Bobby Thompson failed to add to his 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship points tally in rounds four, five and six of Britain’s premier domestic race series at Donington Park.
Mulling over the weekend as his #19 GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct VW CC run by Team HARD was loaded back onto the race truck, the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver pointed to one minor moment during Saturday’s timed qualifying session at the historic 1.98-mile Leicestershire venue as the catalyst that sent an initially promising weekend spiralling into the realms of ‘one to forget.’
“The BTCC is such a competitive series that one single mistake, no matter how small, can set you back for the whole weekend and I genuinely feel that we suffered because of my spin in qualifying,” admitted the driver known throughout the paddock as ‘Bobster.’ “I ended up starting way out of position compared to what the car was capable of and then other situations occurred off the back of that like a domino effect. But we still have 24 more races to go and that’s what we are all focusing on.”
Thompson’s weekend took a turn for the worse, literally, during the first minutes of Saturday’s frantic 30-minute timed qualifying session when, after positing fifth fastest time during final practice, he put a wheel off line coming down the dauntingly fast Craner Curves and found himself fully nestled in one of Donington’s expansive gravel traps.
With the #19 VW CC in a dangerous position the session was red flagged, precluding any further participation for Thompson and relegating him to 30th and last position on the grid for Sunday’s opening 16-lap affair. The BRDC Rising Star knew he faced a tough task if he were to continue his one hundred per cent point scoring record but with the weather forecast for Sunday looking far better than Saturday’s Storm Hannah afflicted conditions, there was still all to play for.
“Even though I love the rain and it helped us at Brands Hatch I was confident that the car was quick enough in the dry to get into the points,” continued Thompson who, away from the racetrack works as a fully qualified ARDS Race Instructor. “The main issue I had was that we elected to run the hard tyre in race two, which we had to decide on before qualifying so any ground I gained in race one would be compromised in race two.”
True to the forecast race morning dawned overcast but decidedly warmer than Friday and without the gale force winds seen the previous day and when the lights changed to signal the start of race one Thompson was able to gain several places on the run down to Redgate and then successfully avoid a multi car crash at the bottom of the Craner Curves to end the opening lap in 17th place as the safety car was deployed. But the promise was short lived as he was adjudged to have jumped the start and was called to serve a drive through penalty.
Fortunately Bobby was able to serve his penalty under safety car conditions and while the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion took the restart back in 23rd position, he was still with the main pack and had the chance to keep up his forward momentum.
With only nine racing laps remaining, Thompson was able to pass Mark Blundell, Sam Osborne, Stephen Jelley, his teammates Carl Boardley and Michael Crees and Dan Rowbottom to move into 17th and within sight of an unlikely point as the race neared its conclusion. However Jelley fought back on the penultimate tour to push Thompson back to 18th as the chequered flag fell.
“I know it is a huge positive to have passed so many cars on track but the penalty was for me rolling up to my grid box so without that I would have been in the points for sure. Starts have been a bit of an Achilles heel for me since I joined the BTCC and I was very conscious of having to make up ground early on due to my grid spot so again, it is a bit of a knock on effect from qualifying yesterday.
“But we proved that the car is quick enough to run in the top half of the field and even with the hard tyre on for race two, I felt that I could at least hold station and set myself up for a good final race when half the field would be on the hard tyre and I would be back on the soft.”
Armed with the less preferential tyre for race two Thompson dropped back to 21st at the start but after a brief safety car intervention he was soon on the move back up towards the points and was running in P17 at the start of lap 11 when disaster struck.
“As I came out of the final chicane there was a BMW going quite slowly after running off track so as we got to Redgate I made my move to the inside as I had the momentum and the room, but I guess that he [the BMW driver] had decided that he wasn’t going to lose any more places regardless of the outcome.”
As Thompson slowed to avoid the rotating Beemer, the closely following Subaru of Senna Proctor had nowhere to go and collected the rear end of Thompson’s car, pitching the #19 onto the grass and out of the race.
“I don’t want to say too much about it but I’ve got a big dent behind the drivers door which tells you where I was in terms of completing the pass,” said Thompson, who would have to start the third and final race from 27th on the grid. “Senna had nowhere to go and when I got on the grass a lot of stuff went into the grill so although the damage itself wasn’t race ending, the temperatures shot up and so I stopped straight away.”
Although the weekend was slipping away from him, Thompson is seasoned enough to know that points are possible in any race 3 in the BTCC regardless of your grid position but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
“I’ve learnt enough in since joining the BTCC to know that things tend to get a bit lively in the final race so although the day had been terrible up to that point for me, I went into the race with an upbeat attitude and the hope that I could just continue to show what the car was capable of as there were a lot of people on the harder tyre.”
True to form, the opening lap saw another multiple car pileup that Thompson was able to avoid, although the resulting lengthy safety car period reduced the number of green flag laps available to Thompson in his quest for an unlikely point.
Sadly the opportunity to see out the closing stages of the meeting would not present itself, for after making up several places and moving into the top 20 when racing resumed, as the race approached half distance Thompson saw the engine warning light come on and was forced to retire.
“It is hard to put a positive spin on the day, and the weekend as a whole,” reflected Thompson, who slipped back to 18th place in the overall championship standings and third in the Jack Sears Trophy as a result of his point-less weekend. “One small mistake in qualifying really put us on the back foot and events just unfolded from there. After such a great start to the season at Brands this weekend just goes to show that the BTCC is full of highs and lows and you have to be on your game 100 per cent of the time to stay in the fight. But it is a lesson learned and we have a lot of racing to go in 2019.”