Tom came away from the Touring Cars’ annual trip north of the border with two points scoring drives in the latest rounds of the BTCC. Having been the fastest petrol car in qualifying he certainly had the pace for strong results, but incidents and accidents are common at the tight Scottish track and Tom drove well to avoid most, but not all of them ...Conditions were difficult in the first of the practice sessions on Saturday with a damp but drying track. Team Halfords worked on car set-up throughout the sessions and it paid off in qualifying. As at Oulton Park three weeks ago, Tom again ended up fastest of the petrol cars, setting 3rd fastest lap and beaten only by the diesel turbo SEATs.
Tom knew his efforts would still result in him having to line up on the grid in 9th place due to the six grid place penalty he had incurred for his mistake in the final race at Oulton.
He aimed to get as many of those places back as quickly as he could and a fantastic start certainly helped. Up to 7th by the end of the first lap, Tom’s progress was interrupted by the introduction of the safety car. At the re-start Matt Neal slipped off into a gravel trap to hand Tom 6th place, but it wasn’t to last. Tom’s Team Halfords team mate, Gordon Shedden was putting him under pressure and found a way past on lap six. Tom hadn’t given in and tried to come back at his team mate at the Hairpin. Shedden was on the outside and Tom got a better exit and drew alongside on the exit. Shedden tried to block Tom and pushed him onto the grass.
That wasn’t the end of Tom’s frustration as nine laps later Darren Turner tried an impossible move at Carlube Corner, smashing into the side of Tom’s Honda Civic. They both ran through the gravel, Tom managed to rejoin the race, but down in 11th place, Turner retired on the spot.
Tom recovered well and got another place back before the final lap to end the race in 10th place. It had been a great effort as after the race it was evident Tom’s steering had been bent in the impact with Turner and he had struggled with the handling for the last 12 laps.
The second race would again be tough. Starting in 10th place Tom didn’t get as good a start and lost a place to Steven Kane on the opening lap. At the Hairpin it got worse with Tom stuck on the outside, the inevitable contact resulted in him being pushed wide through the gravel and dropping down to 15th place. He recovered well, passing Kane’s BMW on the eighth lap, Jelley’s similar car on the ninth and Jordan’s Honda Integra one lap later. Now 12th Tom started to chase down Matt Neal in front and caught him with five laps to go. In a clever move at the Hairpin he followed Neal past Adam Jones’ SEAT to claim 11th place right at the end.
After the race Tom was disappointed with himself at having been stuck out on the outside and losing places early in the race;
“I shouldn’t have put myself there – you are always going to be vulnerable, but I got a great exit onto the straight before the Hairpin and thought I had enough of an advantage to pull it off. I didn’t though and I paid the price.”
The final race of the day featured the reverse grid, but only the top nine finishers from the second race would benefit so Tom lined his Honda up on the fifth row in 11th place. After some confusion with the start lights Tom held his position off the line and for the first few laps was battling Plato in the diesel turbo SEAT. Tom’s cause was helped when Plato collided with another car coming out of the hairpin, handing Tom 9th place in the process. Following a brief safety car period Tom closed in on the group of cars in front and on the 21st lap benefited from a collision between his team mate and a couple of other cars. He did well to avoid the drama and slipped through into 6th place. He held on to the position despite suffering from increasingly bad understeer and just held off Matt Neal on the final lap to take a 6th place finish.
“Things went my way in that one for a change,” he commented after the race. “I could easily have been caught up and tagged in a number of incidents but luckily I managed to avoid them all. I really struggled with understeer though compared with the earlier races and I had to defend from Matt on the last two laps. It’s quite difficult to gain places here at Knockhill so I’m pleased to have got 6th place after starting down in 11th.”
Now Tom and the Team Halfords crew will look forward to the next rounds at Silverstone in two weeks time.