The KwikFit British Touring Car Championship arrived in North Yorkshire at the weekend, as the series continued at the tricky Croft Circuit.
The 2.13 mile circuit offers a completely different challenge compared to the previous venue, Thruxton, of three weeks ago. And Racing with Vera and Photon Group duo, Sam Osbourne and Andy Neate arrived hoping for decent results in their Ford Focus ST’s.
The duo began the weekend in 23rd and 31st in the Drivers Standings respectively, while the Jack Sears Trophy Standings saw them sitting in second and thirteenth places. Sam would surely be hoping to close the gap to Halfords Racing’s Daniel Rowbottom, who sits at the top, 81 points ahead of Racing with Wera and Photon Group’s number 4 driver.
Saturday’s qualifying session took place on a dry track, but the thirty-minute session was interrupted by two red flags. The first stoppage occurred early when Rory Butcher’s Toyota spewed its oil all over the track, before Nicolas Hamilton ended up in the tyre wall, thus prompting the second stoppage.
As Laser Tools Racing’s Aiden Moffat took pole position with a time of 1.22.037, Sam managed a time just 0.636 seconds slower. However, in one of the closest and tightest racing series in the world, his fastest time could only place him nineteenth on the starting grid. Having said that, the number 4 driver did have a faster time wiped out for exceeding track limits, and would also spin off the tarmac when pushing his Ford over the limit towards the end. Meanwhile, on his return to the series, Andy managed to put his number 44 Ford in 26th position, with a time +1.913 behind Moffat’s pole time.
Both drivers were a little disappointed with qualifying. Despite Sam setting some good sector times, it just didn’t work out for him during the interrupted session. Andy was hoping for more on his return behind the wheel, but admitted that he struggled with getting any heat into his Ford’s tyres, which left him struggling for pace.
Race 1 (Round 19)
With rain threatening over the Croft Circuit, Sam and Andy set up on the medium tyres for the first BTCC race of the weekend. Sam got away well, leapfrogging three cars at the start, only to then lose out to Tom Ingram and Aron Taylor-Smith later in the lap. Yet, eighteenth became 17th by the third lap when Ollie Jackson was taken out at the hairpin. With two stricken cars in dangerous positions, the Safety Car entered proceedings to close the field up again.
Sam held his place well at the restart and would remain there until lap eleven, where he’d pass a falling Jason Plato, before holding off the double Champion to finish sixteenth, just twelve seconds behind race winner Aiden Moffat.
Andy, meanwhile, had an apparently uneventful return to the series, as he drove to a 24th place finish, just six seconds behind EXCELR8’s Jack Butel.
Race 2 (Round 20)
The second race saw both drivers once again starting on the medium tyres. As the second lap began, Andy had unfortunately fallen from 24th to 26th, but Sam had made a solid start to maintain his 16th position. That was until Rory Butcher and Tom Oliphant caused the intervention of the Safety Car. Their excursion promoted Andy to 14th as the race restarted on the sixth lap. With the mandatory lap count increased from 15 to 18, Sam was able to move up another spot, while Andy managed to climb up to 22nd a lap later.
On lap thirteen, Sam put pressure on Dan Lloyd to move up to twelfth, but Plato had the same idea and nicked the position off him at the hairpin! And that’s where Sam would finish, as he fended off a very quick Ollie Jackson to finish 13th, just over thirteen seconds behind winner Jake Hill. However, put into perspective, such was Hill’s advantage at the front, Sam was only eight seconds behind second place!
Whilst the number 4 Ford was in the thick of the action, Andy’s number 44 had a solid, yet rather lonely race to 24th, where he finished two seconds clear of EXCELR8’s Nick Halstead.
Race 3 (Round 21)
The final race of the weekend saw Sam and Andy start in 13th and 24th respectively on the soft tyres. A lively start saw Dan Lloyd and Jade Edwards crash out, forcing yet another Safety Car. By the end of the opening lap Sam had dropped a position, but Andy’s start had been more rewarding, as he found himself up five places to resume racing on the third lap in 19th. He subsequently got overtaken by Rory Butcher at the restart, but Sam was able to hold off Tom Chilton to remain in fourteenth.
Ironically, 14th and 20th then became 13th and 19th respectively, as a spinning Jason Plato elevated both Sam and Andy on the next lap, before Chris Smiley plummeted down the order to promote both Racing with Wera and Photon Group Fords up a position, only for Tom Oliphant to relegate Andy back into 19th!
As two frontrunners collided on lap seven, Sam was elevated into the top ten, sandwiched between Daniel Rowbottom and Tom Chilton. Meanwhile, Andy too was elevated up to 17th, where he tried to chase down Oliphant, only to be passed by a recovering Stephen Jelley on the next lap.
Further up the field, Sam’s Ford was looking lively, as he battled with Chilton and Butcher on the 11th lap. Unfortunately, he got sandwiched by the pair at the hairpin and, coming off worse, limping to the pits with a puncture. The unfortunate incident promoted teammate Andy to 17th, but he was unable to keep Adam Morgan behind and was to lose the position towards the end of the final lap to finish 18th. Sam, on the other hand, was classified 22nd and a lap down.
Sam said that he was happy that he was making slow progress up the field during the races on Sunday. Yet the nature of the circuit made overtaking virtually impossible with such a tight field. He was driving a blinder in Race 3 however, but the contact with Tom Chilton and Rory Butcher left him with a puncture and knocked the tracking out on his Ford’s right front, which more-or-less ended his race. Andy, on the other hand, admitted to struggling all weekend, especially with generating heat into the tyres and a lack of pace. He did improve throughout the three races but just felt that there was no room to overtake around the circuit, of which three rather processional races will attest to.
Such is the nature of the rough and tumble of the KwikFit British Touring Car Championship! Both drivers will be hoping for better in a week’s time, where the series races at the home of British Motorsport, Silverstone.