Tech-Speed secures third podium at Rockingham

 The with Tech-Speed Motorsport team secured its third podium finish of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season on a strong weekend of racing at Rockingham, where the team also picked up its first Independent victory of the 2011 campaign.After a difficult weekend a fortnight earlier at Knockhill, the Rockingham weekend marked the best of the season for the Leamington Spa-based team, with Widnes-racer Paul O’Neill finishing inside the top seven in all three races and coming within a lap of taking a double podium.The weekend started well for Paul when he put his Chevrolet Cruze on the front row of the grid in qualifying, taking second on the times behind defending champion Jason Plato. A slightly slow getaway when the lights went out allowed Rob Austin’s Audi to get ahead on the long run round the oval to the turn two hairpin, although contact with the Audi further round the opening lap saw Paul move back into second place.Despite a mid-race Safety Car period, Paul held position throughout and – although unable to challenge Plato for victory – was comfortably clear of the fight for third behind. The second place finish matched his best result of the season and also saw the with Tech-Speed team take the Independents class victory for the first time this year; having finished second in class on three separate occasions.Running with extra ballast in his car for race two as a result, Paul held position through the first lap before dropping behind the Honda of Gordon Shedden on lap two. As the race wore on, the impact of the extra weight began to have more of an impact as tyre wear worked against him and Paul slipped down to seventh at the chequered flag.The reverse grid draw however saw Paul start race three from the second row of the grid and a good start saw him climb into third before a slide at turn two dropped him back to fifth place. Getting ahead of Jeff Smith’s Vauxhall on lap two, Paul set about finding a way ahead of the BMW of Rob Collard and eventually made a move stick at Chapman to put him once again into a podium position. However, Collard was able to reclaim the position on the final lap, although a fourth place finish for Paul – added to his earlier results – gave him his best points haul of the season to date and means he now sits ninth in the championship standings.“To be honest, 75% of the work was done on Saturday in qualifying as that set us up for race day,” he said. “At Knockhill, we knew we didn’t have the car to challenge and just had to grin and bear it, but we have come here and got the results; I’ve not had a weekend like this for a while.“I’ve never been a fan of reverse grids, although I know that in the past they have given a small team likes ours a chance – like last year with the Integra. However, with the Chevrolet being a car that has won the title, there is no hiding place and to go out there and get the job done by qualifying at the front and then taking a podium finish is fantastic for the team.“A bit of inexperience in running with the extra weight worked against me in race two as I pushed too hard, too early and the tyres went off, but seventh was a decent result. At the start of race three I went into the second corner a bit too hot and lost a few places but from there, it was a good fight with Rob and when I got ahead of him, I managed to pull away. However, he got the place back on the last lap and you could see his tyres had hit the sweet spot by the way he just drove up to the top two.“Overall, it’s been a great weekend and I’d say its been our best of the season because we did great job on both Saturday and Sunday and got the podium finish on both speed and merit. We’ve deserved the results we’ve collected.”Guernsey-based team-mate John George qualified 21st on the grid at the wheel of the sister car but enjoyed a solid run to 17th in the opening race of the weekend – setting lap-times comparable with Knockhill winner Tom Chilton in the process.However, an incident on the opening lap of race two – when he was squeezed by two rivals into the hairpin at Deene and then hit from behind, saw him forced to make an unscheduled trip to the pits, which dropped him off the lead lap.Having taken the chequered flag in 19th place, John followed it up with 22nd in race three as he picked up three finishes from the weekend to end a recent run of tough results.“The car had good pace this weekend but we didn’t get it quite right with the tyres in qualifying after the shower that arrived before hand,” he said. “I’d just put new tyres on when the red flag came out and then there were only three minutes left so I didn’t get the best out of them. Paul had put new tyres on a few minutes earlier and that was the perfect call, but its one of those things.“Race day was promising at the start and race one was good but then in race two I got squeezed into the hairpin and got turned round. There was some damage to the back of the car so I had to pit which was a shame and then in race three, I had really bad understeer from the start for some reason and it got worse as the race wore on and the tyres went away from me.“In all three races, I made a really good start off the line and it’s just a shame that I wasn’t able to get the results.”The results over the course of the weekend mean the with Tech-Speed team now sits eighth in the HiQ Teams Championship while the gap to big budget rivals Team Aon in the race for fifth place in the Independents’ standings has also come down ahead of the penultimate meeting of the year on the Brands Hatch GP circuit.“That was a much better weekend than in Scotland,” team boss Marvin Humphries said. “Paul’s performance in qualifying was excellent to put the car on the front row, and it made all the difference as track position is what its all about. The boys have worked really hard on the cars and in race one, it was really good to see Paul up on the podium for the third time this year.“We didn’t have the set-up quite right in race two and he wasn’t used to running with the extra weight and then in race three, he did the hard work to get ahead of Collard but then started to suffer with a bit of a traction issue and it meant Rob could come back at him. However, he finished the race ahead of Jason [Plato] which is a big positive and we’ll take the results we’ve gained.”