Belcher concludes debut season in BTCC

First year Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship racer Simon Belcher hailed his debut season in the UK’s biggest motor racing category his most enjoyable for a decade after concluding the 2014 finale on Sunday, 12th October, with a brace of top 20 finishes at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit.Even though the Swindon driver’s maiden campaign in the BTCC has been beset by misfortune on more than one occasion, the experience of being part of the all-action championship for the first time has left Belcher craving much more for 2015.After chalking-up a top 20 finish in the first race at Brands Hatch on Sunday, and only just missing out on another in race two, the KÄRCHER-backed driver added a season best-equaling 18th place in a rain-lashed finale to secure his fourth Independents Trophy points score of the season.Additionally, the Toyota Avensis driver impressively ended his maiden season in 11th position overall in the Jack Sears Trophy battle – a separate contest for Independents competitors based on their respective grid improvements in each race over the course of the year.“My first season in touring cars has been better, far better, than I ever thought the experience would be”, said Belcher, “It’s got me back to enjoying my racing and although there have been some frustrations, it’s still been fantastic. I haven’t enjoyed my racing like this for a long time – you’d have to go back to my early days in Legends about 10 years ago. “It’s onward and upward now for next year, I’d like to try and get some good testing done over the winter but raising the budget for that is always tough. Hopefully we will be able to get out there, though, and make sure we’re in real good shape for the start of next year.”Inclement weather over the weekend at Brands Hatch played a big role and Handy Motorsport driver Belcher showed a great turn of speed in wet conditions. On course for a slot on the eighth or ninth row of the grid late into the damp qualifying session on Saturday, 11th October, a gamble by several drivers to switch to slicks for the final few minutes worked against the Wiltshire racer.Beginning the dry opening race from 27th position on the grid, Belcher managed to slice his way through first corner chaos to rocket into the top 20. Grabbing another place before the Safety Car appeared, he then moved into 18th position when Alain Menu made a pit-stop. Belcher didn’t have the dry pace in his car to match those around him, though, and ultimately slipped back to 20th position.Round 29 was also impacted by Safety Car interventions, two during the first six laps, and as the encounter reached the midway point Belcher ran in 20th position. Edged down to 22nd place, he then moved back into 21st spot to just miss out on another top 20 finish.Despite the final race of the season not starting in an ideal manner, with Belcher tipped into a spin at Paddock Hill Bend, the wet and gloomy conditions for round 30 played to the Toyota Avensis driver’s strengths with his car working well.Making a good start from 20th position on the grid, as Belcher rounded he first corner he was unintentionally tapped sideways by newly crowned 2014 BTCC Champion Colin Turkington and so rejoined a long way down on the rest of the pack.Fortunately, the appearance of the Safety Car for an unrelated incident enabled Belcher to latch onto the back of the train and the Wiltshire racer made his way up the order into the top 20 by lap 10. Following another Safety Car period, he moved into 19th place and set about reeling in the cars ahead. Then, on the last lap, an excursion for Turkington enabled Belcher to move into 18th position.“We struggled more in the dry than the wet this weekend”, explained Belcher, “With four minutes to go in qualifying we were P17 but then people started to take the gamble on slicks which dropped me down the order. After that, we decided to use the dry races as test runs really so we made some big changes, some improved the car and some didn’t.“For race three, with the weather getting worse, we were more optimistic so we put the car back how it was for qualifying. I was confident we could move forward but [Colin] Turkington put me sideways. I was lucky with the Safety Car, that allowed me to get back with the pack, and I didn’t want the race to finish in the end as we were a second quicker than Luke Hines ahead.”He added: “We managed to equal our best finish of the season with 18th place in the last one, I’m not sure how many of those we’ve taken but it’s a fair collection! Finishing in 11th place in the Jack Sears Trophy is great, it shows we’ve been able to overtake and make up plenty of places this year so that’s a big positive to go into the winter with.”Final 2014 Dunlop MSA BTCC ‘Independents Trophy’ standings:24th Simon Belcher, 5ptsFinal 2014 Dunlop MSA BTCC ‘Independents Team Trophy’ standings:16th Handy Motorsport, 72pts