The EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com team missed out on fourth victory of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season in heart-breaking circumstances as the series headed for Donington Park for the penultimate rounds of the year.
The Suffolk-based team went into the weekend aiming to build on a solid showing at Silverstone, with Tom Ingram, Chris Smiley, Jack Butel and Rick Parfitt all eager to impress for different reasons with just six races remaining of what has proven to be a breakthrough season for the Hyundai team.
Chris was right at the sharp end in practice as he posted the second quickest time, with Tom also running inside the top ten despite the extra ballast on his car. Jack was only six-tenths of a second off the outright pace inside the top 20, with Rick knowing there was more still to come as he turned his first laps at the circuit at the wheel of the i30 Fastback N.
Qualifying would run to a two-part format, with Chris making it through to Q2 and snaring eighth on the grid, four places ahead of Tom who missed out on the top ten by a fraction of a second. Jack would end up 23rd, with Rick in 25th having gone well over a second quicker than in either practice session.
Chris would retain his starting position at the start of race one but then lost momentum exiting the Old Hairpin on lap after trying to make a move for seventh and was instead shuffled back down to tenth.
After an early caution period, Chris moved back up into ninth spot and held the place to the finish for a solid top ten, with Tom producing a solid run with the weight onboard to take the flag in eleventh, having slipped as far back as 14th in the early stages.
Jack would lose ground on the opening lap to drop back down to 27th on the first lap but would show pace comparable with the top ten as he fought back to 23rd at the finish, with Rick just ahead on the road after a strong start to race day saw him work his way up to the fringes of the top 20.
Race two would see Tom put in a star drive from eleventh on the grid, with a storming opening lap allowing him to move up into the top six. Now free of the success ballast he had carried in race one, Tom’s charge up the order would continue as he picked off the drivers ahead to move up to second spot before taking the lead from Gordon Shedden on the tenth lap.
Tom would stay out front to the finish for what looked set to be a fourth win of the season, only to handed a harsh post-race penalty for his move on Shedden that dropped him back to second.
Chris would spend the early phases of the race inside the top ten before being shuffled back to eleventh at the finish with Jack again fighting back from losing ground early on to take 25th. Rick would end up hugely frustrated in 27th having produced one of his best drives of the season to climb into the top twenty early on.
Putting pressure on former champion Jason Plato for position, Rick was well placed to put himself in contention for a points finish in 18th spot before contact from Tom Oliphant’s BMW cost him places, with a small error from Rick whilst trying to get back into the top 20 seeing him slip down the order.
Race three would see Tom get ahead of title rival Ash Sutton at the start to run in eighth but the extra weight on the car would again hurt his chances and he would drop back to tenth by the chequered flag, with Chris just missing out on the points in 16th after a frenetic race in the midfield.
Rick’s race pace would be strong throughout but he found himself trapped behind an over defensive rival who would run him off track more than once in the race. Rick would take the flag in 22nd place, but was promoted a position post-race when his rival was handed a penalty.
Jack however would see his weekend end on a low when he was the innocent victim in a lap one incident and was collected by a spinning car.
With just the season finale at Brands Hatch still to run, the team remains in contention for three of the five championship titles, with Tom third in the overall championship and second in the Independents Trophy. The team also holds second in the Independents Teams’ Championship.
Chris Smiley, #22 Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“The weekend started well which has been a theme for me this season, but as things went on, we just weren’t able to build on it . To be honest, I think we were out of position in the final two races a bit because the guys we were racing against were all desperate for the places, and it was a case of trying to work out if the risk matched the reward considering where we were.
“We certainly had the pace to be in the top ten but didn’t have track position and that is what is ultimately key when the field is so close. I’m just pleased to come away from the weekend with the car in one piece, and we can look forwards to Brands Hatch for the finale.”
Rick Parfitt, #62 EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“I’m really happy with the pace this weekend when you consider I’d never driven a BTCC car here before practice. We didn’t have a great set-up in either session, so the first time I was able to really push was in qualifying and where we have come from to where we ended up was mega.
“I made really good progress in race one and then mega progress in race two to get up to 18th place and be in a position where I was flashing Jason Plato to try and get ahead! Unfortunately, there was a bit of an altercation with someone else but the pace was there and again in race three, the speed was great – at one stage I was up there as one of the quickest drivers on track.
“I’ve done the same times that Tom was doing and you can’t say fairer than that but it all comes down to track position. I’ve shown I have the pace to run higher up the grid and I just need to get into a position to challenge, which has to be the aim for the final round.”
Tom Ingram, #80 Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“It’s been a frustrating weekend and I feel downbeat at the end of it, which I know I shouldn’t as what we have really seen again this weekend is the impact that the weight has.
“We probably got more from qualifying than I expected and managed a decent result in race one, but then when the weight came out in race two, the car was the best it has ever been. It felt absolutely outrageous and it’s a massive shame that we lost the win to a decision that I don’t feel was correct in the slightest, but there is nothing we can do about it.
“With more weight in race three we were never going to come to the front, and I hated to be ‘that’ driver who was trying to back Ash up into the chaos behind, but it’s what I had to do. It’s been a tough weekend but we can take the joy from race two, and coming through the pack like that was certainly the highlight.”
Jack Butel, #96 EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“After the high of Silverstone and the pace we showed there, it’s been a tough weekend, particularly when it has ended the way it did as there was absolutely nothing that I could have done to avoid what happened.
“For some reason, I’ve struggled to get the tyres turned on in the early stages of the races and when they have then come to me and I’ve felt I had the car underneath me, it was too late to be able to challenge for the results I was hoping for.
“We’ll go away and take a look at what we could have done better, and look forward to Brands Hatch.”
Justina Williams, team owner, said:
“Normally I’d feel happy going away from a weekend with a podium finish but it’s hugely frustrating that we have missed out on another win. Tom’s drive in that second race was fantastic and to lose it in that manner was difficult to take, particularly when you consider that our drivers have been on the receiving end of contact on more than one occasion this season with no penalty handed out.
“However, everyone who watched the race could see the pace in the car, and Chris, Jack and Rick have also shown good speed across the weekend even though it might have been reflected in the results on paper. All three deserved more than what they actually ended up with.
“Although the title will be a big ask, we are in contention and will push hard for the best results possible.”