Tom Oliphant made a big step forwards in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton this past weekend (28/29 July) as he secured his best results yet in the series with a pair of eighth place finishes in Norfolk.
It was a landmark weekend for the BTCC with an historic ‘Diamond Double’ race taking place as part of the series’ 60th Anniversary celebrations, with the extended sixty mile encounter having double points on offer as the field raced with no ballast and the same Dunlop tyre compound.
The special race would also have its own qualifying session, which meant it would be a busy weekend for Oliphant as he took to the track four times on Saturday in his Ciceley Motorsport-prepared Mercedes A-Class ahead of Sunday’s three races.
Oliphant would unfortunately head into the meeting on the back foot compared to the majority of the field after a number of mechanical issues severely limited his running during an official championship two-day test at Snetterton earlier this month.
That would increase the importance of Saturday’s two free practice sessions, the first of which would begin in treacherous, slippery conditions after the summer heatwave was briefly interrupted by heavy rainfall at the start of the day.
With the weather improving as the day wore on, the Philips automotive lighting supported driver got the opportunity to get laps under his belt on both wet and dry tyres during the sessions as he worked with the Ciceley team to perfect their car set-up ahead of qualifying.
Their hard work would be rewarded with a fantastic display in the opener as Oliphant qualified as the leading Mercedes in tenth place overall, before he brilliantly repeated that result in the second encounter with a stunning display against an equal, ballast-free field.
The wet weather would return in dramatic fashion on race day, with torrential rain in the morning meaning that the Cheshire born racer would face treacherous conditions for the opening race, with the combination of the rain and spray severely hindering visibility.
Emerging unscathed from a chaotic opening lap, Oliphant would adapt superbly to the conditions as the race developed and a composed drive in the thick of the top ten battle would end with him taking the chequered flag in a brilliant eighth place.
The Marchand Watch Company brand ambassador would kick off the second race in strong fashion as a great move around the outside at Brundle secured him seventh place on lap one, before he climbed into the top six soon after for the first time in his BTCC career.
While Oliphant would unfortunately get shuffled back to eighth over the remaining laps, the result would still mark his first back-to-back top ten finishes in the series and filled him with confidence heading into the milestone ‘Diamond Double’ race.
It would sadly prove to be a short-lived affair for the Leamington Spa based racer though, as contact from another driver on three separate occasions eventually resulted in him being spun around exiting the Wilson hairpin on lap three.
Left stranded in the middle of the track, Oliphant was powerless to prevent himself getting collected by an unsighted driver in the pack, which led to immediate race ending damage to his Horizon Specialities and eJigsaw backed Mercedes-Benz.
Tom Oliphant: “All in all it’s been an awesome weekend. I’ve made another big step forwards in the BTCC, improving my pace and my racecraft, and being in the top ten on merit in both qualifying and the races is a fantastic feeling and it shows how far we have come in the series.
“Saturday was particularly pleasing for me, with our out and out pace to qualify in the top ten in the first session, then to raise our game against an equal field and deliver P10 again, especially with the Mercedes not being the strongest package for this circuit.
“They were really difficult conditions in the races, especially in the opener when we could barely see anything for the first five laps. I coped well with the conditions though, which is another sign of how much more comfortable I feel in the car, and to bring it home in eighth was brilliant.
“To follow that up with the same result in race two was fantastic and I feel we could have done the same or more in the final race. I had some back luck on the first lap with my position on track and got put back, and then one driver tried really hard to spin me and at the third attempt he succeeded.
“Fortunately we came off quite lightly with the damage to the car, and while it’s a hugely frustrating end to the weekend, we come away really happy with our speed and progress across the meeting and it is a positive sign for the rest of the season.”
The 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship continues next weekend (11/12 August) with Rounds 19, 20 and 21 at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.