BELCHER BACK INTO INDY POINTS ON BTCC RETURN
Toyota Avensis driver Simon Belcher experienced an eventful return to competitive action in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone National Circuit over the weekend – concluding the event with a brace of Independents Trophy points finishes.
Back in the hot seat of the Handy Motorsport entry after spending the last three race meetings on the sidelines, the Swindon driver didn’t show any signs of ‘race rustiness’ on his way to a best overall result of 19th position in race three of the weekend.
Making a consistent start to the penultimate event of the season in both free practice sessions on Saturday, Belcher went on to qualify 26th fastest for the first race, with a time of 59.814 seconds (98.73mph), but chose to make a tactical decision for round 25 by starting the race from the pitlane.
Electing to run the ‘Soft’ compound Dunlop tyres for Sunday’s opening encounter, the Webb Garden Power Equipment and KÄRCHER-backed driver made the decision to try and make full use of the grip in order to attempt to secure a quick lap time and, therefore, a higher starting slot for race two.
His hopes of lapping in the mid-59 second bracket, though, were unfortunately dashed when the Toyota sustained a front-left puncture which resulted in a visit to the pits. He eventually ended the contest in 26th position.
Therefore starting round 26 further back than intended, Belcher made a fairly clean launch and although losing one place into Copse he emerged safely from the first few corners. Holding 27th position into lap two, the Handy Motorsport driver gained two places as a couple of cars dropped back and then set about trying to take 24th place away from Derek Palmer.
As the race wore on he was edged back to 25th position, but Belcher soon moved back up the order and into the latter stages the action just outside the outright top 20 really started to heat up. On lap 18, only 0.1 seconds separated Belcher from Palmer’s Infiniti Q50 which, in turn, was close behind the Audi of Hunter Abbott.
On lap 20, though, Abbott and Palmer tangled at Becketts and Belcher had to lift off the accelerator to avoid being involved. Emerging from the turn safely, he pressed on and although a late incident with Nicolas Hamilton almost resulted in contact with the barriers, Belcher managed to keep his car pointing in the right direction and took the flag in 22nd position.
“Race one didn’t go to plan unfortunately, the idea was to get a good time on the soft tyre but on the lap I thought would lift us up somewhere near the top 20 for the race two grid, the front left went so I had to pit”, explained Belcher, “So, for race two, we didn’t have a brilliant slot on the grid and the car did take a while to come alive.
“We started to move forward, though, and there were a few incidents we were able to take advantage of and pick up some places. When Palmer and Abbott got together, I had to check up and that really cost us a chance of the top 20 to be honest.”
Hoping to make strong progress at the start of race three, round 27, from 22nd on the grid Belcher was instead elbowed back to 26th position on the opening lap but prior to the appearance of the Safety Car soon after, he was up into 23rd place.
When racing got back underway on lap seven, Belcher looked to usurp Stewart Lines but was instead passed by Josh Cook a lap later. Soon making progress again, he climbed into the top 20 by lap 20 and following a late drive-through penalty for Andy Priaulx with five laps to run, Belcher assumed 19th position which he held to the flag.
“Coming back in after three race meetings away has been tough as the other guys have all got that experience on me, but it didn’t take too long to get back into things really”, he added, “Overall, I’m fairly happy with the race pace, I felt pretty racey in the second one and did a pretty good job, but qualifying is where we need to get things improved for Brands.”