A sensational drive in the second round of the Dunlop MSA Britsh Touring Car Championship at Rockingham saw Tom and the Special Tuning UK team collect their first piece of silverware, with an Independents win and an impressive fourth place overall to add further points to a solid start to the season.
Having shown good race pace and a top five finish in the season opener, Tom arrived at Rockingham Speedway with high hopes and full of confidence in the SEAT Leon.
Free Practice meant chassis set up work as Dunlop introduced their new Championship tyre at Rockingham. Although good progress was made in establishing a set up for the races, it still wasn’t clear how aggressive to go with the set up for qualifying. In the end a minor fuelling issue during the 30 minute qualifying session restricted the Lancashire driver to 14th place for the start of race one.
Certainly not disheartened, Tom headed in to the first of Sunday’s races confident in the car’s abilities. A damp track meant all the talk before the race was about tyre selection, but spotting that the track was drying out fast, Tom made the decision to start on slicks with most other teams opting for wets on the rear and slicks on the front. A good start saw Tom getting alongside Pinkney into the first corner before having to skillfully avoid a collision in front of him. But it was his inspired tyre choice that saw him cut through the field and right up into fourth place by lap eight having brilliantly got past Paul O’Neil, Andrew Jordan and Tom Onslow-Cole in the space of just three laps. A great battle then ensued between Tom and O’Neil but some very composed driving saw Tom open up a sizeable gap on the Widnes driver and he completed a brilliant drive to take the Independents class win and score good points in the overall title race.
Speaking after the first race Tom said: “I’m over the moon. The car had some issues in qualifying so to get that result was really satisfying.”
Frustratingly for Tom and the team, the 18kg weight handicap added to the SEAT Leon as a result of his top five finish in the first race saw him struggling for pace and losing three places in the first lap of the second race. Despite some fantastic scraps with Onslow-Cole in the Ford Focus and Gordon Sheddon in the Honda Civic, by mid-distance Tom had been muscled down into tenth place, and looked to be heading for a tenth place finish. But on the penultimate lap, after a lengthy battle with James Nash in the Vauxhall Vectra, Tom’s race came to an abrupt end when Nash tried to push the SEAT Leon wide in a reckless move that resulted in the two cars colliding and Tom nosing the car into the tyre wall, forcing him into retirement with suspension and bodywork damage.
After some incredible work by the teams mechanics to get the car on the grid just seconds before the start of the last race, Tom went on to make up two places on the first lap despite a power steering issue. During the next few laps Tom was soon able to make further progress, moving up to tenth place, before losing out after a good battle with Rob Collard. With the Club SEAT Leon able to maintain strong pace throughout the 16 laps Tom was able to claim the final Championship point by claiming tenth place.
After the race, Tom said: “I wish we could have had some more laps. With the cars all fighting in front of me I felt we could have got even more out of the race. We’ve had a mixed day but the car does show some real potential in the race. If we can get a bit more in qualifying we may be able to fight for the podium on a regular basis.”
The next race takes place at the world-famous Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in Kent on Sunday 2 May.
To view our gallery of the Rockingham race day click here.