BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 signs off with double podium
BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 concluded a hard-fought campaign in the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship with a double podium finish from the final meeting of the year at Brands Hatch (7/8 October).
The Suffolk-based team headed into the season finale with an outside chance of scoring two championship titles, but was well aware that it would need a large dose of good luck on its side if it were to come away from the weekend on top of the standings.
Qualifying saw all four drivers post their quickest laps of the weekend to date, with Ingram missing out on the front row by just 0.054s, and Pearson securing 14th. Chilton would be left somewhat disappointed at setting the 17th best time despite being only a handful of tenths away from the top ten, with Halstead lining up in 27th.
Ingram wasted little time in moving into second place when the opening race kicked off and then had a look at title rival Ash Sutton (NAPA Racing UK) going into Surtees before slotting back into position behind. The lead pair would race away from the pack behind until a late safety car bunched up the field, with Ingram chasing his rival home as the title fight was decided in Sutton’s favour.
Chilton raced his way forward into the points to score a solid 13th place finish, although it would be a challenging race for Pearson as he struggled for front-end grip as the race wore on and slipped back to P20. Halstead meanwhile stayed out of trouble to bring his car to the finish in 22nd.
Race two would follow a similar pattern at the front, with Ingram chasing Sutton home in second place to grab his 17th podium of the season. Chilton’s forward progress continued as he moved up into twelfth place with Halstead scoring 20th, although there was disappointment for Pearson after an incident put him into retirement.
With championships decided, the final race would prove to be a typically exciting end-of-season affair, with Ingram going close to a third podium of the weekend after a wheel-to-wheel battle with Sutton that ended up with him crossing the line in fourth spot.
From the very back of the grid, Pearson showed solid pace to climb his way up to 16th place and just miss out on the points, with Halstead rounding out his season with another 20th place finish. Chilton, however, would face trouble when debris blocked the radiator and forced him to retire with an overheating engine.
With the season now at an end, focus turns to the 2024 campaign, which will get underway in April (27/28) at Donington Park.
Tom Ingram said: “I don’t think we can be disappointed with the season as a whole when you consider the package that Ash [Sutton] has had this season. It’s been one hell of a car and he is a worthy champion at the end of the year. We knew coming into Brands Hatch that we weren’t realistically going to win the title without a lot of luck and whilst I would have taken it, it wouldn’t have felt as good as it did winning the crown twelve months ago.
“Aside from the disappointment of the points we lost to the exclusion at Knockhill, I feel we can come away from this year with our heads held high. I’ve scored more podiums than ever before and scored more points than I did to win the title so we’ve had a really good season; it’s just unfortunate that Ash had a better one.
“Missing out on the title doesn’t mean we just say ‘oh well they are better than us’ and give up, it just increases the determination to improve. We need to knuckle down over the winter and make sure we come back next season with a package that is even stronger than we have now, and do the same to NAPA as they have done to us this year.”
Tom Chilton said: “I’d hoped to be higher up in qualifying but we didn’t find as much time as others did after practice, and the goal was to move forwards in the races. We made progress in the first two and then going into race three, I really felt like I’d got to where we needed to be with the car.
“We made up places early on, but then an incident hit one of the Kwik Fit boards which got thrown in the air and ended up blocking my radiator, which meant the engine overheated.
“There was no option but to park it which isn’t the way I wanted to end the season but I know it wasn’t down to me and can be happy at the fact that the car was quick. I’ve had a lot of bad luck this season, but hopefully, I’ve now got it all out of the way!”
Ronan Pearson said: “Qualifying went well and the balance of the car felt great but for some reason in the opening race, the set-up wasn’t quite right and the performance of the tyres just dropped off a cliff and I had no front end grip.
“Race two was then unfortunate as I had nowhere to go and got collected by an incident, and I’ve got to give credit to the team for getting me out for race three as we took a lot of damage.
“I really wanted to reward then with a strong result and we nearly got the point they would have deserved but the pace was there again which is a big plus. Aside from a tough ending this weekend, it’s been an incredible year and I can’t wait to do it all again in 2024.”
Nick Halstead said: “It’s been another weekend where I feel I’ve made progress as things have gone on, as I know it takes me time to get fully up to speed on tricker circuits like this. But again, by race three I feel the pace was great although it was utter carnage out there at times with people taking chunks out of each other and running in a big gaggle of cars at some of the fastest corners on the calendar. You could tell it was the end of term!
“Overall, I’ve loved every minute of this season and it’s been a real privilege to be part of the BTCC grid. I aim to return next season and make the most of the knowledge I’ve gained this year because people don’t appreciate how hard this series is. Saying that, when you get the confidence you need, by Christ it’s good fun…”
Justina Williams said: “Although we didn’t get the championship titles we were aiming for this season, I’m hugely proud of the whole team for the way we have performed. We’ve come up against a really strong opponent in Ash and his team, and we’ve had to battle harder than ever to take the fight to them over the course of the season.
“Each of the drivers had performed well on track this season and has played a part in what has still been a hugely successful year, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our fantastic partners. The hard work never stops however and whilst we may have a few days to reflect on 2023, we’ll soon start work on improving our package to come back even stronger and reclaim our titles in 2024.”