Last weekend at Croft brought a pole position and podiums galore as we travelled to the North East for rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The weekend started with Ash dominating both of the free practice sessions in the wet on Saturday morning before a wet and windy Qualifying on Saturday afternoon that lasted just nine minutes and would see 12 cars involved in a high-speed crash with 3 drivers being left with serious injuries. Luke Davenport went off on the fastest corner of the track that caused damage to his car which proceeded to drop its oil onto a very wet track, leaving the surface like an ice rink. The session was then red flagged and the decision was made by the officials not to restart it, following a lengthy period where two drivers were extricated from their cars and the mammoth task of clearing the debris took place. For the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing drivers, all four drivers qualified in the top ten, with Ash once again setting the overall fastest lap to take pole position. Unfortunately, Ash was also caught up in the incident and managed to drag his stricken Subaru Levorg back into the pits with heavy front and rear ended damage. Jason set the 7th quickest time with Josh 9th and James 10th. However the latter would each move up a spot following the demise of Aron Taylor-Smith from 6th on the grid after he was not able to race due to the extent of the damage to his car and the injuries received to himself.
The Team BMR mechanics pulled together and worked late into the night to make repairs to Ash’s car which was looking very unhealthy from the damage sustained.
With the lights out for Race 1 on Sunday Ash immediately held onto the lead with a perfect text book start in his Levorg with Jason also making a superb getaway and slotting into 6th before then running wide and onto the grass at Sunny. He scrambled to get the car back on track but unfortunately lost numerous places in the process dropping him back down the order to 25th place. Josh and James also made good clean starts as Josh held 8th and James dropped to 10th. The duo were separated by Rob Collard and all three capitalised on Jason’s error placing Josh 7th and James back in 9th by the end of the opening lap. There was then a further gain for both Josh and James along with Collard after passing a stricken Matt Neal who sustained damage at the rear of his Honda. Post race Josh received a verbal warning after clipping the back of the Neal’s car as he attempted to pass at The Complex. At the start of lap four, Collard finally found a way past Josh who immediately fought back for several laps taking the place back on lap eight as Jason picked his way back up the order to 20th. Josh Cook from 5th place also began to drop down the order with a problem on the same lap as Josh, James and Jason all benefitted from his demise placing the Subaru trio in 5th, 7th and 19th respectively as Ash defended heavily from the BMW of Double Champion Colin Turkington out in front. Lap ten would spell disaster with Josh being spun round at the hairpin and into the path of James with the cars making heavy contact forcing Josh to retire and limp back to the pits. James managed to stay out although tumbled down the order and retired on the following lap. Jason made up further places to a point scoring position of 15th. Ash remained out in front and drove a perfect and well controlled race managing to withstand the pressure from Turkington throughout his lights to flag victory, the 20th Team BMR win, with Jason having a number of great battles taking a very impressive 10th place on the line and gaining 6 championship points.
Race 2 would see Turkington get the better of Ash off the start line and take the lead with Ash running in 2nd before Turkington ran wide at Tower and skipped the chicane although still managing to retain his lead. Jason, James and Josh all got good starts before Josh then received further damage to the front of his Levorg on lap two forcing a visit to the pits for bonnet repairs, as Jason ran 9th and James 25th. Jason made another place past Jake Hill for 8th on lap five with Ash still hot on the heels of leader Turkington. Jason continued to show his good form and gained another two places up into 6th by lap eight with James up to 20th and Josh having re-joined the race and running 26th. By lap fourteen Ash was starting to struggle with his rear tyres and his lack of traction dropped him back from the leader Turkington and was now having to fight off the advances from Collard who was right on his tail. Turkington took the win with Ash taking a glorious 2nd. Jason endured a great battle taking his best finish of 2017 so far in 6th whilst James finished just out of the points in 16th with Josh bringing his very battered Subaru Levorg across the line to finish in 24th place.
The reverse grid draw for Race 3 saw the number 9 of Ollie Jackson being chosen by BTCC Series Director Alan Gow that placed Jason 4th and Ash 8th on the grid for the final race of the day. James and Josh would start in their race 2 finishing positions of 16th and 24th.
