PACE AND POTENTIAL FOR EXCELR8 WITH TRADEPRICECARS.COM DESPITE VICTORY FRUSTRATION
EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com was disappointed to miss out on a fourth victory of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season in heart-breaking circumstances as the series headed for Donington Park for the penultimate rounds of the year.
The Suffolk-based team went into the weekend aiming to build on a solid showing at Silverstone, with Tom Ingram, Chris Smiley, Jack Butel and Rick Parfitt all eager to impress for different reasons with just six races remaining of what has proven to be a breakthrough season for the Hyundai team.
Smiley was right at the sharp end in practice as he posted the second-quickest time, with Ingram also running inside the top ten despite the extra ballast on his car. Butel was only six-tenths of a second off the outright pace inside the top 20, with Parfitt knowing there was more still to come as he turned his first laps at the circuit at the wheel of the i30 Fastback N.
Qualifying ran to a two-part format, with Smiley making it through to the second session and snaring eighth on the grid, four places ahead of Ingram, who missed out on the top ten by a fraction of a second. Butel would end up 23rd, with Parfitt in 25th, having gone well over a second quicker than in either practice session.
Smiley would retain his grid position at the start of race one but then lost momentum exiting the Old Hairpin on lap two, after trying to make a move for seventh and was instead shuffled back down to tenth.
After an early caution period, the Northern Irishman moved back up into ninth spot and held the place to the finish with a solid top ten, while Ingram produced a solid run with the weight onboard to take the flag in eleventh, despite slipping as far back as 14th in the early stages.
Having lost ground on the opening lap, Butel went on to show pace comparable with the top ten as he fought back to 23rd at the finish, with Parfitt just ahead on the road after a strong start to race day saw him work his way up to the fringes of the top 20.
Race two saw Ingram put in a star drive from eleventh on the grid, with a storming opening lap moved him up into the top six. Now free of the success ballast he had carried in race one, his charge up the order would continue as he picked off the drivers ahead to move up to second spot before taking the lead from Gordon Shedden on the tenth lap.
Ingram would stay out front to the finish for what looked set to be a fourth win of the season, but a post-race penalty for his move on Shedden resulted in the 28-year-old being dropped back to second.
Smiley spent the early phases of the race inside the top ten before being shuffled back to eleventh at the finish with Butel again fighting back from losing ground early on to take 25th. Parfitt would end up hugely frustrated in 27th having produced one of his best drives of the season to climb into the top twenty early on.
Putting pressure on former champion Jason Plato for position, Parfitt was well-placed to put himself into contention for a points finish from 18th spot before contact with Tom Oliphant’s BMW cost him places, with a small error from the #62 driver whilst trying to get back into the top 20 seeing him slip down the order.
While Ingram got ahead of title rival Ash Sutton at the start of race three, the extra weight in the car would again hurt his chances and he dropped back to tenth by the chequered flag, with Smiley just missing out on the points in 16th after a frenetic race in the midfield
Although Parfitt’s race pace was strong throughout the final contest, he found himself trapped behind another driver, crossing the line in 22nd place, before a post-race penalty for a rival promoted him to 21st.
Butel’s weekend in Leicestershire ended on a low when he was collected by a spinning car, concluding his race on the opening lap.
With just the season finale at Brands Hatch still to run, the team remains in contention for three of the five championship titles, with Ingram third in the overall championship and second in the Independents’ Trophy. The team also holds second in the Independent Teams’ Championship.
“The weekend started well which has been a theme for me this season, but as things went on, we just weren’t able to build on it,” said Smiley. “To be honest, I think we were out of position in the final two races a bit because the guys we were racing against were all desperate for the places, and it was a case of trying to work out if the risk matched the reward considering where we were.
“We certainly had the pace to be in the top ten but didn’t have track position and that is what is ultimately key when the field is so close. I’m just pleased to come away from the weekend with the car in one piece, and we can look forwards to Brands Hatch for the finale.”
“I’m really happy with the pace this weekend when you consider I’d never driven a BTCC car here before practice,” added Parfitt. “We didn’t have a great set-up in either session, so the first time I was able to really push was in qualifying and where we have come from to where we ended up was mega.
“I made really good progress in race one and then mega progress in race two to get up to 18th place and be in a position where I was flashing Jason Plato to try and get ahead! Unfortunately, there was a bit of an altercation with someone else but the pace was there and again in race three, the speed was great – at one stage I was up there as one of the quickest drivers on track.
“I’ve done the same times that Tom was doing, and you can’t say fairer than that, but it all comes down to track position. I’ve shown I have the pace to run higher up the grid and I just need to get into a position to challenge, which has to be the aim for the final weekend.”
“It’s been a frustrating weekend and I feel downbeat at the end of it, which I know I shouldn’t as what we have really seen again this weekend is the impact that the weight has,” admitted Ingram.
“We probably got more from qualifying than I expected and managed a decent result in race one, but then when the weight came out in race two, the car was the best it has ever been – it felt absolutely outrageous. It’s a massive shame that we lost the win, but there is nothing we can do about it.
“With more weight in race three we were never going to come to the front, and I hated to be ‘that’ driver who was trying to back Ash up into the chaos behind, but it’s what I had to do. It’s been a tough weekend, but we can take the joy from race two, and coming through the pack like that was certainly the highlight.”
“After the high of Silverstone and the pace we showed there, it’s been a tough weekend,” said Butel, “particularly when it ended the way it did as there was absolutely nothing that I could have done to avoid what happened.
“For some reason, I’ve struggled to get the tyres turned on in the early stages of the races and when they have then come to me and I’ve felt I had the car underneath me, it was too late to be able to challenge for the results I was hoping for.
“We’ll go away, take a look at what we could have done better, and look forward to Brands Hatch.”