Britain’s premier motor racing series, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) was back with a bang at Oulton Park last weekend (7/8 June) after a five week break.
From the high speed Thruxton to the leafy, undulating Oulton Park situated in Cheshire, tens of thousands lined the banks at the circuit and hundreds of thousands more tuned into ITV4 to witness a great weekend of racing and action.
After the lengthy break, Jack Clarke was eager to get back behind the wheel of the distinctive Crabbie’s Racing Ford Focus ST; the Surrey youngster considers Oulton Park to be one of his favourite circuits, with fast flowing corners, tight hairpins and chicanes. Clarke has positive memories of the Cheshire venue having taken victory on his last visit back in 2008, when he raced in the Formula Palmer Audi single-seater championship.
The first day saw the BTCC drivers undertake two 40 minute Free Practice sessions in greasy, damp conditions. In FP1 the 26-year-old revelled in the conditions and found the car very much to his liking, ending the session in a credible 17th out of the 31 contenders and hot on the heels of his more experienced team-mates. FP2 started off brilliantly as Jack comfortably sat in the top 15, a position he held until the end of the session despite a visit to the gravel trap.
In qualifying the Effingham based driver was caught out by the damp but drying circuit. Clarke caught a puddle under the trees, locked up and ended up in the barriers. At the time he had been sitting in 15th but while others improved on the last stages of the drying track he was not able to complete his lap and saw himself sink down to 22nd. The accident was quite an impact and it ended the session. Jack came out unscathed but the car needed some work in preparation for the following day’s races.
Sunday, and the conditions changed dramatically. The glorious sunshine warmed both the tarmac and the 40,000 plus crowd for an exciting day of racing.
In the first race, starting in 22nd, Clarke propelled the Motorbase-run Crabbie’s Ford Focus off the line, gaining a few positions on the opening lap. The young gun soon found his groove as the education ‘elbows-out’ style of touring car racing continued. Clarke kept his mature-head while others faulted and finished in a respectable 20th position. A good start to the day.
The second race saw Jack fly around the 2.69 mile circuit in the top 20 for the entire race eventually netting 19th as the chequered flag dropped. Jack enjoyed a good scrap with the highly rated Adam Morgan despite struggling with brake issues throughout the race. He was happy with his race pace, setting respectable times, those akin to 2013 BTCC Champion, Andrew Jordan.
The final race of the day was an incident filled one. The heavens opened and heavy torrential rain fell on the picturesque circuit. Stalling off the line was a big disappointment for Clarke, but undeterred, The Crabbie’s Racing driver pushed on eager to make up for lost time. A first corner incident involving four cars, which brought out a safety car, allowed Jack to get close to the pack in front. A good restart and a clean move on Lea Wood saw Jack finish in 18th. Naturally disappointed after the shunt on Saturday and stall on Sunday the BTCC newcomer does however keep his 100% finishing record as his education continues in the most competitive championship in the country.
As the crowds filtered out of the circuit, Jack spoke about the big gig in the park…
“We were really optimistic coming into Saturday and showed a turn of pace in both free practice sessions and we were really quick in the wet and drying conditions. It was a missed opportunity in qualifying, I made a simple mistake and that puts the rest of weekend on the back-foot.
“The low starting position and the International layout of the circuit meant it was slightly more difficult to overtake and we could only move forward gradually each race, which was quite frustrating and I feel quite flat as points could have been on the cards this weekend.
“The story of the season so far is that we are making progress. I am knocking on the door of finishing in the points paying positions and will continue to push forward when we visit Croft later this month.”
Jack Clarke and Crabbie’s Racing head to Croft in the North East of England for rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (28/29 June).