EXCELR8 WITH TRADEPRICECARS.COM PICKS UP THIRD VICTORY OF THE YEAR AT KNOCKHILL
EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com returned to the top step of the podium in fine style after securing a third victory of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season at Knockhill.
The Suffolk-based team made the long trip to Scotland looking to bounce back from a bruising Oulton Park weekend, where Tom Ingram, Chris Smiley, Rick Parfitt and Jack Butel had all found themselves in the wars.
The full quartet showed solid pace throughout free practice, with Smiley in particular impressing as he posted the fastest time across the two sessions combined.
Come qualifying, he was able to maintain front-running pace with a late lap that was good enough to secure third on the grid, marking his best qualifying result to date at the wheel of the Hyundai.
Despite the extra weight on his car, Ingram was only a tenth of a second behind although the close nature of the times meant he would be classified ninth, whilst Butel ended up 27th with a lap that was only a second away from pole.
There would be disappointment for Parfitt, however, when he went off into the gravel at the Chicane without setting a lap time and was left at the back of the grid for Round 13 of the campaign.
From his second row start, Smiley held station in the early stages of race one before coming under pressure from the Honda of Josh Cook, who eventually managed to get ahead eight laps from the end. With Ash Sutton also sneaking through at the same time, the Northern Irishman was left to cross the line in fifth spot.
With the extra weight in his car, Ingram ran the slower medium compound tyre at the first opportunity and battled hard to take tenth, with both Butel and Parfitt making up places as they also ran the medium tyre, crossing the line in 20th and 21st places, leaving the pair confident going into race two.
That race would start in dramatic fashion for Smiley when he stalled on the line, with the pack behind all managing to avoid his car before it fired into life and he was able to get going – albeit having dropped down to 17th.
It meant Ingram was left to lead the way and found himself in the heart of a huge battle for the top six places that eventually ended with him crossing the line in sixth spot.
Butel and Parfitt had both avoided the drama at the start and found themselves running either side of Smiley on track through the early laps, with the #22 Hyundai getting ahead of the Jersey racer on lap seven. From there, he continued to recover well from the issue at the start as he rose up to 13th place at the finish.
Butel fought his way up into the points behind his team-mate and would end the race in 14th spot to open his account for the season after his strongest race of the year to date, while there would be huge disappointment for Parfitt, who also looked well set to fight for his maiden points finish.
Instead, multiple bouts of contact – including a hit at Clarks that saw him spin off into the tyres – left him a lap down in 27th place and with work to do in race three.
The reverse grid draw saw Ingram lining up in fourth spot but with three cars ahead on the less favourable medium tyre. Clearing Senna Proctor on lap one, he then battled his way ahead of Jason Plato before setting about trying to make a move on the BMW of Stephen Jelley at the front.
Seeing a chance to get ahead at the hairpin when Jelley left the door slightly open, the 27-year-old dived down the inside to grab the lead of the race and would remain out front until the finish to take his third victory of the season.
Smiley continued his recovery from the issue at the start of race two with another impressive run that saw him charge through from 13th to sixth, setting some of the quickest laps in the race in the process.
Butel held his place in the points through the early stages of the race and went close to another top 15 finish, ending up just seven tenths of a second away from the points, whilst Parfitt ended the weekend in 25th place – the close nature of the field meaning he was unable to benefit from setting lap times comparable to the top ten runners as the race wore on.
Next stop for the team is a return to Thruxton in Hampshire for the sixth race weekend of the campaign on 28/29 August.
“From fourth on the grid in race three it was always going to be tricky,” admitted Ingram. “But that was such an ace race, and it’s nice to come away with the win. It was hard work but when there was a chance to get the lead going into the hairpin, I took it as it was my only opportunity.
“If I’d shown my hand and not got through, Stephen [Jelley] would have then covered it in the following laps, so I had to get ahead and I’m delighted to have a third win of the year on the board.
“With the weight we carried into the weekend, it was all about working towards race three so it’s nice for the plan to have worked and to have made up ground across the three races to get to the front.
“We’ve lost a few points in the standings across the weekend as a whole, but the win at the end has clawed a few back and that was important as it’s still so close at the front.”
“I messed up the start in race two which was my fault and it’s a shame as a good result there would have put us right in the mix for race three,” reflected Smiley. “But overall, we came back from 13th to sixth which is no mean feat and I had to push hard to get my way through the field.
“It’s a weekend where I wonder ‘what if?’ but we showed we have genuine pace in qualifying and that our race pace was strong. It’s taken me a bit of time to get dialled into the car with the changes we have made but I’m feeling much more comfortable now and I know we can be strong through the rest of the season.”
“Having never been here before, there was a lot to learn this weekend, but I was happy with my pace in practice and felt confident going into qualifying,” said Parfitt. “Unfortunately, a small mistake there meant I ended up out of position on the grid but to then get up to the fringes of the top 20 in race one was a good start to race day, especially on the slower tyre.
“With the soft tyre on the car, I really felt I could push for the points in race two, particularly when I avoided some of the chaos at the start, but then my car seemed to become a magnet for others and it undid all of the good work that I’d done to get myself up into a really strong position.
“It’s hard to put into words how frustrated I feel because I know there was the potential for a really good result here and that has been taken away through some overly robust moves. Knockhill is a fantastic circuit and I’ve really enjoyed the support of all the fans, but sadly this weekend has been more ‘Wreck and Roll’ than Rock and Roll.”
“I didn’t think we’d be able to fight for points after qualifying so I’m delighted to come away from the weekend with a 14th place finish,” proclaimed Butel. “The car has been really strong across race day and I think we could have scored more points in the final race but a small mistake cost me places.
“This weekend has been a massive boost for me and it shows we have the pace to be right there in the points, so the goal now has to be to add to this in the rounds that are still to come.”