Toyota’s independent Avensis racer Frank Wrathall scored his maiden podium finish of the BTCC season yesterday afternoon at Thruxton, his third place - and Independents Trophy win - in the final race capping a superbly successful day for the Dynojet Racing driver.
Frank had earlier claimed personal-best results for his 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season, finishing fifth in race one and going one better to take fourth in race two. But the Lancashire man saved the best for last, holding at bay double BTCC title winner Jason Plato for the last six laps of the Thruxton finale.
There were race finishes also at Thruxton for Speedworks Motorsport Toyota driver Tony Hughes, as well as a series of disappointments for Avensis driver Adam Morgan, whose hard work and promising drives brought scant reward.
Wrathall kicked off his top-scoring weekend with an excellent third in Saturday’s qualifying, and converted that to a solid fifth in the drenching wet of today’s first race. Frank’s Dynojet Racing Avensis survived the conditions in fine style while other fancied runners fell by the wayside.
He completed the opening lap in third before losing places to Rob Collard (BMW) and Plato (MG). “Everything was difficult about that race,” said Frank, 25. “Visibility was terrible: even one car ahead created so much spray that you could see nothing. It’s just nice to come home in one piece.”
Wrathall was denied a chance to repass Collard because the race was halted early for crash debris to be cleared. “I’m not too disappointed,” he added. “Collard was struggling ahead of me and I think I would have got the better of him, but at the same time Gordon Shedden’s Honda was coming up fast behind and might have passed me, so I think fifth is where we would have ended up. We struggled yesterday in the wet, so I am made up to finish fifth; it shows how much progress we have made with the wet set-up.”
Wrathall went one better in Thruxton race two, coming home a fighting fourth to set another personal best for the BTCC season so far. Still streaming wet, the Hampshire circuit continued to present traction problems for the whole field and the race was started behind the Safety Car.
Wrathall lost a place to Shedden on the opening lap but bounced back to fifth past Collard on lap six, setting the scene for a multi-lap battle with Dave Newsham. Three laps from the end Frank was able to overhaul the Vauxhall driver for fourth and then closed on to the tail of Mat Jackson’s Ford, trying hard on the final lap to claim a podium slot. “It took a couple of laps for the Toyota to come on,” said Frank, “but once it did it was absolutely flying. I loved every minute of that race. It’s just a shame I didn’t have a little bit longer to mount a proper attack on Mat.”
Frank rewarded his growing army of fans with a virtuoso third-race display, the Dynojet Racing Toyota driver battling through the spray to claim third and victory in the Independents class. Frank made a brilliant start from sixth on the grid and his Avensis took up fourth place in the early stages; he then pressured Honda driver Tony Gilham into an error on lap six to move into third.
“Then I could see the headlights coming up behind me, and saw from the pit boards that it was Jason Plato,” said Frank. “Obviously you then have that on your mind; he’s quick, first of all, and he doesn’t mess about when making manoeuvres. I was really struggling at the end of the race with the tyres and he was edging closer to me. But there was no way he was coming past: I made sure that he wasn’t coming through.”
Added Frank: “I’m just absolutely delighted for everyone, the team and all the sponsors and especially my dad. We’ve come through a tough time and to end up on the podium is fantastic.”
Wrathall’s haul of points from the Thruxton weekend promote him to 10th overall in the drivers championship and seventh among the Independents Trophy contenders. Dynojet Racing is now seventh in the teams division.
BTCC rookie Morgan endured a tough weekend. After shining in the wet conditions of Saturday’s free practice sessions to set times well inside the top 10, the Ginetta-backed Toyota driver was caught out by the changing conditions in a qualifying session punctuated by others’ accidents and lined up a slightly disappointed 14th on the grid.
His first race was blighted by the streaming wet conditions and an overheating problem, and race two was marred for him by electronics problems which robbed him of any meaningful power and which required two pit visits to sort; Adam continued to the flag but was four laps in arrears and unclassified.
In race three, everything went perfectly - until the last half of the final lap. Morgan started from 20th on the grid and set off at a storming pace; by lap two he was up to 13th and had made the top 10 by lap 10. Disaster struck almost within sight of the chequered flag six laps later, when Morgan’s Avensis, by now ninth, ground to a halt with low fuel pressure.
“It’s just one of those things,” said a philosophical Adam, who might well have finished as high as seventh had the gremlins not intervened. “I got up ninth, which I think shows that we can race with the pack; hopefully we have proved that point. With a bit more luck we will be all right.Bad things happen in threes, and we’ve had three pretty dismal rounds, so here’s hoping for better to come.”
Tony Hughes and his Hughes Safety Showers Avensis was not classified in race one after losing time in the pits following a lap-one off. He placed 19th and 16th respectively in the ensuing races. “The weather conditions have been so bad,” he said. “The Toyota drives well in them, in all fairness, but it’s a question of how far you dare take it. Go just a little too far and you are pirouetting across the grass, like I did in race one. I’m just pleased to have been still running at the end of all three today.”
Toyota’s independents now have the relative luxury of more than a month to regroup before the next BTCC rounds