Tough weekend for Motorbase
Tough weekend for Motorbase

The return to the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship was a tough one for Wrotham based Motorbase Performance at their home race, as their efforts went unrewarded.

On track incidents marred what could have been an impressive start to the season for the Shredded Wheat Racing outfit, the new Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher line-up made a strong start to the weekend with the new Focus RS posting promising times during Saturday’s free practice and qualifying sessions, resulting in a fourth row start with Chilton in P7 for race 1. Cole ended the session in a solid P14 – albeit just 0.341s off pole position – showing the exceptional competitiveness of the grid this year.

Sunday’s opening race delivered a decent haul of points to get the campaign off the ground. Both drivers got a great start off the line with Chilton stealing into P5 as the pack headed through Druids. Likewise Cole showed true grit, piloting the #20 Focus RS up into P7 by the end of the opening lap before an early safety car appearance. An excellent battle ensued following the restart with the duo trading places with Ingram and Cammish as the pack wrestled for 4th spot. Unfortunately Cole eventually succumbed to Sutton’s fast-charging Subaru and Smiley’s Honda in the closing laps to end the race in P9, with Chilton managing to hold on to take P5 at the flag.

Tricky racing conditions on a wet and greasy, but drying track saw the grid a mix of wet and slick tyres for race 2. Opting for the Dunlop Blue Response wets, Chilton and Cole both charged off the line moving up into P4 and P9 by the first corner. A brave challenge on Goff by Chilton as the pair headed into Paddock Hill Bend paid-off for the Gallagher-backed racer and a first podium of the season looked to be on the cards as he held position until the half way point.

A drying track, coupled with the added safety laps however, soon put paid to the pair’s hard work as the slick tyres came into the play and the both quickly dropped down the order. With tyre degradation so severe, Chilton was forced to pit late in the race to avoid a puncture and despite his best efforts, could only muster a P28 finish with team-mate Cole taking P19.

The final race of the day unfortunately followed suit for the Motorbase-run squad. Early pace shown by both drivers was short-lived with Cole taken out of the running with race-ending damage to the front of the #20 Focus RS. Chilton’s gallant efforts to move up through the order to P21 proved fruitless when a heavy rear-end shunt forced the #3 Focus to pit for repairs to a back-right puncture and the Surrey-based driver ended the race in P27.

It looked to be a dream return to the BTCC grid for Sam Tordoff on Saturday with a front row start for the opening race of the 2018. Setting a promising pace during the morning’s free practice sessions, the Yorkshireman stamped on his mark the title bid with a 48.131 second lap on the Indy circuit during qualifying to take P2 – just 0.093s off pole position.

Making the call to switch from the soft-option Dunlop’s to the Blue Response wet tyre as the cars lined up on the grid for the start of race 1, the risky strategy didn’t deliver the hoped-for results. Unavoidable contact on the opening lap sadly forced Tordoff onto the wet grass with damage to the Focus resulting in a puncture. The #600 Focus managed to re-join the race at the back of the grid, albeit briefly, before a second puncture forced return to the pits. With the two unscheduled pit-stops ruling him out of the running, he eventually crossed the line in P26.

With a damp and greasy, but drying track for race 2 the grid was a mix of slick and wet tyres and the team opted to run on the Blue Response wets again. A strong start saw the #600 Focus RS charge through to P20 on the opening lap before an early safety car appearance stalled proceedings. Tyre choice looked sure to see Tordoff challenging for a reversed grid draw place in race 3 as the laps unfolded, with the GardX-backed focus running as high as 12th by lap 17. Regrettably a combination of the added laps and drying track conditions played to the characteristics of the slick tyre, and the wet tyre runners quickly dropped down the order in the closing laps, and he ended the race in P18.

The final race of the day proved more fruitful with Tordoff picking up his only points from the opening weekend. Piloting the #600 Focus RS through the manufacturer-packed midfield, the Leeds-based driver managed to avoid any major on-track incidents to claim P13 at the flag, opening his points-scoring account for the season.

Although the weekend failed to deliver on a promising start, Team GardX Racing with Motorbase heads to Leicestershire’s Donington Park circuit in three weeks’ time confident in the race-winning pace of the Focus RS and with more all-important new learnings of the new charge.

Speaking after the weekend, Tordoff said: “This weekend was just a shame really. I’ve never worked so hard on a BTCC weekend and got so little from it.

“We were consistently fast, but sadly it’s just not happened for us. We made the wrong tyre choice in race 1 and that ended up biting us and then races 2 and 3 just didn’t go our way. We deserved to finish a lot higher up the order. We’ve just not had that right bit of luck on our side and this track is chaos when you are three quarters of the way down the grid!

“We’ll keep our heads up though. There are 27 races still to go and the positives are that we’re super-fast heading to Donington, and with zero weight on-board.”

Images courtesy of PSP Images