Michael Crees enjoyed a dream start to his Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship career at Brands Hatch this past weekend (06/07 April), with a standout 12th place points finish proving to be the highlight.
Graduating to Britain’s premier race series following Am Class title success in the Ginetta GT4 SuperCup last year, the Burlington Bathrooms and Premier Contract Supplies racer produced a scintillating performance as he piloted his Team HARD Volkswagen CC to the chequered flag in all three encounters.
Crees enjoyed a positive start to the weekend as he set a string of encouraging lap times in both free practice sessions, further building his confidence ahead of his maiden BTCC qualifying session around the 1.2 mile Indy circuit.
With challenging damp conditions playing their part, the 35-year-old got his first taste of Dunlop’s wet weather compound and duly delivered a stellar lap by posting a time of 55.117s, giving him a P24 start for the opening round of the season.
Following a misty Sunday morning and busy pit-lane autograph session which saw fans turn out in force to support Crees, attention turned to race one and more importantly tyre strategy; with conditions wavering on slicks and wets.
Whilst a majority of the grid opted for wet tyres, Crees and a select few took the gamble to run slicks in the hope that the race would come back to them as the laps ticked by. Losing places off the start, the local man soon began to make his way up the order, reaching the cusp of the top 20 by the midway point.
Having aimed to score a top 20 finish prior to the weekend, Crees soon began to exceed his original aim as he scythed his way further up the field. Dicing for track position with the likes of 2018 title contender Tom Ingram and former F1 star Mark Blundell, Crees ultimately crossed the line in 12th - gifting him a maiden points finish.
Riding high off his exploits in the curtain-raiser, Crees was in the thick of the action in the second pulsating 24-lap race. Holding station in the opening laps, the Geberit UK and Hansgrohe sponsored rookie was pushed wide heading into Paddock Hill Bend as the race passed the halfway marker, ultimately leading him to be demoted down the order.
Fighting his way back past Blundell and several others, Crees kept his head down to notch a second finish of the day, picking up further valuable experience in-doing so, in 23rd.
Starting on the 14th row of the grid and with the soft tyre bolted on for the final race of the day, Crees brought his inaugural BTCC race day to a close in style with another solid performance, finishing hot on the heels of Rob Smith’s MG and narrowly missing out on further points in 18th.
Michael Crees: "Having always wanted to be on the grid in the BTCC, this has been a real dream weekend. I came in with the aim of trying to finish inside the top 20 and instead I’ve been able to not only do that twice, but also pick up points too.
“After a strong qualifying we were in good shape and when we saw what the conditions were doing we felt that slicks were the way to go. I wasn’t too bothered about losing places early on because I was confident that the conditions would come to us, and they did. Points in my first-ever BTCC race really felt like a win!
“I got an education of what the BTCC is all about in race two after being run out wide and being punished by those around me but I still learnt a lot and brought the car home. To be battling with the likes of Jason Plato, Rob Collard and co. has been nothing but beneficial for me.
“Another finish in race three was the perfect end and to come away with the car not having any damage, a better understanding of set-up and scoring points, it is more than I could have ever asked for and has filled me with confidence for the next round in a few weeks."
Crees finishes the opening weekend of the 2019 season sitting 19th in the overall Drivers' standings, with the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship heading to Donington Park on April 27/28 for the next event of the year.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.