Thompson: ‘Making BTCC bow was unforgettable’
Bobby Thompson hailed his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship weekend a ‘truly unforgettable experience’ as he and Team HARD with Trade Price Cars rode a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the opening Brands Hatch Indy weekend.
Whilst, by his own admission, a best finish of 19th wasn’t something the 2018 BRDC Rising Star would ordinarily be pleased with, in the overall context of the day, making a dream debut in a series he’s always aspired to reach, Thompson saw numerous positives.
“I won both Volkswagen Cup races and set a new lap record in the process at Brands last year,” said Thompson. “I knew I wouldn’t be in a position to repeat those results on my first BTCC weekend and although not everything went exactly as planned, the day as a whole was truly unforgettable.”
Starting 27th for the opening race of the season, Thompson was able to navigate his way through the pack and pick off several rivals, including multiple champion Jason Plato, as he moved into the top 20.
“Greasy conditions like we had when the track isn’t fully wet are the type of conditions I like the most and it felt really good to be able to attack with confidence,” he said. “I knew I was faster than Tom (Boardman) but he was defending well and I could feel my tyres starting to go off.
“I was a bit worried that Jason (Plato) would catch us but I had enough of a gap to hold him off in the end. There was no point trying a risky move on the last lap and I’m really pleased for the whole team.”
For race two, a dry line started to appear for the first time during the day on circuit with several drivers gambling on slick tyres – Thompson opted for wets.
“It’s such a lottery when the track looks like it could dry out,” added Thompson, who had made it as far as 14th position.
The track continued to dry and it wasn’t long before those who had gambled on slicks suddenly found themselves in a class of their own, going four to five seconds per lap faster than those on wets.
“I thought wets were the way to go but on my out lap I could already see that a dry line was starting to appear. It was a big decision to make and maybe if I was a bit more experienced I would have made a different call but we decided to stay on wets as most of the drivers starting around me were also on wets.
“I was able to make up a couple of places on lap one and just like the first race it was just intense all the way round. The crew told me I was in the points but I knew that it was only a matter of time before the tyres started to go off. When they did there was nothing I could do.”
With his chances of a points scoring finish gone, Thompson was trying to secure the best possible starting spot for the third and final race when his battery cried enough.
The final round in Kent would prove to be another learning experience, as Thompson found himself following team-mate Michael Caine and he did, briefly, make a move stick.
“I could see where I was faster than Cainey but as he is being a real mentor to me this year the last thing I wanted to do was put us both off,” said Thompson, who slipped-up at Graham Hill Bend, allowing Caine and several others back ahead, leaving him to cross the line in 26th position.
Thompson admitted to being mentally exhausted by the rigours of a BTCC weekend.
“Physically, I am fine as I train in the gym two hours a night but nobody can really make you understand how demanding the BTCC is until you experience it. Apart from the three races you have the autograph session, the drivers parade and the team’s own Q&A session in their hospitality unit for all our sponsors Tony (Gilham, Team HARD Team Principal) makes sure that as many fans and supporters can see inside the garage there are always lots of well-wishers and fans who want to chat and wish you luck.”
“For my first weekend it has been incredible. I have had so much support from the fans and I know that I will be a lot stronger at Donington Park for the next three races just because I have had the whole BTCC race weekend experience under my belt.
“I know that the team have a really good package that is capable of being on the podium as we proved with Jake (Hill) and I’ll be pushing harder than ever for stronger results next time.”