Championship lead for Hill
Championship lead for Hill

Kent’s Jake Hill leads the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship by a point after the opening weekend of the season.

Thruxton proved to be a happy hunting ground for Hill as he finished third in all three of Sunday’s races, with some impressive driving on show from the BRDC Superstar.

After being in the mix for Pole Position on a drying circuit, where he was set to go fastest with just seconds to go before being held up by Jason Plato at the final chicane, Hill’s MB Motorsport Ford Focus ST lined up 7th for the opening race, and after a chaotic opening lap he had worked his way into 3rd position as a Safety Car was called for an incident involving Shedden and Smiley.

At the re-start Hill edged away from Colin Turkington, who maintained pressure throughout, but Hill’s #24 machine crossed the line ahead of the BMW to take 3rd place,  his 10th career podium, and first Manufacturer Win for the team.

“Crazy opening lap – lost out to Ollie (Jackson) and Rory (Butcher) at the start, but got back past them both at the complex, then passed Colin (Turkington) later in the lap as the carnage erupted! The car was really good through the fast stuff, so I was able to manage the gap. Delighted for the team, and a fantastic start to the season.

Starting race two from 3rd now with 58kgs of success ballast on board, a superb start passing Ingram in a brave move at the complex was negated when the race was stopped after a spectacular incident involving Neate, Edwards and Geddie.

After over 30 minutes the race restarted, this time Hill losing out to Cammish and Butcher, but battling with the latter and Ingram on the opening lap, Butcher then losing control of his Toyota Corolla and slamming into the tyres at Noble, bringing out the Safety Car.

Restarting in 3rd behind the Hondas of Cammish and leader Cook, Hill comfortably pulled away from the chasing pack but wasn’t able to close down on the cars ahead, taking another 3rd place and again Manufacturer Victory for the team.

“I feel terrible for Rory – he’s a good mate – it just snapped on him and it’s so quick there it’s impossible to catch. After the Safety Car I got into a nice rhythm, and the car actually felt a bit better with the weight added, so that was positive! Another great result for all of us, thanks again to everyone for giving me a mega car.

The reverse grid draw saw Hill line up P9, but all the drivers facing the dilemma of whether to choose the blue tyre-walled Goodyear wet-weather tyre, or remain on the green tyre-walled hard compound slick Goodyear, as the drizzle began to fall just before the final 16 lap race of the day.

Ultimately Hill, Oliphant and Smiley all started on slicks, and the early laps massively favoured all the drivers on wet-weather tyres, Hill slithering down the order to P20 at the end of lap one, hanging on to a sideways car on cold, hard tyres.

The rain stayed as light drizzle, and gradually Hill and the other slick shod runners began to get heat in their tyres and edge back through the pack, moving up to 17th, then 12th by lap four, before  the grip stabilised and Hill sliced up to P4 as they started lap 8.

The following lap Hill caught and passed the BMW’s of Oliphant and Turkington, before getting a clean exit out of the final chicane and passing 2020 champion Ashley Sutton into Allard and incredibly to take the lead!

Hill now edged clear but was chased hard by Oliphant – who had a 5 second penalty for starting out of position – and it looked like the 27 year-old from Kent was on for a spectacular victory.

However with just three laps remaining the rain began to fall harder, and in a superb display of car control Hill managed to keep the Ford Focus ST ahead, until the penultimate lap when Sutton’s wet-weather tyres allowed him to edge past – not without a fight from Hill – and head on to Victory.

Half way around the final lap Hill was using every bit of skill possible to hang on, but Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden – both on wet-weather tyres caught him as they entered the final chicane, all three crossing the line together, with Plato taking P2 by a mere 0.070 seconds, and Hill just hanging on to P3 ahead of Shedden.

“That was just incredible! So unbelievably tough in the early laps just to stay on, with cold, hard compound slicks on a very greasy track – once they ‘switched on’ though I was getting more and more confident, and once I’d got past Ash (Sutton) I knew I could win if the rain didn’t get any harder. Of course the last couple of laps that’s exactly what happened, and I just couldn’t hold Ash back, and from there I was convinced I was going off at any point!

“It just rained that bit harder on the last lap and Jason (Plato) just had better traction to pip me at the line, but I am so proud of the team – and fantastic effort by everyone involved, I have had a mega car all weekend, thanks so much to everyone at MB Motorsport and Motorbase for making this possible.

“It’s incredible that we’ve taken all three manufacturer Wins, two fastest laps in the manufacturer championship and three podiums – plus my mate Sam (Osborne) won the Jack Sears Trophy, so overall we’re leading three championships. But on a personal level to be leaving Thruxton as BTCC Championship leader is so satisfying, thanks of course not only to the team but all of my fantastic partners who help make all this possible.”

The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship resumes at Snetterton in Norfolk on 12th & 13th June, with Hill now carrying the 75kgs success ballast that the championship leader takers into qualifying.

“That’s gonna be tough, but it’s a lovely problem to have! Hopefully it might be like this throughout the season but I’m under no illusions  how hard we’re going to have to work every weekend. But it’s a great start – the best possible start – and I’m full of confidence we’ll be strong at Snetterton too.”

Images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey