BTC Norlin Racing got underway on Saturday morning at the Oulton Park, as they kicked off the first free practice session at the picturesque Cheshire Circuit.
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship has travelled north to Oulton Park for Rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the season, for another weekend of highly competitive racing, where drivers Chris and Dave are looking to build more momentum from the previous rounds at Thruxton.
At Thruxton, Carrickfergus based Smiley bagged his first ever BTCC point and Dave Newsham grabbed points in each race with respectable finishes in 15th, 13th and 12th which bolstered him to 5th place in the Independent Drivers’ Standings.
The first practice session of the day kicked off at 10am, with all 32 cars taking to the track. A fan of the track at Oulton, Dave was keen to get started.
“The surface had started getting greasy” said Newsham after a gradual increase of rain hit the circuit over the course of the morning.
“It’s looking like it will be a wet FP2, so this was really a session of bedding in tyres. By the time that was done, the track was getting wetter but we managed to get some good data from the session”.
Chris Smiley rounded off the first session in 17th with a best of 1:27.537 and Teammate Newsham was a hair behind in 19th with 1:27.561. Chris’ time was 1.002s behind Andrew Jordan’s BMW who left it late to put in his fastest lap which left Dave 1.026s off the pace.
Free Practice 2
During the interval, the team made the most of the available time by dissecting the data that they gathered at the morning session. There was an unexpected 35-minute delay to FP2 commencing which left 32 drivers itching to get underway.
A few laps into FP2 saw a dark cloud loom over Oulton Park and it wasn’t long until there were several rain showers and dark clouds.
With the conditions changing so abruptly it was very difficult for any driver to get the best out of their car, and most teams put their best times in, in their opening laps.
FP2 finished with Dave Newsham in 17th with a best of 1:37.998 which left him 0.947s Matt Neal’s Honda. Chris finished in 20th with 1:38.022.
As the final practice session of the day had been a wet affair, the now drying track was set to host qualifying under very different conditions.
Whilst on circuit, Chris developed an issue with his power steering, and returned to the pits for further investigation. It was identified that a hydraulic pipe had burst, and the team set about repairing it to get the car back out for the remainder of the session.
Unfortunately, because the car was brought back into the garage to repair, the team was unable to send the car out as the regulations state that once back in the garage, the car is officially retired from the session.
Meanwhile, Dave was struggling with the handling of the car, with a few changes made to try and address the problem. He continued to push hard, and after the session had been completed it was discovered that the damper had broken.
With almost 25 minutes completed Matt Simpson’s Honda Civic came off the circuit at Druids Corner and clipped a barrier so the red flag was brought out leaving 4 minutes and 35 seconds remaining of the session.
Shortly after, the green flag was waved and the cars started making their way back to the track. It took one minute for the cars to get back out, which impacted the crucial time remaining.
Unfortunately, moments later the yellow flag was waved which meant that both drivers did not progress any further and Dave and Chris finished 29th and 30th respectively.
After qualifying, some times were disallowed, meaning that Dave will start race 1 from 28th and Chris will start 29th.
The team have been hard at work identifying and resolving the issues, and the cars are ready to go at 12:17 for race 1.
Speaking from the garage on Saturday evening, Team Manager Bert Taylor was disappointed with the outcome.
“Qualifying didn’t go to plan. We were looking good in FP1 and FP2, and the issues that occurred in the final session left us at the bottom of the sheet with all of the work left to be done in the races tomorrow.
“I must say a huge well done and thank you to the whole team, who have worked tirelessly to get the cars fixed and ready to race tomorrow. We are confident that we can make progress through the three races, so roll on 12pm!”
Photography: Jay Adair
Courtesy of BTC Racing