- Chris Ashby
Tom Oliphant Produces Thruxton Fightback To Kick Off New BTCC Season
Tom Oliphant kicked off his Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign at Thruxton this past weekend (May 8/9) with an inspiring race day comeback, which saw him just miss out on a podium in a pulsating reverse grid contest.
Having been sent spinning on the opening lap of race one, the Team BMW driver dug deep to carve his way up the order from 27th to score points in all three encounters around the high-speed Hampshire venue.
Showing plenty of promise during Saturday’s two wet free practice sessions, the West Surrey Racing ace was optimistic of piecing together a lap time that would place him toward the sharp end of the grid for the first round of the season.
In what proved to be a pulsating qualifying session - the only one of the year where cars don’t carry success ballast - the battle for pole position went down to the wire as track conditions improved. Briefly sitting atop the time sheets in the closing stages, Oliphant’s time of 1:18.891 would ultimately be good enough for sixth.
Launching off the the third row of the grid on a much drier track for race one, the BMW 330i M Sport driver made his customary strong start and soon found himself challenging the top three as the field streamed round the back of the circuit.
Unfortunately, the BRDC member found himself sent into a spin through no fault of his own on the run out of Church corner, dropping him to the back of the field. Following a lengthy safety car period, the 30-year-old underlined his overtaking credentials by scything his way up the order to finish 15th.
Race two saw the Quenched Drinks-backed driver continue his comeback as he once again moved forward. Despite the contest being truncated by a red flag and safety car, the rear-wheel-drive racer managed to climb into tenth by the chequered flag.
Drawn onto the front row of the grid for the reverse grid race, Oliphant opted to gamble on slick tyres as the rain began to fall and it almost proved to be a gamble that paid off.
Dropping down the order as he scrambled for grip in the opening stages, track conditions soon improved and sitting in 19th, he soon began to move up the order and into second place. Challenging for the lead, the rain unfortunately intensified in the latter stages, leaving Oliphant unable to sustain his charge and finish seventh.
Leaving Thruxton, Oliphant sits ninth in the overall BTCC Drivers’ Championship as it heads to Snetterton next on June 12/13.
Tom Oliphant:“Ultimately I'm disappointed with the results as we really had the pace to be on the podium in all three races. However the incident in race one meant that the day quickly became about fighting back and we nearly capped it off in style.
"From the minute we rolled out in practice the car has had good speed and we've tweaked it over the course of the weekend. We had great pace in race one to fight back to 15th and then I managed to pick up another five spots in race two.
"We rolled the dice in race three going for slicks and it so nearly paid off. I managed to bring the tyres in and then as soon as the slicks switched on I was off and picking my way through the field. Were it not for the second rain shower in the closing stages then I'd have been on the podium, no question about it.
"On the whole I'd have liked to come away with a few more points and some silverware but we will be heading to Snetterton with not too much success ballast and a car we know will be well-suited to the circuits characteristics."
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.