//BTCC Debut an ‘unforgettable experience’ for Thompson.

// Published by Jordan

Thursday 12th April 2018

// BTCC Season gets underway

Reigning VW Cup Series Champion Bobby Thompson hailed his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship weekend a ‘truly unforgettable experience’ as he and the #19 GKR Scaffolding Team HARD with Trade Price Cars squad rode a rollercoaster of emotions throughout Sunday’s three races of what is already promising to be one of the most open and competitive seasons in the history of Britain’s highest profile race series.

Reigning VW Cup Series Champion Bobby Thompson hailed his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship weekend a ‘truly unforgettable experience’ as he and the #19 GKR Scaffolding Team HARD with Trade Price Cars squad rode a rollercoaster of emotions throughout Sunday’s three races of what is already promising to be one of the most open and competitive seasons in the history of Britain’s highest profile race series.

 

And while a best finish of 19th isn’t normally something that the 2018 BRDC Rising Star would be pleased with, in the overall context of the day, Bobby, after a little time to reflect, could see the numerous positives that he can take forward.

 

“I won both VW Cup races and set a new VW Cup lap record at Brands last season, said Bobby. “I knew I wouldn’t be in a position to repeat those results on my first BTCC weekend and although not everything went exactly as planned, the day as a whole was truly unforgettable.”

 

Shrouded in a damp greyness for much of the day, the fabled 1.2-mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit still dazzled through the mist, its grassy banks heavily laden with umbrella toting spectators, fairground rides and the unmistakable echo of 32 potently powerful touring cars blasting around ‘The Garden of England’.

 

Brands’ continuous barrage of dips and rises have been re-profiled numerous times over the decades and its natural bowl like amphitheatre is a far cry from that sunny day in 1958 when the championship now regarded as the most competitive touring car championship in the world took its first steps.

 

But history still resonates at every turn and on the 60th anniversary of that very first BTCC race, 21 year-old Hornchurch based Thompson displayed enough potential to suggest that he will be turning more than a few heads in the paddock as the season progresses.

 

Starting 27th for the opening race of the season Bobby was able to safely navigate his way through an opening lap he called “the craziest lap ever,” and, revelling in the wet conditions he was able to pick off several rivals including multiple series champion Jason Plato as he moved into the top 20.

 

“Greasy conditions like we had when the track isn’t fully wet are the type of conditions I like the most and it felt really good to be able to attack with confidence,” said Bobby, whose progress towards the top 15 and a maiden championship point stalled when he came upon former World Touring Car Championship ace Tom Boardman’s MG.

 

“I knew I was faster than Tom but he was defending well and I could feel my tyres starting to go off. I was a bit worried that Jason would catch us but I had enough of a gap to hold him off in the end. There was no point trying a risky move on the last lap and I’m really pleased for the whole team.”

 

An attacking yet respectful drive into the top 20 announced Bobby’s arrival on the BTCC scene and the plan was to utilise Bobby’s renowned wet weather skill to move into the points. However with a dry line beginning to appear for the first time during the day, a dozen drivers gambled on slick tyres, while Bobby and many of those starting at the front of the grid, opted for wets.

 

“It’s such a lottery when the track looks like it could dry out,” added Bobby, who was able to avoid several incidents in front of him to move into 14th position as the ten lap mark approached.

 

Sadly for Bobby though the track continued to dry and it wasn’t long before those who had gambled on slicks suddenly found themselves in a class of their own, going four to five seconds per lap faster than those on wet tyres.

 

“I thought wets were the way to go but on my out lap I could already see that a dry line was starting to appear. It was a big decision to make and maybe if I was a bit more experienced I would have made a different call but we decided to stay on wets as most of the drivers starting around me were also on wets.

 

“I was able to make up a couple of places on lap one and just like the first race it was just intense all the way round. The crew told me I was in the points but I knew that it was only a matter of time before the tyres started to go off. When they did there was nothing I could do.”

 

With all chances of a points scoring finish gone Bobby was just trying to stay ahead of as many of his fellow wet shod rivals as he could in order to secure the best possible starting spot for the third and final race when his battery cried enough.

 

“Coming into Clearways the car just stopped so I just pulled onto the escape road. There was no warning but then after a lap it just started again. There was no point carrying on so I pitted in case there was a bigger problem. It’s frustrating but that’s racing.”

 

With the skies lightening ahead of race three, slick tyres were the way forward although as the cars headed out for their rolling lap, the spectator banking suddenly became a collage of unfurled umbrellas as the precipitation returned. From 30th on the grid Bobby once again went into attack mode, picking off several drivers, including another multiple series champion in the shape of Matt Neal.

 

Race three would prove to be another invaluable learning experience as Bobby found himself following his teammate Michael Caine and as several other drivers were able to forge their way ahead, it took Bobby until well past the half way point to make his move.

 

“I could see where I was faster than Cainey but as he is being a real mentor to me this year the last thing I wanted to do was put us both off,” said Bobby who was able to catch the group in front of him before a late race slip at Graham Hill Bend allowed Caine and several others back ahead. “I know that it is just down to experience as I know that if I push someone out of my way at some point they will push me back and as a rookie I don’t want that kind of reputation.”

 

Crossing the line in 26th position, Bobby admitted to being mentally exhausted by the rigours of a BTCC weekend.

 

“Physically I am fine as I train in the gym two hours a night but nobody can really make you understand how demanding the BTCC is until you experience it. Apart from the three races you have the autograph session, the drivers parade and the team’s own Question and Answer session in their hospitality unit for all our sponsors and because Tony (Gilham, Team HARD principal) makes sure that as many fans and supporters can see inside the garage there are always lots of well-wishers and fans who want to chat and wish you luck.”

 

“For MY first weekend it has been incredible. I have had so much support from the fans and I know that I will be a lot stronger at Donington Park for the next three races just because I have had the whole BTCC ‘race weekend’ experience under my belt. But I also know that the team have a really good package that is capable of being on the podium as we proved today with Jake (Hill) and I’ll be pushing harder than ever for stronger results next time.”

 

Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will be held at Donington Park on April 28-29.

 

IMAGES COURTESY OF ANDREW SOUL

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