Tom Oliphant made a great start to his 2020 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign at Donington Park this past weekend (August 1/2), taking a third podium finish of his blossoming BTCC career to date.
Finally back underway after the longest off-season on record due to the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s premier motorsport series took centre stage at the Leicestershire venue for the opening three rounds - albeit in the absence of spectators due to being run behind closed doors.
Scene of his maiden podium in the BTCC last year, the West Surrey Racing ace kicked off his weekend around the 1.9-mile circuit firmly on the pace across Saturday’s two free practice sessions.
The Team BMW driver carried his front-running form into qualifying later that afternoon, setting a best time of 1:09.309 in his BMW 330i M Sport to secure fifth on the grid for the opening encounter.
Lining up on the inside of the third row for the first of what proved to be three blockbuster BTCC races, the British Racing Drivers Club member fought his way into fourth off the start and ran untroubled for a majority of the race.
Following a safety car neutralisation mid-race, the 29-year-old lost out on the restart due to dirt on track at the chicane and dropped two spots to sixth, where he would remain until the chequered flag.
Carrying 30kgs extra ballast for race two, the Sports Alive-backed driver produced a superlative display to claim a third career BTCC podium. Charging into fourth off the start, Oliphant hounded the rear of Tom Ingram’s Toyota Corolla for a majority of the 19 laps.
Making his move for third at Coppice on the penultimate lap, the former Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion then set about closing down second place driver Rory Butcher, narrowly missing out on securing second place.
Starting the reverse grid race from tenth and ladened with 48kgs of success ballast, the manufacturer-backed ace delivered another credible performance to cross the line in ninth and clinch his third top ten finish of the day.
At the end of the opening weekend of the season, Oliphant sits sixth in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship.
Tom Oliphant: "It has been a really good weekend; to qualify inside the top five, score a podium, have three top ten finishes and come away with 32 points is a big success - it's the level of consistency I'm striving for all season.
“To qualify inside the top five really set up my Sunday and from there we were in the mix. I had some good battles in race one and it was a confidence boost to secure sixth. Then, to go onto grab a podium in race two and limit the damage in race three is the cherry on top.
“Credit has to go to everyone at West Surrey Racing and BMW because they haven’t missed a beat all weekend. The car has been amazing to drive and I’m feeling really confident moving forward in the coming weeks.
“Obviously it was great to get back racing but it was odd not doing so in front of the thousands of fantastic BTCC fans - hopefully we can welcome them trackside soon. We’ve got a quick turnaround so the focus immediately switches to Brands Hatch now.”
Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the 2020 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship takes place at Brands Hatch in just under one weeks’ time, on August 8/9.
Image from Jakob Ebrey Photography.