Toyota’s three independent Avensis racers secured more Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship points today as the series reached the half-way stage with a dramatic trio of races at Croft.
Dynojet Racing’s Frank Wrathall secured the best result of the three with an impressive drive through the field in the second race of the weekend, while BTCC rookie Adam Morgan successfully clinched three race finishes in one weekend for the first time at the wheel of his Speedworks Motorsport-run Avensis. Adam’s team-mate for the weekend, BTCC race winner Paul O’Neill, battled back from technical problems to score on his one-off return to the series.
Qualifying on Saturday saw Frank snatch a fine fourth place on the grid, but his hopes of matching that with a strong race run were ended on the opening lap of race one when contact from the MG of Andy Neate caused damage to Wrathall’s car and cost him places; the problems caused by the clash would later play a part in his clipping a tyre stack at the chicane and being forced to retire.
In race two, Frank produced a strong drive to come through from 19th on the grid to finish eighth, which handed him a second-row start slot for race three thanks to the reverse grid draw. Although he lost places at the start of the finale, the Lancashire 25-year-old then fought his way up into a podium position. But after a mid-race Safety Car period he ran wide at Tower and dropped back with a mechanical issue; he finished 15th.
“We should really have had a top-five finish in the first race of the weekend,” said Frank, “but it was a good result in the second race to come through from 19th to inside the top 10. At the start of the final race the Toyota was superb, but I think something must have broken just before the Safety Car came out as it suddenly became really difficult to drive. I ran wide at Tower after the restart and lost places, and then it was just a case of holding on and bringing the car home.”
Wrathall maintains ninth in the overall championship standings and fifth place among the independent drivers.
Morgan produced his best qualifying performance to date to secure 11th on the grid, but lost places at the start of race one when forced to take avoiding action to miss Wrathall’s spinning machine. A further trip off track led to him pitting to allow the Speedworks team to remove debris from the front of his Toyota in order to ensure the engine didn’t overheat. He showed impressive speed after his stop to pick up 15th place and the final championship point.
Disappointment followed in race two when an early pit-stop to resolve a sticking throttle cost him two laps and finish 20th. The team elected to use the final race of the weekend as a test to evaluate some changes to the Ginetta and Ciceley-backed Avensis. The weekend drew to a positive conclusion with Adam taking the finish in 14th, scoring more championship points and securing a hat-trick of finishes from the final meeting before the summer break.
“It was a good way to end the weekend,” he said. “We had some problems earlier on in the day and from 20th on the grid we decided to use the race as a test and made some pretty radical changes to the car. It felt great early on until the tyres dropped off and I lost my pace, but the positive is that we have found something that worked and that we can now focus on in the summer break.”
Team-mate O’Neill, called into the Speedworks team to replace the absent Tony Hughes, qualified 18th having missed most of practice with a throttle issue, but a stunning start to race one saw him quickly running inside the top 10. A return of the throttle problem mid-way through led him to stop briefly on track before being able to resume; he crossed the line 17th. Another strong run saw Paul again move up into the top 10 in race two before a sheared bolt caused a gearbox issue, leaving him 22nd on the grid for the final race.
Eager to reward the team with a finish, Paul achieved his aim in the third race of the weekend by taking the chequered flag in 13th place as the best-placed of the three Toyota men.
“We had our problems this weekend but I told the boys I was going to get them a finish in race three and that’s what I did,” said Paul. “I could possibly have finished higher but I didn’t want to go taking a lunge at someone and risk damaging the car. The team did a great job and it felt really strong and to end the weekend as top Toyota in the final race is a good end. I enjoyed it.”
The Speedworks team will now aim to make use of information provided by Paul to improve its cars during the summer break.
“The feedback from Paul has tripled the information we have,” engineer Alan Mugglestone said. “Usually we have a rookie driver who is competing in a front-wheel drive touring car for the first time in Adam, and a driver in Tony who admits he is inexperienced, so to have someone with Paul’s experience in the car for the weekend has allowed us to make good progress.”
The next rounds of the BTCC will take place at Snetterton in Norfolk in mid-August.