EXCELR8 WITH TRADEPRICECARS.COM FIGHTS HARD FOR CROFT TOP TENS
It was another battling weekend on track for EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com, with the squad securing a hat-trick of top ten finishes from the seventh outing of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season at Croft (18/19 September).
The Suffolk-based team headed for North Yorkshire looking to maintain its title challenge and chasing success on multiple fronts with its four-car driver line-up.
After showing top four pace during practice, driver Chris Smiley felt confident for qualifying, but it proved to be a tricky session as a suspension issue left the Northern Irishman in 13th place on the grid.
Team-mate Tom Ingram, hampered by the additional success ballast for running second in the standings, found himself down in 21st despite only being eight-tenths of a second away from pole, with Jack Butel in 25th and series debutant Nick Halstead – deputising for the weekend for team regular Rick Parfitt – in 27th.
A strong opening lap during Sunday’s initial contest saw Smiley move up into the top ten. Battling up into eighth at the hairpin on the third lap, he then made a fine move on Adam Morgan’s BMW at Tower to secure a solid seventh spot.
Ingram meanwhile jumped up to 16th during the starting tour and, by the end of lap three, found himself running inside the points. The end result of 12th place by the time the chequered flag dropped allowed him to put points on the board, whilst also getting rid of the additional ballast on his car.
Both Butel and Halstead were able to stay out of trouble to take the flag in 23rd and 26th place respectively.
Race two marked Ingram’s time to shine, despite his i30 Fastback N carrying plenty of battle scars as a result of contact in the pack. Up into the top ten on the opening lap, Ingram fought hard throughout and was able to take any opportunities that came his way to work his way up to fourth place by the finish; a late move on title rival Ash Sutton at the hairpin being key.
Smiley looked set to join the #80 machine in the top ten after another solid drive saw him cross the line in ninth spot, but a post-race penalty for gaining an advantage in the early stages would drop him to eleventh.
As in race one, Halstead stayed out of trouble to bring the car home successfully in 25th place but Butel would be forced into an unscheduled stop after an incident on a restart saw him make contact with the car in front and dislodged the bonnet, dropping him off the lead lap.
The reverse grid final race saw Ingram line up in fourth on the grid and he would retain his place throughout despite pressure from the Honda of Josh Cook, giving him another solid points finish to maintain his championship challenge.
Smiley was battling for a second top ten finish when he was unfortunately forced to retire with a radiator issue, although there were best results of the weekend for both Butel and Halstead in a race of attrition. Butel avoided trouble ahead at the start to make up places and would eventually be rewarded with 19th place, whilst Halstead dropped off the lead lap after a spin at the complex but was classified in 21st.
“We showed good pace all weekend, but a little issue in qualifying hurt us a bit and meant we weren’t at the front where we should have been,” said Smiley. “Passing at Croft is really difficult but we made up ground in the races and were there or thereabouts, and it was just unfortunate in race three that we had the radiator issue.
“It’s been another weekend where we could have got more but we know the pace is there and just need luck to go our way a bit.”
“This has been a mega experience for me and even though it would have been nice to avoid the spin in race three, it meant I got to follow Colin Turkington for a bit, which was great!” Halstead enthused. “That was just a lack of experience on my part, but that happens when things are new.
“Overall, I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of the progress I’ve made, although at times I think I gave a bit too much respect to others. However, I think my pace has been good, particularly in the technical parts of the circuit when compared to my team-mates. It was also important to keep the car safe for Rick when there is only a week between meetings, so it’s mission accomplished.”
“Considering we started so far back for race one, I’m really pleased to come away from the weekend with two fourth-place finishes,” said Ingram. “Getting up to P12 in the first race was a good start as it left us in a solid position when the weight came for the other races.
“Of course, we would like more but we have to be realistic after Saturday, and although we have dropped a few places in the standings, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s still tight between us all and we’ll have less ballast onboard for the next round.”
“I hoped we could fight for points this weekend, but Croft has never been my strongest circuit and sadly we couldn’t replicate the results we picked up in recent rounds,” admitted Butel. “I haven’t felt 100 per cent today if I’m being honest so all things considered, I’m pleased with how I’ve driven.
“The race pace has been solid enough, but it’s been so close on the times that making up ground was never going to be easy. I’ll look ahead to Silverstone and put this one behind me now.”
“We’ve scored more good points over the weekend,” added Team Owner Justina Williams, “although the results in qualifying proved to be key. When the grid is so competitive, it isn’t always easy to make up places, so for Chris and Tom to both come away from the weekend with top ten finishes to their name is good and it shows what a strong race package the Hyundai is.
“It’s a shame for Jack that he couldn’t fight for more points but three solid results when he was feeling under the weather is still a good weekend, and Nick did everything we asked from him and stayed out of trouble for three finishes.
“With a quick turnaround to Silverstone, we’re going to go there hoping to fight for more points and more silverware to keep our championship bid on track.”
The upcoming rounds of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship will see the team head to Silverstone this weekend (25/26 September), as the 2021 campaign’s eighth race event gets underway.