Rounds 25, 26 & 27
The KwikFit British Touring Car Championship rolled into Leicestershire, as the penultimate rounds took place at the Donington Park National Circuit, near Castle Donington.
With just six races remaining, things on track were hotting up for the main protagonists, as the rights to the title edges towards its climax. Meanwhile, Racing with Wera and Photon Group duo, Sam Osborne and Andy Neate surely arrived focused on attempting to climb up the Driver Standings.
Despite the 1.98 miles track being a little difficult to overtake on, Sam would be hoping to maintain second place in the Jack Sears Trophy, by keeping the chasing pack at bay while attempting to close in on leader Daniel Rowbottom. Andy, on the other hand, would be hoping to cement his place in the Trophy’s top ten, while trying to close in on Team HARD’s Jack Mitchell.
Saturday’s qualifying was once again split into the normal 25 minute session, before a 5 minute top ten shootout, which took place in good conditions. And, while Halfords Racing’s Gordon Shedden claimed pole position, Sam and Andy qualified 14th and 27th respectively in this insanely close racing series.
Whilst both drivers spoke of how good their Ford Focus ST’s felt, Sam admitted that although the speed was there, he struggled to link his sector times together. He was then pipped by others at the last moments of the session, which was disappointing. However, he was looking forward to the races on Sunday because he felt that the race car is good.
Race 1 (Round 25)
With all drivers using the medium compound tyres again this weekend, the first sixteen lap race saw the Racing with Wera and Photon Group duo launch off the grid well, as the field raced towards the first corner under the blazing sun. Unfortunately, Sam got pushed out wide at the top of the hill, as Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson leapfrogged both him and Tom Ingram.
The number 44 Ford Focus ST of Andy had dropped down a place by the start of the second lap, as he battled with Jack Butel and Nicholas Hamilton. However, both Andy and Sam were promoted two places each on the third lap after Ollie Jackson, Jake Hill, and Adam Morgan came together through the Craner Curves and Old Hairpin, which resulted in Morgan losing his Car Gods with Ciceley Motorsport BMW and smashing into the safety barriers. Thankfully, Morgan was alright, but the accident brought out the Safety Car.
With Stephen Jelley getting past before the yellow flags, Sam would take the restart in 14th place, as racing resumed on lap seven. With the race distance now increased to 19 laps, the number 4 Ford
found itself in a fierce battle with the BMW of Stephen Jelley, the Honda of Daniel Rowbottom, and the Infinity Q50 of Aiden Moffat. Fourteenth became 12th by the start of lap eleven, as first Rowbottom fell down a few places on the ninth lap, and then Sam got past Jelley coming towards the final chicane, while defending resolutely from Tom Oliphant’s BMW.
Sam closed in on Tom Ingram’s Hyundia i30N, while stretching the gap between himself and Moffat.
However, he couldn’t find a way past Ingram and had to settle for twelfth place and a few well-deserved and valuable points at the chequered flag.
Meanwhile, Andy had a relatively lonely race to finish one place up on his starting position. He finished behind Jade Edwards’ Honda Civic Type R, but was comfortably ahead of Carl Boardley’s Laser Tools Racing Infinity Q50 and Hamilton’s Team HARD-backed Cupra Leon.
Race 2 (Round 26)
The second race saw the Racing with Wera and Photon Group duo starting 12th (Sam) and 27th (Andy), where they both got off the line well. However, Sam got squeezed by Moffat at the start of the second lap, and the Infinity Q50 got by the number 4 Ford. To his credit, Sam remained close to Moffat, but couldn’t get past and was eventually overtaken by a charging Jake Hill in the sister Ford Focus ST of Motorbase Performance on the sixth lap.
By lap ten, the high-speed train of cars were caught by Stephen Jelley, who tried threatening Sam’s position as they all closed in on and overtook Ollie Jackson’s Motorbase Performance Ford Focus further around the lap. But, on the next lap Jelley and Jackson got the run on Sam as they raced down the final straight towards the final hairpin, subsequently relegating him to fifteenth.
Meanwhile, the other Ford of Andy was having a solid run in 26th place while battling with Jack Butel and Tom Oliphant. Andy remained in this position, and would eventually take the chequered flag within touching distance of Butel, yet well clear of Rick Parfitt to finish as the meat in an EXCELR8 sandwich.
Further up the field saw Sam still doing battle on track, and he’d eventually lose out to Jack Goff in the Team HARD with Autobrite Direct Cupra Leon, who nicked the final point-paying position from him on the last lap.
Race 3 (Round 27)
The final race of the day took place in difficult conditions, as the sun began to set. The Racing with Wera and Photon Group duo got off the line well at the start, and Andy moved up a couple of places after Jack Butel and Sam Smelt (Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Corolla) came together at Redgate. Sam’s start was as equally rewarding, as he found himself up to 14th before the Safety Car was deployed.
With Smelt’s stricken Toyota cleared, racing resumed on lap 4 (of 18 now) whereby Sam jumped to eleventh and Andy to 22nd at the expense of others falling off the track and losing momentum.
There was no respite for Sam, though, as he found himself in a fierce yet entertaining battle with
Gordon Shedden (Halfords Racing Honda Civic Type R), Ollie Jackson (Motorbase Performance Ford Focus ST), Aron Taylor-Smith (Team HARD Cupra Leon), and Chris Smiley (EXCELR8 Motorsport Hyundia i30). By the fifth lap, Sam was back in 15th with Jason Plato (Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra) and Jack Goff (Cupra Leon) closing in.
As we started the 12th lap, Sam found himself in eighteenth position. However, that became 17th on the following lap after Senna Proctor’s BTC Racing Honda Civic Type R pulled into the pits. Sam then got passed Smiley’s Hyundia to claim 16th place before he was pushed out onto the grass at the Old Hairpin by Smiley on the penultimate lap, which left him in 19th to finish between Tom Chilton (Car Gods with Ciceley Motorsport BMW 330i M) and Tom Oliphant’s WSR-run BMW. Andy, on the other hand, took the chequered flag in a rather lonely 23rd place.
Both Racing with Wera and Photon Group’s drivers thought that their Ford’s had some good speed out on track throughout the weekend, but Andy just lacked ultimate pace to keep up with the frontrunners. Sam was pleased with his first race, where he finished in the points. However, he felt that more was to come from his car, so the team made a few minor tweaks to the setup for the second race. Unfortunately, he went backwards in race two and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He did, however, feel that despite suffering a bit of understeer, his Ford was moving forwards faster. Unfortunately, everyone else around him did so as well, which was a bit disheartening.
Yet, despite the afflictions, both Sam and Andy were philosophical and looking forward to moving up the grid at the season finale, as the KwikFit British Touring Car Championship travels to the excellent Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in a couple of weeks.
By Chris Palmer