Bobby Thompson’s magnificent seventh
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Bobby Thompson produced one of the best performances of his career to shatter his previous BTCC high with a pulsating drive from 28th to seventh in the third and final race of the day at Rockingham.
Just two weeks on from his first career point scoring drive and a head-turning maiden top ten finish in Britain’s highest profile domestic race series at Snetterton, 22 year-old Thompson gained not only the best finish of his rookie season so far but also the respect of the BTCC paddock.
Under laden and occasionally damp skies at the concrete lined 1.94-mile Corby circuit, Thompson and Team HARD with Trade Price Cars ensured that they left their mark on the most unique racing facility in the UK on possibly the BTCC’s final visit to Britain’s only true ‘Roval.’
The current BRDC Rising Star and reigning VW Cup Series Champion could potentially have left with a clean sweep of top ten finishes in Rounds 19, 20 and 21, such was the pace of the number 19 GKR Ltd VW CC, had it not been for a gear linkage issue in qualifying, a turbo wastegate issue in race one and contact from a rival in race two.
“The car was just mega all weekend,” said Thompson. “From the moment we hit the track it just felt on rails and my engineer just kept tweaking it all weekend and each time we changed something it just kept on feeling quicker and quicker.”
Comfortably inside the top ten after the first raft of timed qualifying runs, Thompson says that although he was disappointed not to qualify where he felt he could, the fact that the car was so strong, plus an unsettled forecast for race day, meant he knew he would be able to move forward in the races.
“Obviously with my team-mate Mike Bushell qualifying fourth I felt that that was where the car was capable of qualifying so to be on row nine isn’t great,” added Thompson, whose best lap was still just six tenths off pole position despite him completing fewer laps than anyone else on the 31-car grid. “When you know that you have the right package underneath you it just gives you the confidence to go into a race with the right mindset and that is what I did.”
With spots of rain making the track slightly greasy and on the less favoured option tyre for the opener, Thompson made a good getaway and gained four places over an incident strewn opening lap before the safety car intervened. Already in a points-paying position, Thompson felt confident of further progress, especially in the kind of conditions he revels in until disaster struck just as the field took the restart.
“Suddenly the car had a problem with the turbo wastegate and so I had to pit as the field restarted,” continued Bobby. “The guys got me back out but I just lost the lead lap and had to basically let everyone go so I didn’t interfere in their race which was doubly frustrating as the car was just so quick.”
With a fastest lap just two tenths shy of race winner Adam Morgan despite being on the option tyre Thompson took the chequered flag a lap down, which meant a twelfth row start for the second race, which played out in similarly uncertain weather conditions.
“We have had so many races this year where we have started out of position because of a minor issue in the previous race but now I have the confidence in the car to just come through the pack whatever gets thrown my way.”
With the infamous Dean Hairpin claiming its fair share of victims on the opening lap Thompson emerged unscathed in 14th place under safety car conditions at the end of the opening lap and when the green flag waved again on lap four.
“There were spots of rain everywhere but nothing too major and I love those conditions so I just went for it and as other people seemed to be a bit cautious I was just able to pass people and pull away.”
On lap ten, he passed Rory Butcher for ninth and closed in on Matt Simpson for eighth. The Honda was quickly dispatched with an outside move at Tarzan only for Thompson to be forced wide on the exit of the corner, which allowed Ollie Jackson’s Audi to close in.
While Jackson had his licence endorsed for the incident it came as cold comfort to Thompson, who was forced to return with damage to the rear of his VW and was faced with starting 28th on the grid for the final race of the day.
“I was thinking ‘not again’,” continued Thompson. “To not score any points with a car as fast as ours would have been cruel to everyone on the team so I just had to take every opportunity and make sure I wasn’t taken out by anyone else’s mistake.”
A sprinkle of rain just before the start helped Bobby’s cause as several drivers ran wide at Dean, elevating him into 17th place at the end of the first lap.
Thompson got into the groove, passing an average of one car per lap, sometimes two – breaking into the top ten with a pass on the works Honda of Dan Cammish on lap ten and then dispatching Tom Oliphant, Jackson and race one winner Adam Morgan on successive laps to take seventh place by the 13-lap mark. That’s where he stayed, representing a career high so far!
“I can’t thank my team enough for giving me the best car I’ve ever driven,” said Thompson, who moved into eighth place in the Jack Sears Trophy standings thanks to his race three result. “Most of all I have to thank my parents who work non-stop to help raise the sponsorship to keep me racing. They live every lap with me and so this result is a great way to repay them and we will be celebrating this as a family tonight.”