Tom Oliphant has brought the first half of his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship campaign to a close on a high as he secured a pair of points finishes at Croft this past weekend (23/24 June).
Oliphant would enjoy his strongest overall race-day of the season so far in North Yorkshire, with a hat-trick of top sixteen finishes in front of the live ITV4 television cameras having included his fourth and fifth points scoring results of the campaign.
The 27 year old headed into the meeting feeling confident that he could produce a competitive showing in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class, though he was realistic in his ambitions with the circuit having historically favoured those in rear-wheel drive machinery.
Having previously been a double race-winner at Croft during his title-winning Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup campaign, Oliphant had no issues getting back up to speed with the circuit as he worked with the team to fine-tune the Mercedes’ set-up during Saturday’s two free practice sessions.
He would go on to maximise the potential of his Philips automotive lighting backed machine during qualifying as he posted the eighteenth fastest time overall, a result that continues his record of being the best average qualifier of the three Mercedes drivers on the grid.
Oliphant headed into the opening race of the weekend hoping to challenge for points under the glorious Yorkshire sunshine, and a strong start saw him maintain his eighteenth place heading into an early safety car stoppage.
Once the action resumed, a sensational move around the outside of Mike Bushell through the Complex netted him seventeenth place, before he picked off former Porsche Carrera Cup GB sparring rival Dan Cammish into Tower Bend.
Oliphant would go on to heap pressure on Tom Chilton during the closing laps of the race as he looked to secure the final points-paying position, however despite excelling around the high-speed sections of the circuit he was unable to find a way past.
That result would put him in a prime position to take a points finish in race two with the option hard compound Dunlop tyres underneath him, with a brilliant start seeing him rise two places on the opening lap, before moving up to thirteenth soon after.
Getting right in the thick of the midfield action in his Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW supported Mercedes, Oliphant would produce a fantastic defensive display in the final couple of laps to hold off two-time BTCC champion Jason Plato and take thirteenth at the finish.
The Marchand Watch Company brand ambassador would make some more early progress in the final race of the day, with some superb overtaking moves helping him pick his way through to tenth place by the end of lap four.
From there, a composed drive saw him maintain position through to the chequered flag, ensuring he would end the day having impressively taken the finish as the highest placed Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes in each of the three races.
Unfortunately post-race the stewards deemed him to have gained an unfair advantage during the race and he was handed a 9.5 second time penalty. While this demoted him to fourteenth, he would still come away with another points scoring result.
Following a five week summer break, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returns to action at Snetterton on 28/29 July, a weekend which will include a special ‘Diamond Double’ race – an extended 60-mile contest to celebrate the championship’s 60th anniversary.
Tom Oliphant: “While the penalty in the final race is immensely frustrating, it has otherwise been another really positive weekend, with our strongest trio of race results so far this season showing the continued progress we’re making in my first season in the series.
“We headed into the weekend knowing that our car was going to struggle up against the rear-wheel drive machinery, but we put together a strong package and I was able to work my way up the order over the course of the three races.
“I enjoyed some really good, clean battles out on track and it was great to be able to bring the car home in pristine condition after each race. Three more full races under my belt is crucial experience that will only serve me well heading into the second half of the year.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opening five meetings of the season; the whole BTCC experience has been awesome. The Ciceley Motorsport team have done a fantastic job, we’ve made big strides forward so far and I’m confident we can enjoy some real standout results after the summer.”
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography.