JELLEY AIMING FOR HOME GLORY AFTER TOP TENS AT SILVERSTONE
Team BMW racer Stephen Jelley endured a frustrating weekend at Silverstone (25/26 September) but managed to salvage three points-paying positions, bringing his BMW 330i M Sport home in the top ten during each of the latest rounds of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship.
The meeting started well for the Leicester native with the two free practice sessions on Saturday morning allowing Jelley and the team to get the car dialled in to the short 1.64-mile circuit. Finishing both sessions in the top half of the grid, and just half a second off the top spot, he was looking good as attention turned to snatching the best starting position for the preliminary race.
Qualifying was once again divided into two sessions, with the Top Ten Showdown following an initial 25-minute run. Jelley was on the pace immediately and sat in fifth place before a red flag came out to halt the session. Once it resumed, he dropped down the order but had still done enough to make it through to the top ten, ultimately qualifying ninth on the grid.
Starting the opening race of the weekend on the medium tyre, Jelley made one of his customary good starts in the #12 BMW, taking eighth position. On the second lap, he locked a tyre, meaning he had to be conscious of nursing it to the end of the race. The charging Ash Sutton managed to get past on lap four, but from then onwards he ran as part of a trio of cars, leading home Jason Plato and team-mate Tom Oliphant on his way to ninth at the chequered flag.
Jelley held his position off the line at the start of race two, but it wasn’t long before the Safety Car was called as they rescued a rival’s car from the gravel. With the hazard removed, racing could resume and the cars were once again nose to tail, with Jelley gaining a place at the expense of Dan Lloyd before a second Safety Car was called. With the track once again clear, Jelley tried his best to make further progress but lost out to Chris Smiley and once again finished ninth on the road. A post-race disqualification for Josh Cook, however, would promote Jelley to eighth place and fourth on the reverse grid for race three.
Jelley jumped past multiple BTCC champion Plato to take third place into the first turn at the start of the final race of the day, but was unable to fend off the attentions of Smiley on lap four and slipped back into fourth. Sutton then began to apply the pressure and got past, but Jelley wasn’t giving up, staying with Sutton as he closed on Smiley, poised to capitalise on any errors. Unfortunately, he was unable to regain the positions and crossed the line in fifth, the highest-placed BMW driver.
Jelley now prepares for the penultimate weekend on the BTCC calendar, and his home event, at Donington Park on 9/10 October. He will be hoping to achieve further podium glory at the Leicestershire venue as the championship heads into the final stages of an action-packed season.
“It was a really tough weekend [at Silverstone],” admitted Jelley. “The field is so close, and I think I drove very well. The car had a nice balance, and I don’t think we can engineer it any better at the moment. Race one was just a bit of consolidation from qualifying. On the second lap, it just became about managing the problem [with the tyre] for the whole race and staying consistent.
“In race two we were a bit more racy but the times are so close that it’s hard to find an advantage, and we couldn’t get the drive down the back straight to get alongside anyone, so you’re always going to be relying on a late lunge to try and get by and then you risk blitzing a tyre. I got stuck behind Chris Smiley as early on he had a really good drive off Becketts and we didn’t have the front tyre temperatures, just from the nature of it being a rear-wheel drive car. We don’t have the advantage off the line anymore, and we still have to put up with cold tyres for two laps. That’s when he got by, so we had stronger pace but not track position.
“In race three I did my best to keep Ash Sutton behind for the team and nearly worked, but not quite. The braking in that race was very, very strong and the car was handling nicely, but cars kept driving up alongside me which you can’t mitigate.
“We’ve come away with three decent finishing positions, but the win still eludes me. I think we’re looking good for the remaining two race weekends as Donington Park is a bit more of a flowing circuit and at Brands Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit we should be really, really strong. I’m looking forward to those.”