Jason got a great start off the line holding his 4th position as did Ash gaining two places in the process and up to 6th but there was further disappointment for James after being pushed out wide at turn one which sent him into the tyre stack. There was then contact between a number of cars at the chicane that brought a brief safety car period which thankfully allowed James to recover and re-join the track albeit at the back of the pack, with Josh benefitting taking 23rd spot. Out in front there was a coming together between the two Jackson’s with Mat taking the lead as Ollie dropped down the order placing Jason 3rd and Ash up to 4th as he also passed Andrew Jordan’s BMW. With Ash now running on the prime medium tyre and Jason on the hard, Ash made a move on his team mate at the hairpin and placed himself as the highest Subaru in 3rd, that soon became 2nd after a demon move around the outside of Rob Austin. Jason also tried the same move on Austin for several laps without success before finally passing him on the line as the checkered flag fell taking 3rd and his first podium of the season. Ash was gaining on race leader Mat Jackson and on the last lap at the Hairpin a move around the outside failed as Jackson forced him onto the grass to bring home his third podium trophy of the day and another 2nd place finish. Once again there was disappointment for Josh and James with Josh retiring to the pit lane at the flag and James bringing his car home after a solitary lap.
Although both Josh and James endured a tough weekend, they both showed great pace and race craft throughout, and if hadn’t been for the incidents they had been caught up in it could have been a whole different ball game and we are very proud of their achievements from the weekend and the great battles they endured whilst running at the sharp end of the grid. The icing on the cake was Jason being back on the podium with his 3rd place finish. The title ‘King of Croft’ has now been adopted by Ash with his outstanding performance and three podiums over the weekend.
A delighted Ash commented "Croft was a perfect weekend for me and a great step forward for the team, having us all inside the top ten in Qualifying.
“I went into Croft with a positive mindset, it has been my strongest track over the past few years and it was always going to suit our car. Saturday showed we found the sweet spot in the wet weather conditions topping every classification. Despite having a great day it didn't end how everyone would have wanted, we were unfortunately involved in the qualifying nightmare pile up. The team did a sterling job and worked late into the night to get the car ready for Sunday's action.
If someone offered me a win and two seconds Sunday morning I would have bitten their arm off for it! Race one was just about maximizing everything we had to secure as many points as possible considering we were on the option tyre. Race two however was always going to be a little harder with full success ballast and having two BMW's to contend with but I feel the first two races really showed how dialed in the car was. I was the odd one out regarding our tyre strategy in the team, this was a gamble, but a gamble that paid off in race three being able to have the upper hand on everyone on the option tyre with ballast. Race three was all about keeping our nose clean and making the most of the start, we were ever so close to getting another win but still another second topped the day off."
Jason commented “What a super super weekend for Team BMR, Ash had an absolute corker of a weekend, and I had my best results of the year.
“The mid-season break is going to be important for me as I need to work hard with the engineering team to find a solution to the chassis handling issues that I have. We made some progress in this area at the weekend bu”t I just can’t find the sweet spot at the moment.
"I'm confident that we will start the second half of the year in much better form and be challenging for the race wins. I'm motivated and digging deep.”
We left Croft 3rd in the Manufacturers/Constructors standings and 3rd in the Teams standings. Ash has climbed to 4th in the Drivers championship just 20 points behind leader Gordon Shedden, Jason currently sits in 15th. Josh remains 2nd in the Jack Sears Trophy standings.
We would like to pass on our best wishes to Luke Davenport, Jeff Smith and Aron Taylor-Smith for a speedy recovery our thoughts are with them all. We would also like to say a huge thank you to all the marshals and exceptional team of medical and technical extrication personnel who have had a very busy first half of the season, I’m sure you’ll all join us is praising them for the exceptional job they are doing, sometimes under very difficult circumstances.
We have now reached the half way point of the championship were we traditionally break for the summer and return for racing at Snetterton in Norfolk on the weekend of the 29th and 30th July for rounds 16, 17 and 19. We will keep you up to speed with any team news on our website www.teambmr.co.uk, our Facebook page @BMRRacingOfficial and our Twitter page @TeamBMRBTCC.
To learn more about the Subaru Levorg sport tourer, visit www.subaru.co.uk
Photos by Phil Laughton Photography