Double podium for BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 at Brands Hatch
The BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 team battled to a brace of podium finishes as the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship headed for Brands Hatch for the second meeting of the season. The Suffolk-based squad enjoyed a winning start to the campaign at Donington Park after Tom Chilton picked up his first win for the team, with defending champion Tom Ingram also bagging a double podium finish. Rookie duo Ronan Pearson and Nick Halstead had also shown their potential to leave confidence high going to the shot Brands Hatch Indy circuit, with all four drivers showing solid pace in tricky conditions during the two free practice sessions – both of which were held in the wet. The weather worsened for qualifying, with multiple red flags during the first part of the session – one of which was caused by Halstead being tipped into the gravel at turn one. Both Ingram and Pearson would make it through to Q2 and ultimately qualified seventh and tenth on the grid, with Chilton ending up in P11 having missed out on making it into the ‘Showdown’ by just 0.001s. Race one would be halted after a huge accident on the opening lap, with a delay approaching an hour before the action could get back underway.
Making up a spot at the start, Ingram spent the race embroiled in a battle with Rory Butcher before nipping ahead late on to grab fifth spot, but it would be a trickier start to race day for the other trio. A broken gear linkage on the green flag lap before the restart forced Chilton to dive into the pits, but he drove well having joined the race at the back of the field rather than in his starting position to come through to 15th and bag a championship point. That left him a place ahead of Pearson, who lost ground early on when run wide, whilst Halstead stayed out of trouble and showed encouraging pace to bring his car home in 23rd. The opening lap of race two would prove to be key for Ingram, who scythed his way through to second spot by turn four with a series of impressive overtaking moves before settling in behind the Ford of Ash Sutton – shadowing his rival throughout as he secured his place on the podium. Although he lost a few places in the early laps, Chilton was soon continuing to make up ground, battling ahead of Pearson on lap four at Druids before the pair worked together to fight their way to twelfth and 13th place at the finish – with Chilton just missing out on reverse grid pole. Halstead was forced to start from the pits after an issue with the fire extinguisher before the start, which meant he headed out on track on cold tyres and found himself running alone on track where he matched his earlier result.
From tenth on the grid for race three, Ingram worked his way through to cross the line in third spot having come out on top of a mid-race battle with Josh Cook and Jake Hill, finishing ahead of points leader Dan Cammish to bring the gap between the pair down to five points. Chilton capped his recovery from the race one dramas with another strong drive, fighting back from finding himself off line in the early laps to rise up to seventh place at the finish, with Pearson also fighting back from losing spots early on to take 13th – lapping as one of the quickest drivers to be running the medium compound tyre. Halstead meanwhile ended the weekend with his best result, fighting throughout with Nic Hamilton’s Cupra before taking the flag in 20th place. Tom Ingram, #1 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said: “After qualifying, we were on the back foot, but we have done well to come back from that, stay out of trouble and score some decent points. We didn’t do anything daft and it was a weekend of being ‘pointsy’ again. We’ve ended up with two podiums and a car that feels alive, so I can’t really complain too much. “Four podiums from six starts this season is statistically a good return and whilst I’d obviously have liked one of them to be a win, I’m not going to argue about it too much at the moment as points on the board is what will really matter when we get to the business end of the season.” Tom Chilton, #3 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said: “Race one is so important in this series and on the warm-up lap ahead of the restart, the gear linkage came out in my hand and I ended up having to start from the pits on cold tyres. I was very angry and drove like a nutter to come through to 15th and then in race two, I just tried to keep it clean and get more points. “Missing the reverse grid by one was a shame as I think we would have been able to win race three from the front, but it was a really good fight on soft tyres. I actually lost out because I got such a good start and I ended up on the outside, which ultimately cost me spots on the dirty part of the circuit. “I ended up in the mix and it was right old scrap, but it kept people entertained and it was a solid end to an exciting weekend, even if I didn’t get the points I wanted. If this turns out to be my bad meeting, then so be it.” Ronan Pearson, #14 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said: “Overall I’d say it’s been a positive weekend for me. To make it into the Top Ten Showdown in only my second meeting was a positive start, but I made a few mistakes in race one that meant I didn’t quite get the best result possible. “I think I was quicker than Tom in race two thanks to the soft tyre, but following him on track meant I was able to learn a lot, and we worked really well as a team to make up places and to get my first points on the board. “A lot of cars were on the soft tyre in race three, but I was second quickest of those on the medium and only a tenth off Colin Turkington which is a huge thing for me. We’ve made up a load of ground in the Jack Sears Trophy which is also important and I’ve got something to build on when we head to Snetterton.” Nick Halstead, #22 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said: “I was on the back foot after being knocked off in qualifying as it is so hard to make up places around Brands Hatch. Race one was all about learning as it was the first race in the dry this season and then the issue with the extinguisher in race two meant I didn’t have any heat in the tyres at the start and dropped back. “I had a good fight with Nic in race three and it was good for me to get out there and battle on track as I’m here to have fun and gain as much experience as I can. Scoring points in the wet at Donington was great and even though it’s been more difficult here, I’ll keep working hard to move up the order as I know I can’t just come in and expect to be half-way up the grid in a field of this quality.” Justina Williams, EXCELR8 Team Owner, said: “Obviously we’d have liked to come away from Brands Hatch with another win, but we’ve picked up more silverware and maintained a strong position in the championship standings. “It means we’re well placed as we now prepare for our home event and based on what we have seen from all four drivers over the first two rounds, I feel we can go there optimistic about what we can achieve.”