Tom Oliphant showed tremendous speed, racecraft and determination as he overcame a number of obstacles on his way to a richly-deserved points finish in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham Motor Speedway this past weekend (11/12 August).
Oliphant headed into meeting anticipating a tricky weekend as he raced at the unique Rockingham circuit for the first time since 2015 and for the first time ever in front-wheel drive machinery, and it was made even harder by limited running on Saturday.
A brilliant start to the opening free practice session saw the Cheshire born racer storm to the top of the timesheets for a spell, however an emerging fuel surge issue would stop him from improving his time and force him to sit out the final fifteen minutes of the session.
A fantastic effort from the Ciceley Motorsport team saw them change the whole fuel cell before second free practice, however an added electrical problem meant his Mercedes A-Class would stay in the garage for the first twenty minutes of the session.
While the Philips automotive lighting-backed machine would get on track for some crucial running, the lost mileage over the course of the two outings meant Oliphant headed into the all-important qualifying session firmly on the back foot compared to his rivals.
Still building his knowledge of the circuit through the session, Oliphant pushed hard but could only post the 22nd fastest time overall, which would ensure he faced a big challenge in Sunday’s opening race as he looked to make amends and climb the order.
His challenge nearly ended only two corners in as he had to almost stop on circuit to avoid two stranded cars in front of him, however he would mount a brilliant fightback from 25th position following an early safety car period.
The Leamington Spa based racer excelled around the high-speed banked oval as he picked his way up the order to seventeenth, playing a starring role on the live ITV4 television coverage as he ran with on-board cameras on his Mercedes.
The final points position was in his sights when his charge was abruptly ended by massive contact from another driver, which forced him off circuit and led to a trip to the pitlane, before he returned to the track and took the finish a lap down in 25th.
Oliphant’s superb potential in the car was highlighted though by the fact that only three other drivers posted a faster lap than him during the race, which he hoped would serve as a good platform for race two, which almost began with a case of déjà vu on the opening lap.
As the 27 year old headed into Pif Paf corner he encountered another big incident ahead of him, however fortune was in his favour this time and he was able to avoid the chaos, keep his momentum and emerge in 23rd position on a drying circuit.
From there, a strong performance saw him climb up to seventeenth place at the chequered flag, a result made even more impressive by the fact that he had to nurse the car home after one of his tyres delaminated three laps from the end and could have potentially ended his race.
That result firmly placed the Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW supported driver in contention for a points finish in the last of the three encounters, and his chances were boosted by a fantastic opening lap as he stormed around a number of drivers at the Brook chicane to grab tenth place.
After a short safety car interlude, Oliphant would quickly move his way into ninth position, however he would be unable to maintain his top ten challenge as a lack of grip and traction on the option hard Dunlop tyres led to him slipping back to thirteenth.
That was still enough to secure Oliphant, who welcomed Dow Schofield Watts to the team for the weekend, an eighth points finish of his maiden BTCC season so far ahead of the championship’s annual trip to Scotland next weekend (11/12 August) for Rounds 22, 23 and 24 at Knockhill.
Tom Oliphant: “I’ll take a points finish after what was a very difficult weekend. The time we lost in free practice really hampered us, and then to be taken out in the first race robbed us of any chance to come away with some serious results on race day.
“I knew this would be a tricky meeting as it my first time racing at the circuit since 2015 and my first time there in front-wheel drive machinery, and that was intensified by the time we unfortunately lost in free practice due to some technical issues.
“It meant I headed into qualifying a bit blind as I didn’t know exactly where the grip levels were, where to push in the braking zones etc, so it was no surprise to come away with a lower result than we wanted, which made our comeback on race day even more pleasing.
“Our pace in the first race was fantastic and I loved being in the thick of the action throughout, attacking and overtaking every lap. The car was an absolute dream to drive, so to have our charge ended in such abrupt fashion was infuriating.
“That left us towards the back of the grid for race two and that was our toughest race, with a drying circuit slightly catching us out with car set-up. We still had some strong pace though and I was able to make some progress up the field.
“We started in contention for the points in the final race and I had some great speed in the early stages, so I could make loads of overtakes and get up to ninth. Unfortunately we struggled on the hard tyre from there and it was frustrating to slip back to thirteenth.
“We have loads of positives to take away from the weekend though and I’m excited to see what we can do at Knockhill. Everyone says the car is a strong package there and I’ve had some great pace in Scotland in the past, so I’m really looking forward to it!”
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.