Tom Oliphant enjoyed a breakthrough meeting in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park this past weekend (28/29 April) as he secured a superb maiden top ten result as part of his first two points finishes in the series.
After narrowly missing out on a points finish during a promising BTCC debut three weeks ago at Brands Hatch, Oliphant’s impressive pace and racecraft was rewarded with a best finish of ninth place during the second meeting of the season in Leicestershire.
The Philips automotive lighting backed racer was apprehensive ahead of the meeting after some difficult pre-season tests at Donington, but those doubts were dispelled as a strong performance during Saturday’s free practice sessions showed his potential for the remainder of the weekend.
In tricky wet conditions, Oliphant would post the ninth fastest time in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class during the second free practice session, and he headed into qualifying later that afternoon focused on finishing in the top ten of the timesheets once again.
Oliphant would go on to do exactly that as he out-qualified his experienced team-mate Adam Morgan with his fastest lap time of the day; a 1m 20.520s effort placing the Horizon Specialities and eJIGSAW supported driver a brilliant tenth fastest overall.
Over twenty thousand fans packed the banks of the world-famous Donington Park circuit come Sunday, with a weather change overnight meaning a dry circuit greeted Oliphant as headed to the grid for the opening race of the day in front of the live ITV4 television cameras.
It would unfortunately prove to be a tough start to the race for the Leamington Spa based driver as he ended a bruising opening lap down in seventeenth place, but he immediately steadied himself and started to make progress back up the order towards the top ten.
Oliphant would highlight his overtaking prowess as he picked his way through the midfield battles during a typically frenetic BTCC encounter, moving past no less than seven established championship race-winners as he climbed to a brilliant ninth position at the chequered flag.
Buoyed by that impressive drive, the 27 year old was in confident mood as he lined up eighth on the grid for the second race of the day, however his chances of a repeat performance would be hampered by him running the slower hard option Dunlop tyre for the race.
Initially moving up to seventh place on the opening lap, Oliphant put in a battling display to keep himself in the mix for a top ten finish throughout the sixteen lap encounter, with a twelfth place finish and more championship points being his reward at the finish.
With the better tyre compound underneath him for race three, the Cheshire-born racer had his sights firmly set on a return to the top ten; however his hopes would be dashed as he got caught up in a multi-car incident at the Old Hairpin on the opening lap.
With nowhere to go as cars braked heavily in-front of him to avoid spinning cars towards the head of the pack, Oliphant made contact to the rear of the car ahead, leaving him with heavy damage to the front of his Mercedes that led to a trip to the pitlane.
Swift repairs from the Ciceley Motorsport team during a safety car period ensured he was able to re-join the back of the field in 27th position, which provided him with the opportunity to produce another fantastic recovery drive through the field.
Moving into the top twenty in just four racing laps after the restart, Oliphant would eventually find himself battling for the final points paying position of fifteenth on the final lap, however unnecessary contact from another driver would send him spinning back to P22.
Despite the final race disappointment, the Marchand Watch Company brand ambassador comes away from the weekend in positive spirits as he looks ahead to the next three rounds of the season in three weeks’ time (19/20 May) around the fastest circuit in the UK, Thruxton.
Tom Oliphant: “I’m really pleased with this weekend. We’ve reached some massive milestones with our first top ten and points finishes, and I’ve been out there racing wheel-to-wheel with some of the best drivers in the championship which I’ve really enjoyed.
“I was apprehensive coming into the meeting as winter testing around here and the media day test hadn’t been my strongest, but we were quick from the off on Saturday which was great and we settled into a really good rhythm, which led to a great qualifying session.
“We got really unlucky on the first lap in the opening race, but I fought my way back up and it was certainly a tough but enjoyable race. The second one was a case of holding on with the hard tyre, and I was pleased to be one of the quickest on that compound.
“I knew starting twelfth for race three, with no weight and the medium tyre, that we had a great chance of a big result, so it was a real shame to not only get caught up in the first lap incident, but to also get fired off on the last lap after a good comeback.
“It’s been a great weekend nonetheless and I’m loving the BTCC. The racing is close, exciting and hard-fought, which is exactly what I wanted. It was never going to be easy, but we’ve got a quick car as my team-mates are proving, so I’m confident my time for a podium will come.
“Thruxton should suit the Mercedes, but it’s probably going to be the hardest track for me. I haven’t raced there since 2015 and it’s going to be a different challenge in a front-wheel drive car. We’ll see how it plays out though and if I can get a couple of points finishes then I’ll be happy.”
You can watch back from the three races from Brands Hatch on the ITV Sport website here: http://www.itv.com/btcc/races.
An interview with Oliphant by the BTCC’s official audio team Cre8media can also be listened to here: http://www.btcc.net/live-audio/.
The images are from Jakob Ebrey Photography.