Team BMW’s Tom Oliphant scored a trio of top ten finishes in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton this past weekend (17/18 August), clinching Jack Sears Trophy honours in the process.
Keen to bounce back from a frustrating event at Snetterton last time out, the West Surrey Racing driver entered the weekend optimistic of a return to form following the success that the BMW 330i M Sport enjoyed on its last visit to Hampshire in May.
Having shown encouraging pace during Saturday’s two practice sessions, the 28-year-old entered qualifying in a confident mood. Around a circuit which is typically better suited to front-wheel-drive machinery, the Haines Watts London sponsored driver produced a competitive showing in what proved to be a frenetic session.
Putting together a best time of 1:16.188 around the 2.35-mile layout, the manufacturer-backed ace was the highest-placed BMW in seventh place - setting him up for a strong race day.
Launching off the line from the fourth row of the grid in race one, Oliphant was soon on the move and leapt into sixth place as the 30-car field streamed through the opening sequence of corners.
Settling into a groove, the Leamington Spa-based driver jumped up to fifth place not long after as Jason Plato dropped down the order after being forced to serve a drive through penalty. Holding position for the remainder of the race, Oliphant crossed the line to kick off his race day with a top five result.
Ladened with success ballast, race two around the Hampshire speedbowl saw Oliphant narrowly miss out on recording his third visit to the podium. Carving his way into fourth place in the opening stages, the BMW racer soon began to hound the back of Sam Tordoff.
Making his move in style on lap 11, Oliphant stormed around the outside at the high-speed Noble corner into third and looked on course to stand on the final step of the rostrum. However, a last-gasp move by the Honda of Matt Neal as they headed into the chicane for the final tour saw the BMW driver miss out by just 0.080 seconds.
Virtue of the reverse grid draw, Oliphant lined up third for the final race of the day as dark clouds threatened above. Starting out dry, British Racing Drivers Club member moved into second in the opening laps but was demoted to third by eventual race-winner Dan Cammish on lap three.
Holding position from there as the race wore on, the closing stages saw heavy rain hit the circuit. Wrestling to maintain control of his 3-Series in the worsening conditions, Oliphant dropped down the order in the closing stages and ultimately crossed the line in seventh.
Finishing as the top rear-wheel-drive and BMW car throughout the day, Oliphant capped off what was a strong weekend by clinching overall honours in the Jack Sears Trophy for the second time this season.
At the end of another action-packed weekend, Oliphant sits 12th in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship and second in the Jack Sears Trophy standings.
Tom Oliphant: “It has been a really good weekend! I’m pleased with how I drove and how we engineered the car - I’d say we did the best job we could have done. To come away as the top BMW driver, and rear-wheel-drive for that matter, is really positive and something we can build on.
“We came close to a podium in that second race but I couldn’t do anything about the move that Matt (Neal) pulled. I’d eaten into my tyres getting past Sam (Tordoff) but I didn’t see it coming. I’ll be the first to hold my hands up when there is a great overtake and that certainly was it.
“I think we could have had another podium in race three but once the rain came we were just a sitting duck. To keep it inside the top ten was an achievement, had it been a few more laps we may have been out of the points.
“We go to Knockhill next and I love it there, so it would be great to carry this momentum up to Scotland and see what we can achieve.”
The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship continues its 2019 campaign in the picturesque Scottish highlands, with Rounds 22, 23 & 24 taking place at Knockhill on September 14/15.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.