Airwaves Racing suffered cruelly at the hands of fate once again this weekend at round 8 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham Motor Speedway circuit. The Motorbase-run team who, coming into the weekend were leading the Independent teams and drivers’ Championships, and still very much in contention for the outright Championship have all but given up hope of clinching the overall honours.
Qualifying was a relative success for the team as Mat Jackson, who was running with both 27kg of success ballast on board and the additional 20kg applied by TOCA in the run up to the weekend, did well to secure a 9th place start on the grid. New team-mate Michael Caine could only manage 19th on his debut appearance and team-mate Liam Griffin failed to complete the session after heading into the gravel during the closing minutes.
Jackson got off to a great start in race 1, flying past Andrew Jordan into the first bend, where he then managed to take on Gordon Shedden into the chicane and move up into 7th. A mid-field melee behind the group ended in disaster for the Airwaves man as Jordan’s Vectra was shunted into Shedden sending the Scotsman straight into Jackson’s Airwaves Ford Focus, crushing the turbocharging and intercooling system and taking him out of the race. Team-mate Liam Griffin showed great promise throughout the race, making up eight places and finishing in a respectable 16th.
BTCC newcomer Michael Caine had managed to work his way up through the field from 19th, fully justifying his role within the Airwaves Racing squad, picking off Andy Neate in the Team Aon Focus before an incident resulted in the despatch of the safety car. Following the restart, Caine took advantage of a mistake by Tom Chilton to move into 10th, where he ended the race, delighting the Airwaves Racing team and fans alike, picking up a much deserved first Championship point in his debut race as well as the accolade of the highest placed Ford.
The final two races of the day didn’t see any improvement in luck for the three Airwaves Racing drivers. Jackson worked his way up and defended well against Jordan and Collard, making his way up into 12th place at one point before over ambitious move by Rob Austin in his NGTC Audi, cut right across the track impacting heavily with the number 7 Focus and popping the rear door open. Jackson continued gallantly before being black flagged and called into the pits. Hasty repairs made to the door, Jackson returned to the race to try and salvage a result but was cruelly denied the chance when the door opened again on the closing laps, forcing him into early retirement.
A problem with Caine’s turbo meant he was unable to keep up with the pack and avoid contact by Collard, causing damage to the rear wheel, forcing the Focus back further in the field until he was forced to retire on lap 10. A great start by Griffin saw him leading the Airwaves pack for a while and move up into 13th position, followed by a solid finish for the BTCC rookie.
The final race of the day fared slightly better for the Airwaves Racing team as the three ‘little red devils’ battled their way through the field and performed well, but it was a case of just too little too late, and despite Mat Jackson managing to make up an impressive seven places, he could only muster up a 13th place finish, outside the points. Michael Caine struggled with tyre wear throughout the race and held on well at the end after picking up a puncture to come in a respectable 20th, one place behind team-mate Liam Griffin in 19th and ahead of Championship leader Shedden.
Airwaves Racing will be in action again in two weeks’ time looking to put the horrors of the last two rounds behind them and continue the fight for the Independent Championships as the BTCC heads to the team’s home track of Brands Hatch for the penultimate round of the 2011 season, .
Airwaves Racing Team Manager Oly Collins said: “Well, another awful weekend for us, there’s not really much that I can say about it. On the plus side Michael [Caine] had a great first race in the BTCC and managed to score our only point of the weekend, also Liam [Griffin] had a good race day, showed promise and managed to finish all three races. Unfortunately this weekend’s results have put an end to Mat’s [Jackson] outright Championship challenge.”
Airwaves Racing driver Mat Jackson said: “I really didn’t think things could get any worse after Knockhill, but this weekend proved me wrong. Even coming here we still had a chance of salvaging our challenge for the title and I just can’t believe we’ve had such a shocker again, it’s just is the way things are going at the moment. We’ve just got to knuckle down, focus and work hard as a team to finish as high up as we can. This is the way it goes sometimes in motorsport, but we never give up.”
Airwaves Racing driver Liam Griffin said: “Apart from my little excursion during qualifying, I’m relatively happy with this weekend. I had three good solid races and finishes and enjoyed a few good battles out on the track and I feel as if I’ve made a step forward this weekend. I’m just gutted for Mat and the team that the weekend didn’t go better for them and the Championship.”
Airwaves Racing driver Michael Caine said: “What an experience! It was fantastic; everything I expected it to be out there and just as tough as it looks! I picked up a few bumps and bruises on the way, which is to be expected in the BTCC and unfortunately we had a couple of problems with the turbo in races 2 and 3, but the Motorbase boys gave me a great car and I’m delighted to have been out there racing, let alone to have scored a point in my first race. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to get back out at Brands Hatch and we can come back stronger with a better weekend’s results.”