come away from it with a podium finish and a Jack Sears Trophy win is really pleasing considering where we were a few hours earlier. To lose the double podium in race one was hugely disappointing but we fought back, and for Tom Ingram to battle through to P3 by the end shows how competitive our car is.
“For Ronan to be on the podium with him as the Jack Sears winner was also fantastic as we always knew he was capable of those kind of results but hasn’t had the luck on his side, and it was also good to see Nick’s hard work and effort rewarded with another points finish.
“Tom Chilton deserved way more than his result show this weekend and whilst we have lost ground in the standings, we’ll come out fighting at Donington Park in a few weeks to try and bounce back.”