Tom Oliphant produced a fantastic drive from the back of the grid to nineteenth position to cap off an encouraging third meeting of his debut Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship campaign at Thruxton this past weekend (19/20 May).
The trip south to Hampshire would mark Oliphant’s first race meeting at the fastest circuit in the UK since his title-winning Ginetta GT4 Supercup campaign in 2015, though crucially an official test at the track last month gave him the chance to get back up to speed.
The 27 year old still had limited experience in front-wheel drive machinery around the circuit heading into the meeting though, which meant Saturday’s two free practice sessions had added significance as he continued to learn about the unique challenges of the track.
In glorious sunshine, the Philips automotive lighting supported driver enjoyed productive runs in each of the forty minute outings, with some strong pace as he adapted to the circuit seeing him finish in the top twenty overall on both occasions.
A fantastic start to qualifying saw him sitting seventh on the timesheets after his first run, however as his rivals were able to improve, a mistake and then an incident ahead of him on his prospective best laps meant he ended up sixteenth overall in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class.
In front of a record-breaking trackside crowd, the opening race on Sunday would prove to be a relatively subdued affair, with Oliphant moving his Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW backed Mercedes up to fifteenth position at one stage before slipping back to seventeenth at the finish.
Unfortunately, the Leamington Spa driver’s hopes of moving up the order in race two would be ended abruptly only three laps in, when an overly ambitious move from behind led to heavy contact and race-ending suspension damage – an incident the other driver was later penalised for.
That retirement meant Oliphant would start the final encounter in thirtieth position, but that did not faze him as he put on a great display in front of the live ITV4 television cameras to rise no less than eleven positions on his way to a nineteenth place finish.
With one of his toughest circuits out of the way, the Marchand Watch Company brand ambassador has high hopes for the next couple of rounds, starting with a return to his native Cheshire for his home meeting at Oulton Park in three weeks’ time (09/10 June).
Tom Oliphant: “I’m really pleased with how Saturday went. I could have done better in qualifying but made some mistakes, however considering I came here having not raced at the circuit for three years and never in front-wheel drive machinery, I was happy with how quick we were.
“Race one was a bit of a procession but I feel I held my own, while in race two I think our car was the best it had been all weekend, which makes the unnecessary contact all the more frustrating, as the potential was definitely there to be closing on the top ten.
“That left us at the back of the grid for race three which always makes it tough, but considering it’s not the easiest track to overtake around, I’m pleased with the positions I gained and it was just a shame the field spread out so I couldn’t make any more ground.
“Next up is my home circuit of Oulton Park, which is a meeting I always look forward to. It’s one of the biggest events on the BTCC calendar and hopefully with a bit of luck on my side, I can enjoy a strong weekend with the Ciceley Motorsport team.”
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography.