Airwaves Racing ended the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season on a low (October 16) after suffering another run of disastrous luck during the season finale that ended their chances of claiming the outright title.Despite leading the Championship earlier this year and being the only Independent team to consistently challenge the manufacturer backed Honda and Chevrolet teams; the Motorbase-run outfit had an uphill battle to try and make up the points lost in recent rounds and did a remarkable job in salvaging a fourth place finish in the overall standings.The weekend looked promising for Airwaves Racing team with Mat Jackson setting an impressive pace in his #7 Ford Focus ST to claim second position during Saturday’s qualifying session. Team-mate Liam Griffin and new recruit James Thompson had relative success considering the challenging circumstances, managing to secure 18th and 15th places respectively for the first of Sunday’s three races.Jackson pushed Championship leader and new title holder Matt Neal throughout the first race of the day, challenging the Honda until with just two laps to go, he hit the curb hard coming into Copse, puncturing the front right tyre on the Focus and forcing him into the pit for what would set the tone for the day’s remaining races. Races two and three didn’t fare any better for the Airwaves man as contact in the opening lap of race two damaged his #7 Ford Focus’ front right wheel, causing yet another puncture. A lightning pit stop and tyre change by the Airwaves crew saw the team reset the car’s damaged steering, allowing Jackson re-join the race and set an impressive fastest lap for the second time of the day on worn tyres.
As has been seen on numerous occasions throughout this season, Jackson put on an outstanding display of racing ability in the final race of the day, working his way up from 26th position on the grid into 11th where he chased down the Triple 8 Vectra of James Nash. The Airwaves man clearly out-manoeuvred Nash as both cars headed through the Luffield complex to take 10th, before Nash recklessly retaliated, shunting Jackson twice, causing damage to the Ford Focus and almost sending Jackson off the track, for which the Vectra driver picked up a drive through penalty punishment.
Unfortunately for Jackson and the Airwaves Team it was once again a case of too little too late as another forced pit-stop for emergency repairs to the damaged Focus meant 10th place was lost as Jackson re-joined the race but could only muster a 21st place finish.
By contrast, team-mate and BTCC rookie, Liam Griffin had an amazing weekend of results to end his debut season on a high. A recent change in driving technique and a growing confidence in the Mountune-powered Focus paid dividends for the Hertfordshire-based driver who produced his most successful and consistent weekend to date; not only achieving the accolade of being the highest placed Airwaves Racing driver in all three races, but by managing to hold off a number of BTCC old school names during the second race of the day and challenging the likes James Nash and Andy Neate to achieve 15th, 14th and 13th place finishes in each of the days three races.
A challenging weekend for the third Airwaves Racing Focus with twice-crowned BTCC champion James Thompson at the wheel was marred by unfortunate and unavoidable mechanical failures that did little to help the team to support Jackson’s title challenge. A suspension issue on the opening straight in race 1 forced Thompson to retire. A promising charge through the field in the first half of the second race saw the Yorkshireman work his way up from 27th into 16th place before he picked up a puncture on the 21st lap, once again forcing him to the back of the pack as he re-joined the race. Unbelievably a brake issue as the #6 Focus was heading out of the garage for the start of the last race of the season set the team back even further. After an extraordinary effort by the Airwaves team under ever-increasing pressure, Thompson managed to join the race, albeit a little late, where despite a drive through penalty, he managed to set fastest lap twice; with an incredible time of 59.971seconds and an 18th place finish.
As disappointing as the weekend’s results were for the Airwaves Racing team; news of British Motor racing star Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident in Las Vegas on Sunday evening put the weekend’s events into perspective for all involved. To see such a talent come to an end at the peak of his career and such a young age is shocking and everyone at Airwaves Racing and Motorbase Performance wish to extend their condolences to Dan’s family, friends and colleagues.Airwaves Racing Team Manager Oly Collins said:“This weekend was not the way we planned to end the season. We threw our all at it, unfortunately it was in vain and the day ended on a rather low note for what has been a successful season. Great thanks to all involved at Airwaves Racing and Motorbase; from the staff, sponsors, drivers, supporters and everyone involved in the team for all their efforts this year. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result that we deserved.“I’m very pleased for Liam [Griffin] who ended the season on a high with three fantastic performances, showing that at the end of his first full season he can race with the best of them.Obviously, absolutely gutted for Mat [Jackson] and the rest of the team for what could have been. After the highs of leading the outright championship going into Knockhill, it’s a hard pill to swallow.” Airwaves Racing driver Mat Jackson said:
“The Airwaves team did a mega job with the Focus which was awesome all weekend; it was easily the best quality car that we’ve had all season and set a great race pace, unfortunately I just pushed it too hard on the curb in race one and that mistake set the tone and triggered a dog fight for us for the rest of the day.
“We’re obviously gutted to have come away without a trophy this weekend, but the season just hasn’t gone our way since Knockhill. To finish in fourth place overall, narrowly missing out on the Independent title, and to be the top placed Ford after moving to a completely new car this season is still a huge achievement though, and one to be proud of.”Airwaves Racing driver James Thompson said:“Personally, I really enjoyed the weekend. It was fantastic to be back on the BTCC grid and to be mixing it up with all the personalities again. Obviously from a team point of view, I’m very disappointed that the Airwaves boys didn’t get the results they deserved but they’re a great bunch to work with and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.“I was really impressed with the level of professionalism within the team, especially with how they coped with the damage on race day, managing to turn the car around so quickly under such pressure. It’s a real testament to the skill and talent of the guys that they not only managed to get me back out for race three but give me the most competitive car on the track to set the fastest lap.”
Airwaves Racing driver Liam Griffin said:“It was great to finish on what was probably my best weekend of the season; better for the results to come late than never! I’ve finished the last ten races with consistent results, gained in confidence and car control which has built up over the last three weekends and shown in the results.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first season in the BTCC. The Motorbase team have been amazing to work with and I’ve learnt a huge amount from them and Mat [Jackson] and ended the season a better driver than when I started! Also, it’s quite nice to be able to say that I beat a twice-crowned BTCC champion in all three races!”