BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 adds to podium tally on challenging Croft weekend
The BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 team secured an eleventh podium finish of the campaign as the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season resumed at Croft. 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. Qualifying however would be a challenge for the team in a session affected by a stoppage late on. A spin for Ingram at one of the fastest parts of the circuit hurt his first run in the session and 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 however 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 contact at Sunny forced him to make an unscheduled pitstop. That left him unclassified in the result, with the Scot having been in contention for a points finish. Switching onto the medium tyre in race two, Ingram climbed up into fourth on the opening lap and would then pressure Dan Rowbottom throughout as he just missed out on a podium finish, with Chilton making the most of the switch onto the soft tyre to make up another five places and take the flag in tenth. A solid start for Halstead saw him making up places on the opening lap before he found himself roughed up in the pack, and would end up taking the flag in 22nd. That was two places ahead of Pearson, who was forced to pit to have grass removed from the front of his car after a trip off track. 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 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 was forced to take avoiding action on the opening lap due to an incident ahead and dropped off the back of the field on the least favoured hard tyre. The team now prepares for the trip to Knockhill next in two weeks time. Tom Ingram, #1 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, 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.
“It’s been a challenging day, but 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, #3 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, 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, and it’s all to play for.” Ronan Pearson, #14 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, 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 when Dan [Lloyd] came back on in front of me and cut across, I had nowhere to go and the damage 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, #22 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, 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.” Justina Williams, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Team Owner said: “It’s been a challenging weekend but we’ve been able to come away from it with some solid results to maintain our title challenge. We haven’t had the outright pace to fight for the win, but when that is the case, you have to make sure you still score a good haul of points – which is what we did. “Another podium finish is always welcome and it’s a shame that some misfortune prevented both Tom and Ronan from scoring better results across the three races. “We’ll now turn our focus to Knockhill and look to maintain our challenge in Scotland in a few weeks.”