Tom Oliphant narrowly missed out on a points finish during a positive first weekend in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, fighting on the fringes of the top ten during the opening rounds at Brands Hatch (07/08 April).
Oliphant’s debut in the highest profile championship in the UK would see him race in front of a bumper crowd at the Kent circuit in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class, with all three races televised live on ITV4.
The Philips Automotive Lighting supported driver’s maiden outing in the championship would prove to be a true “baptism of fire” as he fought it out against what’s been described as the ‘most talented grid in recent championship history’, with a capacity 32 car field taking to the track.
The sheer competitiveness of the championship would be proven in the opening free practice session on Saturday morning as the top thirty cars were separated by less than a second, with Oliphant quickly getting up to speed to finish an impressive fifteenth fastest.
He would go on to show similar pace throughout the remainder of the day, with a great performance in qualifying seeing him deal with a typically frenetic session to post the fifteen fastest time, less than a tenth of a second off his experienced team-mate Adam Morgan.
The 27 year old would face a fresh challenge come Sunday as morning rainfall ensured tricky wet conditions for his first ever BTCC race, but Oliphant would adapt to the conditions strongly and get himself right into the thick of the midfield battles.
Fighting hard through a typically action-packed race, he would unfortunately just slip out of the points paying positions in the closing stages as he took the chequered flag in sixteenth position, finishing ahead of no less than seven former BTCC race-winners.
Oliphant would follow up that impressive debut with a sensational drive up the order in race two. Showing he is certainly at home in BTCC competition, he looked comfortable battling in the top ten as he fought his way through to a high of eighth position.
There would be a disappointing end to the race however as contact from a rival led to a broken suspension and an unfortunate early retirement, which ensured the Leamington Spa racer faced an uphill battle in race three as he took to the grid in thirty-first position.
The challenge would increase as a small mechanical issue on the green flag lap meant he would have to enter the pits for a quick repair and therefore start the race from the pitlane, but an almost immediate safety car period ensured he got onto the back of the pack.
From there, the Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW backed racer would produce another superb performance as he gained a brilliant eleven positions to slot into twentieth, with just some questionable defensive driving from those ahead stopping him making further progress.
Oliphant, who is a brand ambassador for the Marchand Watch Company, comes away from the weekend in positive spirits ahead of a visit to one of his favourite circuits, Donington Park, for Rounds Four, Five and Six at the end of the month (28/29 April).
Tom Oliphant: “I’ve had an absolute blast this weekend, I think it’s the most fun I’ve had in a race car for a long time. Every lap of every race I was battling for position and I certainly got into the touring car spirit as I gained a lot of positions over the course of the three races.
“It was a steep learning curve this weekend, especially with my first race coming in the wet which I feel I did well in. We went for the safe option with tyres in changing conditions in race two and started really strongly, but sadly it wasn’t to be in the end.
“I’m a bit disappointed in the third race too as I felt like I had the pace to move further forwards, but it was still a strong result coming through from a pitlane start. I certainly understand the characters in the championship now, those who I can race fairly with and those I can’t.
“Overall, it’s been a great weekend both on and off track. The BTCC is a huge spectacle and you’re kept busy as a driver meeting the fans and entertaining hospitality guests and sponsors, but I loved every second and I can’t wait for Donington Park.”
You can watch back from the three races from Brands Hatch on the ITV Sport website here: http://www.itv.com/btcc/races.
An interview with Oliphant by the BTCC’s official audio team Cre8media can also be listened to here: http://www.btcc.net/live-audio/.
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography.