Tom Oliphant has further cemented his status as a rising star in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with another top ten finish in the penultimate meeting of his debut campaign at Silverstone this past weekend (15/16 September).
Following the best weekend of his BTCC career to date at Knockhill three weeks ago, Oliphant headed to Northamptonshire in a buoyant mood, with his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class having a rich history at the circuit with podium finishes in each of the last two campaigns.
Oliphant enjoyed a sensational start to the meeting in the opening free practice session, with superb pace from the off in his Philips automotive lighting machine seeing him end a BTCC session at the top of the timesheets for the first time with a blistering effort of 58.474s.
Some set-up changes wouldn’t quite work for the Leamington Spa based racer in the second session, however with only a tenth of a second separating him from the top four he was confident he could challenge for a strong grid position around his local circuit.
Oliphant would therefore be left disappointed when a mid-session change of tyre strategy worked against him in qualifying, however a finishing position of 12th would put him right in the mix for a top ten finish in Sunday’s opening live televised encounter.
The typically frenetic, rough and tumble of the BTCC would hamper the 28 year old’s challenge though as contact through Luffield on the opening lap sent him sideways, with only some quick reactions behind the wheel allowing him to recover to the track in 18th.
Some immediate progress back up the order meant Oliphant headed into an early safety car period in 14th, and after the restart he continued an impressive comeback drive with some eye-catching overtaking moves on his way to ninth at the chequered flag.
With a fifth top ten finish of the season so far under his belt, the Cheshire born racer hoped to add another to his tally in the second race of the day as he made early progress to eighth, however an attempted move on championship leader Colin Turkington led to him being forced onto the grass.
Getting back on track in twelfth, Oliphant was in the thick of a close-fought battle for the final top ten positions for the remainder of the race. After plenty of position swapping in an entertaining fight to the finish, he eventually crossed the line in 11th.
The Reep Group, Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW backed driver headed into the final race of the day anticipating an uphill struggle on the option hard compound Dunlop tyres, and so it proved as he once again found himself embroiled in some fierce battles.
Initially rising to tenth in impressive fashion, Oliphant’s challenge would be hampered by the field being bunched up by a safety car period. At the restart, he was defenceless against some soft tyre shod contenders and eventually just missed out on a points finish in 16th.
A strong trio of results for the day meant Oliphant notably ended proceedings as the fourth highest-scoring driver in the Jack Sears Trophy, an achievement he’s keen to build on as he looks to end the season in style at Brands Hatch GP in two weeks’ time (29/30 September).
Tom Oliphant: “I’m really pleased with the weekend. While it was only FP1, it was a great feeling to set the pace in a BTCC session for the first time. This was another new circuit for me in a front-wheel drive car, but I immediately clicked with it and we showed some promising race pace in FP2 as well.
“Unfortunately a change of tyre strategy in qualifying turned out to be a wrong call and that cost us the chance of maximising our potential and taking a top result, but twelfth was still a strong position that I felt I could convert into some good results on race day.
“I loved the three races. I was in the thick of the action throughout and made sure I raced smart and clean. To fightback from 18th to 9th in race one was particularly pleasing, and I was also happy with race three and how I only lost five places on the slower hard tyres.
“I feel like I’m proving that I’m a regular top ten contender now. That’s the minimum we want heading into each session and were it not for some contact in the races and a bit of bad luck, we would have taken more than one I’m sure.
“We’re on the cusp of a standout result in this championship and hopefully we can achieve it at Brands. I’ve never been in love with the GP circuit, but I’ve been told the car goes well there and I’m confident that we can excel around the high-speed sections. I’m looking forward to it.”
Images from Jakob Ebrey Photography.