Tom Oliphant made a return to the points positions in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this past weekend (09/10 June) courtesy of a battling display at his home circuit of Oulton Park in Cheshire.
Born and raised only ten minutes down the road in Tarporley, the annual visit to Oulton Park always has added significance for Oliphant and this year was no exception, as he competed in front of a huge local crowd in the BTCC for the first time.
With a strong track record at the circuit during his time in Ginetta and Porsche competition, the Philips automotive lighting backed racer headed into the weekend confident that he could pick up some strong results in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class.
Oliphant enjoyed a positive start to the meeting as he produced promising lap-times during Saturday’s two free practice sessions, with the twelfth fastest time in the opener filling him with confidence that he could challenge for the top ten in qualifying.
The 27 year old would do exactly that as a brilliant late charge in the session saw him post a best effort of 1m 26.296s to finish tenth fastest overall, with his second top ten result of the season ensuring he remains the best average qualifier of the three Mercedes drivers on the grid.
In the sweltering sunshine on Sunday, Oliphant would lose a couple of places during a busy start to the opening race, however he went on to run strongly in twelfth for the majority of the race before the opportunity of an overtake presented itself on the final lap.
Heading into the high-speed Druids corner, Oliphant stormed around the outside of the Honda of Brett Smith and looked to have gained the place, but contact to the rear of his car sent him sideways off the circuit in dramatic fashion.
An expert reaction from Oliphant ensured he controlled the slide and got his Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW supported Mercedes back on track in one piece, which allowed him to go on and take the finish in twentieth position.
Oliphant bounced back from that incident in strong fashion in the second race, as he picked his way through a couple of chaotic incidents ahead of him to emerge from the opening lap in seventeenth place, before gaining another position in each of the next couple of laps.
The forward progress would continue over the remainder of the race as the former Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion worked his way through to thirteenth place at the chequered flag, his third points finish of the season so far.
Lining up in the same position for the final race of the day with the favourable option soft compound Dunlop tyres on his Mercedes, Oliphant was confident he had the speed and racecraft to break into the top ten and end his weekend in style.
Unfortunately his chances would end in immediate and brutal fashion, as mere metres from the start-line he was unceremoniously hit in the rear of his Mercedes, which pitched him into another car and sent him spinning into the pitwall.
With extensive damage to his car, Oliphant was unable to take the restart of the race and therefore his weekend would come to a premature and disappointing conclusion, something he will aim to bounce back from in style next time out at Croft in North Yorkshire (23/24 June).
Tom Oliphant: “It’s been a mixed weekend that started with a really positive day on Saturday, where we had great pace in the car from the off. It was fantastic to qualify in the top ten once again and to have a better qualifying record than my team-mate at this stage is a welcome surprise.
“In hindsight I should have settled for twelfth in the opening race, but I’m a racing driver and I went for the opportunity that was there. Sadly I got unnecessarily tapped into a spin and fell back to twentieth, which put us on the backfoot for the next two races.
“Race two gave me a chance to show the potential in the car and I was pleased to have kept my nose clean and picked my way through to thirteenth at the finish, which we hoped would have been the perfect platform to fight into the top ten on the soft tyres in race three.
“I got an okay start off the line and was side-by-side with Rory Butcher, but sadly the driver behind decided to go for a gap that wasn’t there, hit us and eventually end the race of four drivers. It’s really disappointing to have had our weekend ended in the pitwall through no fault of my own.
“We move on to Croft next though, which will be a baptism of fire as I haven’t driven the car there before. It’s a circuit that suits rear-wheel drive cars so it will be tough for us, but I’m confident that I can get up to speed quickly and be in the mix for the top ten once again.”
Oliphant competed at Oulton Park in support of The George Heath Foundation, a local charity that supports good causes in the area. Together, they ran a raffle over the race meeting which saw three pairs of fans win the chance to go on the grid before race three, as well as a signed BTCC t-shirt.
Prior to the event, Oliphant also returned to his old stomping ground Tarporley High School with his Mercedes A-Class, giving the current students a chance to get up close and personal with the car and find out all about competing in the BTCC.
Tom Oliphant: “I was very proud to get the chance to bring The George Heath Foundation to Oulton Park and give them the opportunity to raise awareness of the charity to the tens of thousands of fans at the circuit across the race weekend.
“The raffle was a huge success and we were delighted to help them raise over £500. That capped off a fantastic week, having also been able to go back to my old school and show off my BTCC car. It certainly got lots of attention and it was great to speak to so many passionate motorsport fans.”
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography