Frank Wrathall and the Dynojet Racing team returned Toyota to the BTCC victory podium for the first time in nearly 20 years this afternoon at Brands Hatch, the independent Avensis driver claiming an emotional and popular maiden win in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship in the final race of the season.
It was a masterly performance in treacherously wet conditions by the 26-year-old Lancashire driver, who started from second on the grid and took over in front on lap four when the Ford of early leader Mat Jackson struck trouble. Wrathall pulled out a useful lead over the pursuing Hondas of Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Andy Jordan and romped home to win by nearly seven seconds by the end of the 15-lap sprint.
Wrathall said he knew he was driving a potential winner as early as the first corner, the notorious Paddock Hill Bend. “I got too much wheelspin off the start and moved sideways instead of forward. That allowed Jason Plato to pass me on the inside, so I just stuck to the outside line through Paddock and the car felt great and I went straight back past him. It was at that point that I thought ‘we could be all right here…’
“Getting my first win is such a relief, and it’s great for the Dynojet team, to whom I owe everything. They deserve all the praise: they have done an incredible job and all day they have been improving the Toyota to the point where it was the best car out there. Everyone has worked so hard and we’ve had far too many disappointments this year, so this is a great end to the season.”
Frank believes he had the pace to find a way past Jackson had Mat not suffered his throttle problem: “I was quite a lot quicker than him in several places. The Toyota felt like it was on rails, absolutely mega. The track was really slippery in several places and I was just concentrating on not making any mistakes, driving within myself. When Mat slowed down and I passed him for the lead all I could think was how much of the race was left, and here I was leading a touring car race for the first time…
“I was also thinking about everybody in the team. I knew what I was doing and I was pretty comfortable with things, but I reckoned that everyone in the pit garage must have been beside themselves.”
Wrathall’s victory not only cemented 10th place in the championship standings for him but also brought huge smiles to the faces of the members the Dynojet Racing team, led by Frank Wrathall Senior, who have toiled for two seasons to get to the top. The squad came into the BTCC at the start of 2011, developing the Avensis, the first of the ‘Next Generation Touring Car’ chassis, into a regular frontrunner.
Frank Senior paid tribute to his son and the team: “He didn’t do too bad, did he? I spent the race just counting it down; obviously it was at the back of my mind that the Hondas might come back at us. But we knew that we had the pace to run with them in the wet. The boys have done sterling work and our chief engineer, Charles Hodge, has chipped away at the settings all day and has done a great job.”
Wrathall laid the foundations of his memorable victory with a superb performance in the second race of the day at Brands Hatch, which he started from 21st on the grid after failing to finish race one thanks to a last-corner lunge from a rival. Frank battled through to sixth at the chequered flag in race two, which position earned him second on the grid in the reverse-grid draw.
The other Toyota drivers, Speedworks Motorsport pairing Adam Morgan and Tony Hughes, enjoyed mixed fortunes at Brands Hatch. Hughes maintained his position as the most consistent finisher among the Avensis drivers, collecting a hat-trick of top-20 results, the best of which was 15th in the finale to claim the final championship point on offer.
Morgan took 12th in race one, battling back from near the tail end after a first-lap mishap, but the rookie racer ended his season in a disappointing way in race two, when his Avensis was the target for the out-of-control MG of Andy Neate. Adam was punted into the barriers at speed and out of the meeting, and was lucky to escape injury.
In addition to his 10th place overall in the drivers championship, Wrathall ends 2012 in eighth place among the BTCC independent drivers. Dynojet claims fifth place in the independent teams trophy, one place ahead of Speedworks.
Prior to today, Toyota’s last BTCC winner was Julian Bailey, who finished on top at Knockhill in 1993 in his Carina.