TOM OLIPHANT: “JUST WHAT I NEEDED TO GET MY TITLE FIGHT BACK ON TRACK”
Tom Oliphant stormed to his first victory of the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship last month at Brands Hatch, strengthening BMW’s position at the top of the Manufacturers’/Constructors’ standings and enhancing his own title aspirations as Britain’s premier motorsport series begins its annual summer break.
The Leamington Spa-based driver’s opening-race win, which was the second of his BTCC career, was also the second of the season for the WSR-designed, built and run Team BMW 330i M Sport.
Having qualified fourth, Oliphant started brilliantly to lead into the first corner – an advantage he would not relinquish for the 24-lap duration. Building a three-second cushion in the opening laps, he controlled the race to the chequered flag.
He would almost repeat the feat in race two, leading from pole position until the last lap, when the Hyundai of Tom Ingram squeezed past and a storming Ash Sutton took second from the BMW man in the final moments, dropping him to third at the line.
Starting from tenth on the partially reversed grid, he finished 15th for the third and final race of the day – a result that saw him become the weekend’s top scorer with 38 points and moved him up to sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
Team-mate Colin Turkington salvaged two points from a trying weekend, the Northern Irishman never being able to break out of the midfield.
Having qualified 14th, the four-time BTCC Champion made progress in race one before contact from a rival dropped him down the order to 20th at the finish.
He climbed to 17th in race two and improved again in race three to finish 14th, a result that leaves him fourth in the Drivers’ standings.
Having come into race day with hopes of a strong result, given his previous form around the 1.2-mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit, Stephen Jelley was left disappointed after a start-line infringement – and the consequent five-second penalty – dropped him from ninth on the road to 15th in the race one result.
After contact in race two resulted in his retirement, the Leicester racer fought through the pack during race three, overtaking seven cars to take 22nd at the chequered flag.
Team BMW, now third in the Teams’ standings, has just under four weeks to work on the cars before the next rounds at Oulton Park, where the squad aims to score the one race win it needs to reach a magic BTCC 100 victories.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Oliphant. “Getting the start in race one kind of made up for missing out on pole. I really enjoyed that race, claiming my second BTCC win and my first of the season. In race two, I drove the wheels off the BMW and got a bit unlucky on the last lap, but I’m really pleased to come away with third and more solid points.
“Race three was a very different being all the way back in tenth. I really didn’t have the best first lap and it just kind of went away from me. The car balance following people wasn’t quite what it was when I was in the lead. I did what I could, but at the end of the day, the difference between 12th and 15th is three points so it wasn’t worth taking an unnecessary risk. I just finished the race in the points and now I really look forward to going to Oulton Park. We’re sixth in the championship and it’s a track that suits us. This is just what I needed to get my title fight back on track.”
“It’s been a tough day for me,” reflected Turkington. “It was difficult to qualify well with the weight in the car, given such a competitive field, so we were on the back foot. The car slowly improved but it was very difficult to make my way through the pack when I wasn’t significantly quicker than anybody.
“We scraped a few points at the end, but I paid the price for my success at Snetterton. We were trying to go forward all day, the last race was my best, and the BMW was most competitive then. I took two points home, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Hopefully, it swings back at Oulton, and we score some good points.”
“It wasn’t what I wanted this weekend,” admitted Jelley. “I got a five-second penalty for the start in race one, which pushed me down the field. Without that, I think I’d been in and around the top ten all day. I got a good run on the car in front in race two and went for the gap, but he kept moving across the racetrack, so I went on the grass… It’s one of those things, it’s so hard to overtake around here that if you get the opportunity you’ve got to take it.
“In race three the pace difference from first to 21st was about four-tenths of a second, so it’s so easy for someone to park themselves on the inside line and just not let you by. We have to have a think now and improve things for Oulton Park.”