- Chris Ashby
Tom Oliphant Scores Best BTCC Finish In 2019 Season Opener At Brands Hatch
Tom Oliphant enjoyed a positive start to his Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign this past weekend (06/07 April) after claiming a career-best sixth place finish at Brands Hatch in the new-for-2019 Team BMW 330i M Sport. Joining reigning BTCC champions West Surrey Racing during the off-season, the Leamington Spa-based racer was eager to repay the hard work put in by everyone back at base with a strong season opening performance. Having had limited testing in the all-new 330i M Sport before the weekend, Saturday’s two free practice sessions were pivotal for the manufacturer team and the BRDC member in gathering further data ahead of race day. Coming off the back of an impressive showing during the Season Launch test day at the Kent venue, Oliphant and the Sunbury squad were on the pace immediately, with the 28-year-old impressively topping the times at the end of second practice. Qualifying proved to be a frenetic 30-minute shootout for pole position with the element of rain adding a further curveball. Running in the wet for the first time in the car, Oliphant underlined his credentials as one to watch as he secured a career-best qualifying of fifth, having earlier sat on provisional pole for some time. With conditions remaining the same for the opening race of the weekend on Sunday, tyre strategy became the main topic of conversation as many, including Oliphant, opted for Dunlop’s wet weather compound. As the lights went out, the decision looked to be the correct one as Oliphant dispatched Jason Plato and leapt into fourth. As the laps ticked by however, conditions began to improve and those on slicks started to come to the fore, with the BMW man and those around him slipping down the order. Despite valiantly fighting throughout, Oliphant crossed the line in 22nd. Bolting the soft option tyre on his rear-wheel-drive machine for race two, the former Ginetta GT4 SuperCup champion served up a charging drive as he and champion team-mate Colin Turkington worked their way up the order, with Oliphant notching his first point of the new season in 15th. The weekend’s final race proved to be just as eventful as the two that went before it, and both Oliphant and Team BMW took on a starring role. Launching from the eighth row of the grid, the Haines Watts-backed driver worked with Turkington again to scythe their way towards the front. Producing a string of captivating overtakes, Oliphant worked his way deeper into the top ten and took the chequered flag in sixth place, bettering his best of seventh last year and signing off the weekend in style. Tom Oliphant: “Overall it has been a really positive weekend. If you had said I would achieve my best qualifying and race result at the start of the weekend then I would have bitten your hand off. “Saturday proved to be fantastic, not just for me but for the whole team, as it validated everyone’s hard work over the winter. We were hampered by the weather and the lack of running we have had in race one, but to then claw ourselves back through the field in races two and three is something to be really pleased about. “We knew we had a quick car and when the conditions were constant we were able to show that in the final race. We ended the weekend on a high and when you look at what all three of us have been able to do, it bodes well. “Everyone at West Surrey Racing deserves so much credit! They have done an extraordinary job with this car and confidence is high as we head into the next few rounds.” Leaving Brands Hatch, Oliphant finds himself 14th in the Drivers’ standings whilst BMW sit tied on points at the top of the BTCC Manufacturer/Constructors Championship. The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship continues on April 27/28 at Donington Park.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.