Will Bratt impressed at Oulton Park over the weekend, 9th/10th June, by taking a pair of hard-earned points finishes on his first ever appearance in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Only getting the call-up to race the Rob Austin Racing-run Audi A4 one day before the event, his experience heading into the weekend was virtually nil but the 2009 Euroseries 3000 Champion did an excellent job.
Securing a best finish of eighth during the first of the weekend’s three action-packed races, the 24-year-old from Banbury bounced back from an unfortunate retirement in race two – while running eighth again – to finish on the cusp of the top 10 in the third encounter.
“This is such a different thing for me, it’s like getting a football player to go and play rugby”, said Will, “I didn’t want to get wiped out at the first corner in the first race so I took it steady to begin with, especially as I’d only had eight laps in the dry before then, and just built-up from there.”
The Oxon driver’s first competitive experience of the rear-wheel drive Audi came during the rain-affected practice sessions on Saturday where he did a great job to end the first outing just 0.046 seconds shy of the top 10 in 11th place. In the damp-but-drying second session, he was once again comfortably in the mid-pack with the 12th fastest time.
For qualifying the track had dried sufficiently for slick tyres to be the only choice but the car’s potential pace was badly compromised by a snapped front roll-bar and he ended the 30-minute session with a best of 1m28.850 seconds (90.19mph) leaving him an unexpected 18th on the grid for his maiden BTCC race.
Post-race analysis of the data by the team suggested the problem lost Will at least a second, costing him a certain top 10 and potential top six. “I was a bit relieved after qualy as I thought the result was down to me, I had wheel spin on corner exits and the car felt really strange”, explained Will.
In race one on Sunday, under bright skies, he progressed nicely up the order to be 10th on the penultimate lap. During the final tour, he pressurised the BMW of Nick Foster and Toyota of Adam Morgan and when both clashed at the hairpin, Will nipped through to take an excellent eighth place in his first BTCC race.
Lining-up eighth for race two thanks to his earlier result, Will’s involvement in the second encounter only lasted to lap three when he clipped the edge of a tyre stack at the exit of Hislops, while in a four car battle for fifth, leading to broken steering and instant retirement. “I thought I needed to be a bit tighter to the tyres”, said Will, “Unfortunately I miss-judged it slightly and it broke a clevis.”
Determined to make amends in race three, despite having to start on the last row of the grid in 21st position after his non-finish in race two, he made a good getaway but contact from Morgan’s Toyota at Cascades dropped Will to last place.
Working his way through the order, and following two Safety Car periods, Will held 13th place but three laps from the finish his Audi was again assaulted by the Toyota of Morgan at the exit of the hairpin. Thankfully able to continue with just cosmetic bodywork damage, Will gained two positions on the final lap to take 11th at the finish.
“It’s annoying as a few unlucky things put us back over the weekend, it’s all a bit frustrating as I really feel we could have had a podium out of our first weekend in the BTCC if things had gone our way”, said Will.
“First we had the roll-bar go in qualifying, then I caught the tyre stack in race two and I was hit twice in race three. It’s been a good experience though, something very different but good fun and it’ll be great to do it again.”