EXCELR8 WITH TRADEPRICECARS.COM SIGNS OFF WITH BRANDS HATCH PODIUM
EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com signed off a breakthrough campaign with another podium finish to bring the curtain down on the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch (23/24 October).
The Suffolk-based team went into the season finale in contention for championship honours off the back of a strong campaign, with Tom Ingram one of five drivers still in with a chance of winning the overall title.
With concussion ruling Jack Butel out of the season finale, TCR UK racer Andy Wilmot was drafted in for the weekend to join Ingram, Chris Smiley and Rick Parfitt in the four-strong Hyundai line-up, but endured a tough start to the weekend as he was forced to sit out Saturday’s qualifying session having tweaked his back during free practice.
Ingram would lead the team’s challenge in the session as he secured 13th place on the grid despite the additional success ballast he was forced to carry due to his championship placing, with Smiley two places back in 15th – the pair having both lapped within half a second of pole.
Parfitt meanwhile took huge strides forwards across the three Saturday sessions and improved his lap time by nearly two seconds as he took 26th place on the grid.
Despite sustaining damage to his car following contact, Ingram was able to bring home a points finish in race one with 13th place while Smiley also finished where he started, having run in the points throughout.
Parfitt fought hard on track to end the race with 24th spot, with Wilmot returned to action with a new seat insert in place and raced from the back of the grid to 25th.
With the success ballast removed from his car for race two, Ingram was confident of racing his way up the order but instead found himself dropping to the back of the grid after being forced off track on lap one to avoid an incident ahead.
Despite that, he made the most of two safety car periods to work his way back up the order to recover to twelfth place at the finish.
A strong start saw Smiley jump up into ninth on the opening lap and he was pushing hard to make up further ground when he was tagged by a spinning Aiden Moffat at Graham Hill Bend, resulting in being forced into the pits to retire.
Parfitt had also taken huge strides forwards at the start to rocket up into the top 20 before contact saw him drop him back down the order, forcing him into an unscheduled stop that dropped him off the lead lap and left him in 21st spot.
Avoiding the various dramas ahead, Wilmot kept his nose clean to bring his car to the finish in 19th.
With the championship titles decided, all gloves were off for the final race and Ingram showed the pace of the Hyundai with a storming drive through to the pack to grab a ninth podium of the year with a fine third place. That also marked the 50th podium finish of his BTCC career.
Smiley was also a man on the move from 24th on the grid as he showed his speed to work his way up to twelfth place at the finish, whilst Wilmot ended the weekend with 25th place having dropped off the lead lap following an unscheduled stop to check a vibration. Unfortunately for Parfitt, driveshaft failure on the green flag lap would force him into the pits to retire.
The team ends the season having finished fourth in the overall championship and second in the Independents’ Standings, as well as fourth in the Jack Sears Trophy.
“It’s been a pretty positive way to end the season in terms of our pace as the changes we made to the car have brought it forwards again,” said Smiley. “Had we not been taken out of race two in the incident with Moffat then we could have had a P6 there and been in the mix for the reverse grid – and then I think a podium finish would have been on.
“We made up twelve places in the final race which isn’t easy round here and showed the pace that we’ve had all season. I think we’ve ended the year with a car that is quicker and quicker as we have been learning all the time, and it gives us something to build on for next season.”
“It was all doom and gloom for me after Saturday when I pulled my back in FP1 and I ended up sitting out qualifying,” said Wilmot. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to race on Sunday and it nearly didn’t happen, but I had so much support and didn’t want to let anyone down.
“Race one was good as I managed to overtake a few people and then, in race two, I took advantage of issues for others to end up with P19. Starting there for race three I was well out of my comfort zone as these guys have been racing all season, and I just wanted to bring the car home in one piece, which we managed to do. Overall, as painful as it was at the start, I really enjoyed the weekend.”
“It’s been a frustrating way to end the season and I feel a bit emotional because for me, this year has been the realisation of a dream,” said Parfitt. “I made it to the BTCC and I didn’t embarrass myself on track, and I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to get out there on the grid. They say that you shouldn’t be sad that it’s over, but be happy that it’s happened – and that is the way I feel about the season.
“It’s been a huge learning curve for me, but I feel I’ve become a better driver and am probably a better person as well for the experience and it’s been an honour to race alongside these guys. There are few things I know I’ll need to work on if I’m able to return again next year, but I have a lot more experience and feel a lot calmer as I understand the racing and feel I’ve made good ground across the campaign.”
“It’s been a bit of a testing weekend and one of those where we are left to wonder what might have been,” said Ingram. “It was great to end the year with some silverware and my 50th BTCC podium, but at the same time, you are stood there thinking ‘that’s what we could have won’.
“We started the year with a podium and we have ended it with a podium as well, and I think we’ve had a bloody good season. I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time getting to know all the boys and girls in the team and we’ve secured some really good results along the way.
“I wanted to try and get the Independents’ title this season and we fell just short, but it’s been a brilliant season for us, and we have done some great things. We can look back at 2021 with a lot of satisfaction and I think we’ve laid some good foundations looking ahead to the hybrid era.”
“The championship title was always going to be difficult at the weekend,” said Team Owner Justina Williams, “but I’m proud of the way we have performed this season and to have been in contention until the final meeting is a massive achievement.
“Considering this has only been our third season in the BTCC, we have been able to establish ourselves as a front-running outfit in the most competitive series in British motorsport, and the effort that has gone in this season will only benefit us going forwards.
“All of the drivers who have been involved this season have played their part, and I have to give huge credit to them and to everyone behind the scenes for the effort that has gone in across the year. With the new hybrid rules coming in, there will be very little time to relax over the winter and we’ll be working hard to ensure that we build on what we have achieved this season when 2022 comes around.”