STUNNING THRUXTON SWEEP FOR HILL
The opening rounds of the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship saw MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square’s Jake Hill enjoy his ‘best drive ever’ in the series, with the 27-year-old leaving the Hampshire circuit at the summit of the Drivers’ standings.
While the British weather offered mixed conditions throughout the weekend, qualifying would see Hill in the mix for pole position, before the BRDC Superstar settled for seventh on the grid for Sunday’s preliminary contest.
After a frenetic opening lap of the first race of the campaign, Hill worked his way into third position as a Safety Car period ensued due to an incident involving series returnee Gordon Shedden and Northern Irishman Chris Smiley.
At the restart, Hill edged away from Colin Turkington, who maintained pressure throughout, but the #24 machine crossed the line ahead of the BMW to take third place, his tenth career podium, and first Manufacturer win for the team.
“It was a crazy opening lap – I lost out to Ollie [Jackson] and Rory [Butcher] at the start, but got back past them both at the complex, then passed Colin later in the lap! The car was really good through the fast stuff, so I was able to manage the gap. I’m delighted for the team, and a fantastic start to the season.”Jake Hill
Starting race two from third, and now with 58kg of success ballast on board, a superb start preceded a brave move at the complex for Hill as he passed the Hyundai of Tom Ingram before the race was stopped on account of an incident further back in the pack.
Around 30 minutes later the race was restarted, this time with Hill losing out to BTC Racing’s Dan Cammish and Butcher off the line. Battling with the latter and Ingram on the opening lap, an off for Butcher’s Toyota Corolla at Noble brought out the Safety Car.
Behind the Hondas of Cammish and leader Josh Cook on the restart, Hill comfortably pulled away from the chasing pack but wasn’t able to close down on the cars ahead, taking another third place and, again, a Manufacturer victory for the team.
“I feel terrible for Rory – he’s a good mate – it just snapped on him and it’s so quick there it’s impossible to catch. After the Safety Car, I got into a nice rhythm, and the car actually felt a bit better with the weight added, so that was positive! Another great result for all of us, thanks again to everyone for giving me a mega car.”Jake Hill
The reverse grid draw saw Hill line up ninth for the final race of the day, but as the drizzle began to fall just moments before the 16-lap contest got underway, the whole grid was faced with the ultimate quandary of any wet/dry race: to gamble on Goodyear’s wet-weather tyres or remain on slick rubber.
The trio of slick-shod runners on the grid by the start of the race – Hill, Smiley and Tom Oliphant – struggled during the early laps, with Hill’s Ford Focus ST slithering down the order to 20th at the end of the opening tour.
A light drizzle remained, and gradually Hill began to get heat into his tyres and edge back through the pack, moving up to 17th, then 12th by lap four, before the grip stabilised and the #24 machine sliced up to fourth as they started lap eight.
The following lap Hill caught and passed the BMWs of Oliphant and Turkington, before getting a clean exit out of the final chicane and passing 2020 champion Ash Sutton into Allard to incredibly to take the lead.
Hill now edged clear but was chased hard by Oliphant – who had received a five-second penalty for starting out of position – and it looked like the Kent racer was on for a spectacular victory.
However, with just three laps remaining the rain began to fall harder, and in a superb display of car control Hill managed to keep his Ford ahead, until the penultimate lap when Sutton’s wet-weather tyres allowed him to edge past – not without a fight from Hill – and head on to victory.
Halfway around the final lap Hill was using every bit of skill possible to hang on, but Jason Plato and Shedden – both on wet-weather tyres caught him as they entered the final chicane, with all three crossing the line together, with Plato taking second by a mere 0.070 seconds, and Hill just hanging on to third ahead of Shedden.
“That was just incredible!” said Hill. “So unbelievably tough in the early laps just to stay on, with cold, hard compound slicks on a very greasy track – once they switched on though, I was getting more and more confident. Once I’d got past Ash I knew I could win if the rain didn’t get any harder. Of course, in the last couple of laps that’s exactly what happened, and I just couldn’t hold Ash back. From there I was convinced I was going off at any point! It just rained that bit harder on the last lap and Jason just had better traction to pip me at the line.
“I am so proud of the team – a fantastic effort by everyone involved, I had a mega car all weekend, thanks so much to everyone at MB Motorsport and Motorbase for making this possible. It’s incredible that we’ve taken all three Manufacturer wins, two fastest laps in the manufacturer championship and three podiums – plus my mate Sam (Osborne) won the Jack Sears Trophy, so overall we’re leading three championships. But on a personal level to leave Thruxton as BTCC Championship leader is so satisfying, thanks of course not only to the team but all of my fantastic partners who help make all this possible.
“[The 75kg of success ballast at Snetterton] is going to be tough, but it’s a lovely problem to have! Hopefully it might be like this throughout the season but I’m under no illusions how hard we’re going to have to work every weekend. But it’s a great start – the best possible start – and I’m full of confidence we’ll be strong at Snetterton too.”
The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship resumes at Snetterton on 12/13 June, as Hill aims to hold on to the Championship lead in Norfolk.