BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 recovers for double podium
BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 recovered from a difficult start to race day at Silverstone (23/23 September) to secure a stunning double podium from the latest rounds of the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season.
The Suffolk-based team made the trip to the Northamptonshire circuit aiming to maintain its title challenge and was on the pace from the outset with a strong showing across the two free practice sessions – including young Scotsman Ronan Pearson setting the second-fastest time in FP1 as he celebrated his extended two-year deal with the team.
Qualifying would run across two parts, with both Ingram and Chilton able to make it through to the ‘Top Ten Showdown’, whilst Pearson would line-up 14th on the grid for race one. Halstead would qualify 26th, but was only seven-tenths of a second away from the fastest time.
In the second part of the session, Ingram would end up third fastest with a lap only 0.030s off pole to leave him ahead of title rivals Jake Hill (Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport) and Ash Sutton (NAPA Racing UK), with Chilton only a tenth of a second off pole as he snared P6.
The opening race on Sunday would be held in tricky conditions, with light rain before the start leading to a quandary over what tyres to run – with all four Hyundais electing to stick with slicks. However, just as the race was starting, the rain intensified and it quickly became clear that wet tyres were the correct choice.
Ingram dived in for wets as did Pearson and Halstead – leaving them a lap down in 22nd, 24th and 25th. Chilton elected to brave it out on slicks, and took the flag in 13th when the circuit started to dry in the closing stages.
The second race of the weekend would be held in the dry, and resulted in one of the best drives of the season from Ingram, who narrowly avoided an incident on lap one, to charge through the field.
Aided by a safety car that backed up the field, Ingram would roar through to third place having made up a stunning 19 places, whilst Pearson was also in fine form to come through to eleventh. Hampered by an incident, Chilton nursed his car to 16th, whilst Halstead also missed out on a top 20 finish by a tenth of a second.
The final race of the weekend saw Pearson on the front row thanks to the reverse grid draw, and he grabbed the lead on the run to turn one before a small error at Luffield opened the door for NAPA Racing UK’s Dan Rowbottom behind – Pearson dropped back to fourth before the safety car was deployed.
On the restart, Pearson allowed Ingram through to gain further championship points, with another strong run from the defending champion seeing him secure another podium finish in second. Pearson meanwhile would go wheel-to-wheel with Sutton for a number of laps before taking the flag in fifth, with Halstead enjoying his best race of the weekend as he matched the pace of the top ten runners to finish in 19th.
Chilton however was left disappointed as, having moved to the fringes of the top ten, had to pit due to a technical issue.
With just the Brands Hatch season finale to run, Ingram is one of the two drivers who can still win the overall title, whilst Pearson remains in contention for the Jack Sears Trophy.
Tom Ingram said: “It’s been a weird weekend, but it turned out to be quite good when you take everything into consideration. Race one was what it was; we made a call on the tyres and it didn’t fall our way. It left us at the back for race two and I felt we could get into the top twelve, but the safety car really brought us back into the fight after the incident on lap one. We maximised the restart and the car was just fantastic to bring us through to the podium.
“To come away from race one in 22nd and still take two podiums is very odd, but pleasing at the same time and the pressure is all on Ash [Sutton] going into the final rounds to not drop the ball. We’ll just do our best, and if it’s enough then it’s enough.”
Tom Chilton said: “We had a great start to qualify P6 and only be tenth off pole, but Sunday was tough. An incident in race one didn’t help but I managed to salvage P13, which was something.
“In race two, I was surprised to only drop to 16th after damage from contact, and was recovering well in race three before I got told I had to pit with a technical issue. We didn’t deserve that with the pace in the car, and it turned out to be a weekend of what might have been.”
Ronan Pearson said: “I’m really proud of how we bounced back from the first race. I made some proper touring car moves in race two, and took the opportunities that were available to fight my way up into the top twelve and then we got the reverse grid.
“I made a mega start to grab the lead but then lost the rear at Luffield and dropped back to P4. Even then, I ended up keeping pace with Sutton and that showed the speed that we have in the car, so I was actually a bit frustrated as it showed I could have won without the earlier error.
“I know I’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that going forwards, and I now have the confidence I need in the car, so bring on Brands Hatch.”
Nick Halstead said: “It’s been a fantastic weekend for me. Race one was just the wrong call on tyres like it was for everyone who stuck with slicks but the pace in race two was really good.
“In the final race, I held my own with the pack and that is the first time I think I can say that I’ve scored a top 20 finish based on my overall pace, which is a big thing for me. To be battling with people who’ve been on the podium was fantastic, and is a big step forwards.”
The final three rounds of the 2023 campaign will take place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix layout on 7/8 October.