The first race weekend of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship certainly provided the level of excitement that was anticipated, with three action packed races at the Kent based Brands Hatch Indy.
Saturday’s qualifying proved slightly frustrating for the team, but confidence that progress could be made during Sunday’s three races was high. Chris Smiley and James Nash started race one 16th and 26th respectively, but they had their sights firmly on getting through pack and into the points.
Both Chris and James made great starts, completing the first lap in 9th and 19th, putting both cars into the points battle. Shortly after, the safety car was out, and the race was temporarily neutralised with Chris 8th and James 18th.
James raced his way into 14th, before contact with Senna Proctor dropped him back to 16th. Ending the race in 17th, having conceded a position to a charging Rob Collard.
Chris enjoyed some close racing with Adam Morgan, which eventually resulted in him losing the place. He defended his 9th position for 14 laps, until the 2017 BTCC Champion passed him on lap 24, leaving Chris to take the chequered flag in 9th, having regained a position from James Cole. Unfortunately, it was felt that Chris gained an unfair advantage in the tussle and was awarded 0.6 seconds to be added to his race time, leaving him classified in 10th position.
With James and Chris delivering some inspired driving during race one, race two was surely going to deliver more of the same. As the start of the race approached, it became clear that the time on the grid would be spent debating tyre selections.
Both of the BTC Norlin Racing Honda Civics would be starting the race on wets, whilst a brave few took the brave option to run the slick tyres.
Starting 10th and 17th, Chris and James set about improving on their race one results. James produced an impressive drive, getting himself into 7th, right behind his teammate!
As the team in the garage took a depth breath, it became apparent that the slick tyres were now switching on and lapping a lot quicker than those on wet tyres, causing James and others to tumble down the timing screen. Finishing the race in 14th and scoring his first points of the season.
Also picking his way through the grid, Chris made his way up to 6th place by lap 19 and was enjoying his battle. However, as with James, he was not able to maintain this position on the drying track and was overtaken by those who had started the race on slicks, crossing the line in 17th.
Despite the disappointing results from race two, the excitement of such great racing, meant that race three was the final chance of the day to make a mark on the start of the championship.
Starting race three in 14th, James was focused on scoring more points and charging towards the podium. He was 12th by the end of the first lap, when the safety car came out to allow the stricken BMW 1 Series of Rob Collard to be recovered.
Following the restart, James made further progress and was running in 10th, until contact with Senna Proctor ended his race with suspension damage.
Chris started race three in 17th, and by the end of the first lap had made up three places, putting him 14th before the safety car was dispatched. Once the safety car had pulled in, Chris got back to the business of moving forward, getting his Honda Civic Type R into 9th by lap 10, but lost the place to Ash Sutton.
Chris stayed 10th for much of the rest of the race, although a tussle with Josh Cook moved him back to 11th for a lap, before taking the place back on the following lap. Unfortunately losing a couple places at the end of the race, as Chris was forced to take avoiding action, he took the chequered flag in 16th place.
Whilst it felt as though the results didn’t reflect the achievements on the day, Chris felt there were more positives than negatives to be taken from the action.
“It’s unbelievable to finish in the top ten at the opening race of the season. This was my aim for the day and I’m delighted to have made up 6 positions.”
“The rest of the day was frustrating, running 6th for much of race two, until the track dried and we were caught on the wrong tyre. Race three looked as though P9 was possible, until I was caught up in someone else’s incident at Druids on the last lap, but that is touring car racing. I can’t wait to get to Donington Park in two and a half weeks, with the awesome guys and girls from BTC Norlin Racing.”
2018 saw the return of James Nash to the Championship, and whilst the results proved elusive this weekend, James was optimistic.
“For various reasons we were only able to do minimal running before this weekend and so today has been pretty much a very public test session for us. The race results have been disappointing of course but, the most important thing is that we’ve sorted the handling problem that had handicapped us through qualifying and the opening race. I’m confident now that we’ll do well at Donington Park.”
The winter season had been a busy one for the team who secured the purchase of the two Team Dynamics Honda Civics, as well as the addition of new sponsors
“As a minimum this weekend, we wanted to have both cars within the top 15 during the three races” said Team Manager Bert Taylor. “Whilst we didn’t really get the results that we wanted, we have seen that we are comfortable racing towards the front and have shown that we have the tools to get the job done this season.”
“We wanted to be leaving the circuit with a better haul of points, but are happy that we have understood the cars better and moved closer during each race to where we know we should be. We are now focusing on Donington Park, so expect more passion and determination than ever before from BTC Norlin Racing, we want more!”
Photography: Steve Hindle