Tom Oliphant recorded his best qualifying and race results so far in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with a standout performance during the annual trip north of the border to Knockhill this past weekend (25/26 August).
Oliphant enjoyed another milestone weekend during the eighth meeting of the season, with a seventh place finish in both qualifying and the opening race further cementing his status as a top ten regular in his debut campaign in one of the most competitive touring car series in the world.
Knockhill would mark the first race weekend of an exciting new partnership between Oliphant and nationwide Detailing and Automotive protection business Reep Group, whose logo adorned the bonnet of his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class as he hit the track in Fife.
The undulating 1.2 mile circuit was one of the most fruitful for Oliphant during his time on the BTCC support package, and he relished his opportunity to take on the track in front-wheel drive machinery for the first time during free practice on Saturday.
The Philips automotive lighting supported driver immediately got into the groove and he produced consistent, fast lap-times across the two sessions, finishing both inside the top eight on the timesheets as he lapped just a quarter of a second shy of the pace-setter.
Oliphant converted that raw pace into his best qualifying performance of the season so far as a blistering effort of 51.274s put him seventh fastest, a result which impressively makes it five top ten results in his first nine qualifying sessions in the BTCC.
There was a new challenge for the Cheshire born racer on Sunday however as a dramatic change of weather conditions overnight meant that the day’s action would take place on a sodden circuit, though that did not faze him as he took to the grid for race one.
After slipping back to ninth in the early stages, Oliphant fought back superbly to grab eighth position from Chris Smiley, before he benefitted from an incident ahead in the closing stages to return to seventh, which he held to the flag for a fourth top ten finish of the year.
Oliphant, who celebrated his 28th birthday in the week leading up to the event, had high hopes of improving on that result in race two and he held seventh into an early safety car period, however he would unfortunately drop back following the restart.
In treacherous conditions, the Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW supported driver locked up his brakes on standing water at the first corner, left the circuit and fell down the order, before a near-identical incident soon after at the final hairpin ended his race in the gravel trap.
That left Oliphant down in 26th on the grid for the last of the three live televised encounters, with a great start to proceedings seeing him fight back from a slow start to rise to 23rd at the end of lap three, at which point the safety car came out on track.
Sadly at the restart, a mechanical issue for the driver ahead had seen him drop away from the bulk of the field, meaning that by the time he pulled into the pitlane and the action resumed on track, Oliphant was over four seconds behind the next driver.
That severely hampered his chances of making any further progress up the field, though the Leamington Spa racer still showed tremendous pace as he closed onto the pack ahead and eventually brought his car home in 21st position.
Tom Oliphant: “It’s been an up and down weekend overall, but I come away really pleased with the pace we have shown. To finish both free practice sessions in the top eight without new tyres, and then convert it into a season’s best seventh in qualifying was fantastic.
“The change of weather made the opening race a real challenge, but I was learning the track and conditions with everyone else and our pace was strong. I was able to pull clear of the pack and stay with the top six, which is a great result for us.
“We made some changes to the car for race two and it felt truly fantastic, but unfortunately I locked the rears into turn one, hit the standing water and aquaplaned sideways off track, before doing the same at the final hairpin soon after.
“That was frustrating and it left me at the back of the grid for race three. I went about picking off people and making progress, but after being left so far behind at the restart, the tyres just weren’t there for me by the time I got onto the back of the train.
“I brought the car home though, got no damage across the three races and have come away knowing that we had the pace to finish inside the top ten in all three races. Hopefully luck will finally come my way soon and we can enjoy a great end to the season.
“I’d like to dedicate my success this weekend to a good friend of mine Hubert Eimer, who sadly passed away at the weekend. He worked for Redline Racing whilst I raced with them in the Porsche’s and he was a fantastic person. My condolences go out to his family and friends at this time.”
The penultimate rounds of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship are coming up in three weeks’ time at Silverstone (15/16 September), before the season finale a fortnight later at Brands Hatch GP (29/30 September).
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.