The BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 team made a winning start to the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season for a second year in succession after a hard-fought weekend at Donington Park.
The Suffolk-based squad went into the weekend looking to impress with its revised four-car line-up, with defending champion Tom Ingram and returning team-mate Tom Chilton being joined by series rookies Ronan Pearson and Nick Halstead.
Despite losing track time in the first session to a race technical issue, Ingram showed top ten-pace in free practice as did both Chilton and Pearson, with Halstead making solid progress to shave half a second off his best time.
Come qualifying, Ingram was able to fight his way through to the top-ten shootout before earning sixth place on the grid, with Pearson and Chilton just missing out on Q2 in eleventh and 14th; both within a second of the quickest Q1 time.
Halstead meanwhile would line up in 26th after an incident at the end of qualifying saw him slide off into the gravel at turn one.
Avoiding drama ahead at the start of a wet opening race, Ingram found himself running in third place after the early laps and would remain in position through to the finish having been part of a four-way battle for the podium places throughout.
Having dropped to the back after contact on lap one, Chilton recovered well to come back through to 15th place and grab the final point, whilst Pearson was well placed in the top ten before an error at turn one saw him run through the gravel at turn one – leading to an unscheduled stop that dropped him to 24th.
Halstead would also find himself in the wars, sliding off into retirement in the slippery conditions at the Old Hairpin.
Race two would prove to be a drama-filled affair which looked set to run in dry weather before rain started to fall on the green flag lap – leading to a number of drivers diving in to change onto wet tyres before the start.
Chilton, Pearson and Halstead would be amongst those to dive in early on, and took full advantage after an early caution period as the conditions worsened to storm through the field, with Chilton climbing from 16th at the restart to lead the race within three laps.
From there, he was unchallenged at the front to grab his first EXCELR8 win, and first BTCC win in four years. Pearson looked set to join him on the podium after a stunning drive saw the Macklin Motors-backed racer climb his way up to third place, but his dream debut podium was cruelly taken away when his car failed the post-race ride height test as a result of damage sustained as he battled his way through the field.
That saw him excluded from the results and meant a place gained for both Halstead and Ingram, who would end up classified in seventh and ninth. Halstead had taken full advantage of the early switch to wets to climb into the top ten and produced a solid drive to score his first BTCC points, whilst Ingram held on as long as he could on slick tyres before coming in to change to wets and managed to battle back up into the top ten.
The final race of the weekend would see Ingram produce a defensive masterclass to keep quicker cars behind, making the most of a strong start to grab second spot and holding the position through to the finish.
Chilton would add more points to his tally as he came from twelfth on the grid to take eighth although there was further misfortune for both Pearson and Halstead, who were the innocent victims of on-track contact – leaving Pearson back in 19th place and unfortunately putting Halstead into retirement.
At the end of the weekend, Ingram sits second in the standings with Chilton in fourth, whilst BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 lead both the Manufacturers’/Constructors’ and Teams’ standings.
Tom Ingram, #1 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“There has been no consistency across race day and we haven’t had two races where the conditions were the same. I think we’ve done a good job to be on our toes and to change what needed to be changed at the right time, and it’s been tough for all of the guys and girls working on the cars.
“That final race was one of the toughest I’ve ever had, trying to keep four cars behind me that were quicker. It’s helped us to pick up some good points and to come away from the weekend sitting in P2 is a good start.
“As a team we’ve done a great job and for Tom to get his first win for four years is fantastic. Both Ronan and Nick have also driven well to get results on track, although it was a bit harsh on Ronan to lose the podium. He’ll bounce back, and for BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8, I’d say we’ve done really well for round one.”
Tom Chilton, #3 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“I love that decision on the tyres we took before the second race! Leaving the pits it was 100 per cent slick tyres and when we left the grid for the green flag lap, it was 100 per cent slicks.
“However, when we went round the Old Hairpin I could see the lines on the tarmac as people were weaving and I called back to the team to say to ready the tyres and to see what it was doing in the pits. They said it was starting to rain, so I knew we had to make the change.
“I went out like a missile and couldn’t hold back and I’m so pleased for myself, for the team and for the sponsors because it’s a reward for the hard work everyone has put on. It’s been four years since my last win and it’s nice to be back on the top step of the podium.
“It was a shame to be hit off in the first race so to come back from that to grab a win, and then score more decent points in race three, is a good start. We end the weekend fourth in the standings and are top of the team standings which is great, and hopefully there is plenty more to come.”
Ronan Pearson, #14 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“I have to say a huge thank you to the team for their efforts this weekend and I’m just gutted for everyone that we lost that result in the second race. I feel I’ve put on a really good show in the final two races and haven’t got the results to show for it through no fault of my own which is disappointing and not the way I wanted my first BTCC meeting to go.
“Although there is nothing to show for it in terms of points, I’m pleased with the pace I’ve shown and it’s been nice to get the plaudits from people but it’s results that matter, and I’ll look to bounce back at Brands Hatch.”
Nick Halstead, #22 BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N, said:
“It’s been an amazing day of ups and downs. The first race was a baptism of fire and a silly mistake from me but then race two was great. We got the tyre choice right and it was brilliant to be in there fighting. I was overtaking loads of people and having fun, and I didn’t expect to have got as high as we did.
“Race three I was just unlucky to be on the end of things going through turn one and there was nothing I could do about it. It was an unfortunate end but the result in race two far outweighs any disappointment.”
Justina Williams, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 Team Owner, said:
“It’s fantastic to start the season with a win once again, and great to see Tom Chilton to get the well-deserved win! He has worked hard with the team over the winter to get the new car where he wants it to be. Across the board, the drivers have done a great job and the only disappointment is that Ronan wasn’t able to get the result he deserved from race two.
“Conditions have been very challenging this weekend so to come away from Donington with a win and the lead of two championships is a good start and something we’ll look to build on w
hen we get to Brands Hatch.”