BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 adds to podium tally at Croft
The BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 team secured an eleventh podium finish of the campaign as the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season resumed at Croft (29/30 July).
The Suffolk-based team made the long trip to North Yorkshire hoping to build on a productive mid-season test at Donington Park, where it had topped both sessions with its Hyundai i30 Fastback N.
Free practice was a solid start to the weekend as defending champion Tom Ingram topped the times in the #1 car, with Tom Chilton just six-tenths of a second off the pace and Ronan Pearson only a second away in the highly competitive field. Nick Halstead also enjoyed two productive sessions to improve his best time by more than half a second.
However, in Qualifying, a spin for Ingram at one of the fastest parts of the circuit ensured he would end up seventh on the grid, with Chilton unable to complete his final timed lap following the red flag to end up back in 17th.
Pearson put in a strong showing to take 13th on the grid – just a tenth of a second off the top ten – with Halstead in 25th after a loose pipe on the engine resulted in him being down on power.
With drivers having to use all three tyre compounds on race day, Ingram elected to run the soft tyre in race one and managed to make up a place to take sixth place, with Chilton deciding to get the slower hard tyre out of the way at the first opportunity and breaking into the points in 15th.
Halstead would also make progress on the medium tyre to take 22nd but there was disappointment for Pearson after mid-race incident at Sunny left him unclassified in the result.
Switching onto the medium tyre in race two, Ingram climbed up into fourth, with Chilton making the most of the switch onto the soft tyre to make up another five places and take the flag in tenth. Halstead would end up taking the flag in 22nd. That was two places ahead of Pearson, who pitted to have grass removed from the front of his car.
The reverse grid finale saw Ingram start from third on the grid, and he was able to fight ahead of Josh Cook on lap one just before a caution period to recover the car of points leader Ash Sutton.
Pressuring Team BMWs Colin Turkington on the restart, Ingram would ultimately finish in P2 to ensure he ends the weekend still sitting six points off the championship lead. Chilton would run as high as seventh and was set to end his weekend with a third points finish, before debris from another car holed the radiator on his Hyundai and forced him into retirement.
Pearson also looked set to score as he charged through into 14th only for contact late on to hobble his car and leave him to nurse it home in 19th, just ahead of Halstead who lost position due to an incident.
Tom Ingram said: “It’s been a strange weekend and we leave Croft in the same position we were in at the start in terms of the points. Qualifying is super important now and we were on the back foot after the spin, although at the same time, it could have been a lot worse and we could have ended up in the wall. However, we managed to get a lap in that put us in a position to challenge towards the business end of the grid, and that is what we did on race day.
“We’ve done a good job as a team to pull things back, and we went forwards in every race. We can’t ask for much more than that, and we end up coming away from a weekend that hasn’t been our strongest with some decent points.
“Like others, we haven’t quite had to pace to take the fight to the Fords on track this weekend, and we know we need to unlock more performance with the car in the races to come.”
Tom Chilton said: “I didn’t manage to hook up a lap in qualifying as just when the tyres were ready, the flag came out. That would have changed the weekend but I was one of the best on the hard tyre in race one to make it into the points and then made more progress in race two to get into the top ten.
“In race three, I was having a nice little battle and got up into seventh and I’d held some hybrid back to use at the end. Unfortunately, something from another car went through the radiator and the temps rocketed up, so I had to park it and save the engine.
“We didn’t deserve a DNF, but it’s good for the team to come away from the weekend with a podium finish for Tom [Ingram], and it’s all to play for.”
Ronan Pearson said: “I came into the weekend feeling confident, so to come away from Croft without a point to my name is really frustrating as we could have picked up some strong results.
“Having decided to run the soft tyre in race one, I was hoping to progress up the order but the damage from the incident was enough to put me out of the race.
“From the back, it made sense to run the hard tyre in race two but a trip off track meant I needed to pit to have grass removed from the car, and in race three I felt I’d done a good job to get into the points before more contact led to a vibration that dropped me back.
“Hopefully, I’ve got all of my bad luck out of the way in one go here, and I’ll be coming out fighting on home soil at Knockhill.”
Nick Halstead said: “It’s been an entertaining weekend! We were on the back foot a bit after qualifying but I made progress in race one, and then in race two, I got a great start and was right in the mix but got bounced around a bit and pushed out of the way.
“In race three, I hoped for rain when we were on the hard tyre and I made another good start before getting run wide at turn two and then had to avoid another car and dropped off the train which was tough on the slower tyre.
“Saying that, I was lapping strongly on the hard tyre which shows how much I was able to learn across the weekend and that’s a big positive for me to take forwards.”
The team now prepares for the trip to Knockhill next on the 12/13 August.