It was a case of what might have been for Tom Oliphant at Croft Circuit this past weekend (June 15/16) as the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship continued its 2019 campaign in front of a bumper crowd.
Arriving at the North Yorkshire venue optimistic of what could be achieved, the Team BMW driver ended the weekend with a best finish of fifth following a rollercoaster race day.
Qualifying around the 2.12 mile circuit turned out to be a dramatic session which saw a total of five red flags halt proceedings. As conditions deteriorated from dry to wet, Oliphant made the best of the circuit to power his BMW 330i M Sport to a career-best equalling fifth fastest.
Race one proved to be an intriguing affair as Oliphant held station throughout of the race, although he pushed team-mate and triple BTCC champion Colin Turkington from start-to-finish.
Despite hounding the back of Turkington and defending from the Honda of Dan Cammish, Oliphant held on to score a top five finish.
Oliphant’s hopes of a podium in race two were ended on the opening lap as the Haines Watts Esher supported driver found himself out of room as the field streamed through the Chicane. Sliding wide onto the grass, a spin dropped him to the back of the pack.
From last place, Oliphant began his fightback and dispatched several drivers in the next couple of laps. The BRDC member continued to scythe his way through as the race progressed, ultimately going on to take the chequered flag in 18th.
The reverse grid encounter saw heavy rain fall prior to the BTCC grid assembling, leaving many in two minds on whether to bolt on slick or wet tyres. Starting on the ninth row of the grid, the manufacturer-backed driver took a gamble and opted to run slick tyres on his rear-wheel-drive machine.
Unfortunately for Oliphant and a majority of the slick-shod cars, it was to be a case of too little too late as the track didn’t fall the way of those not on wets until the latter stages. Battling with a host of other drivers who had taken a gamble, the BMW ace rounded out his weekend in 23rd.
Following a hard-fought weekend, Oliphant leaves Croft sitting 13th in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship whilst Team BMW reside first and second in the Manufacturer/Constructor and Teams’ Championship respectively. Finally, Oliphant remains second in the Jack Sears Trophy standings after four events.
Tom Oliphant: “It has been a frustrating weekend and it has stemmed from qualifying because even though we secured fifth, we should have been on the front row. Race one was good and we had great pace, but it wasn’t worth risking anything by making a silly move and jeopardising a solid team result.
“Race two was tough as after serving contact with Chilton I was then forced onto the wet grass and sent spinning. That effectively ended any hope of getting a good result in races two and three.
“Oulton Park should be better and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can achieve at what is my home event. I’ll go into it with high hopes and fully focused on adding more silverware.”
The 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship next heads to Oulton Park in Cheshire for Rounds 13, 14 & 15 on June 29/30, before then heading into the annual summer break.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.