Bobby T chats about the highs and lows of the 2018 BTCC circuit
Read and find out Bobby Thompson's thoughts as he sums up his first year as a Rio race car driver in the British Touring Car Championships
2018 ‘the most incredible year’ says BTCC rookie Thompson.
With the dust having settled on the record-breaking 60th anniversary 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, Bobby Thompson is determined to return to the grid in 2019 after ‘the most incredible year of my life’ in Britain’s premier race series.
And while the results sheets will show just a trio of point scoring finishes from the packed ten round, 30 race schedule in his debut year, the bare bones of the results sheets don’t do justice to many of the performances put in by the 22 year-old Hornchurch based driver and his #19 Team HARD with Trade Price Cars team.
“It goes without saying that my debut BTCC season has been a tough one, even tougher than we thought it would be even though we were under no illusions about the size of the challenge we faced at the start of the year,” says Thompson, whose electrifying drive from 28th to 7th in race three at Rockingham was the best of a number of charging drives put in by the 2017 VW Cup Series Champion. “But even though we had more downs than ups it was just an incredible honour to be part of the BTCC grid this year and 2018 has definitely been the most incredible year of my life so far.”
Thompson’s final position of 28th in the overall Championship with 23 points was eclipsed by his performance in the Dunlop Forever Forward standings, which saw the current BRDC Rising Star gain no fewer than 127 places during the course of the year, good enough for fifth place overall.
“Ironically some of the misfortunes we suffered this year actually helped us in the Dunlop Forever Forward Championship because we were able to show that our Team HARD package was fast and I was able to show that I can race with and beat some of the best touring car drivers in the world.”
Thompson’s DFF progress began in the very first race of the season in damp conditions at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, where he translated a 27th place qualifying effort into a 19th place finish and while other top 20 finishes would follow at a frigid Donington Park and a baking Thruxton, it wasn’t until the spectacular Diamond Double meeting at Snetterton where he would open his championship account.
“The first weekend at Brands Hatch is just a bit of a blur,” added Thompson. “I didn’t think I was that nervous at the time but it is only after the weekend had finished that I realised how much pressure I had put on myself and how different I felt on the Monday after raceday. Looking back now I can see where I made little mistakes, like running wide in the third race at Brands which cost me a few places and stalling on the grid in race two at Donington when we were starting in the top 20.
“However we also knew that the car wasn’t quite right and despite the lads changing everything with the settings again and again I didn’t have the confidence under braking to really attack. At Thruxton the whole team struggled badly with tyre degradation and our Oulton weekend was cut short when we had an engine failure in race two. But between Oulton and Thruxton my teammate Mike Bushell tested at Brands Hatch with some new suspension components and that transformed our car for the rest of the year.”
Although Thompson didn’t leave the following round at Croft with the maiden championship point, his fighting drive in race three from the back of the grid to 21st was a sign of things to come in the first two weekends back after the BTCC’s summer break at Snetterton and Rockingham.
“The team brought in a new engineer over the summer break and Timo was a massive help in turning our performance around, especially at Snetterton and Rockingham, “ continued Thompson, who posted his best qualifying performance of the year at the time with 20th place in the regular qualifying session at the BTCC’s memorable ‘Diamond Double’ weekend. “In fact the first race at Snetterton was probably my fondest memory of the year because although I just missed out on scoring a point I spent a lot of the race battling with Matt Neal, Tom Chilton and Colin Turkington. I felt I more than held my own against them and with the car feeling the best it had felt all year it just gave me a massive boost for the rest of the weekend and for the rest of the year.”
True to his statement, Thompson’s season certainly kicked into high gear in the races that followed as he drove from the back of the grid in greasy conditions to take his maiden championship points in race two and then bettered that performance by going from 28th to 10th in the extended, double-points ‘Diamond Double’ race. More was to come in the following round at the Rockingham Motor Speedway for after putting in his best qualifying performance of the year to place the #19 GKR Ltd backed machine 18th on the grid, Thompson was on course to score points in race one before a mechanical problem cost him a lap and then charged through from last to 8thbefore being taken out in a crash in race two. Undeterred, Thompson put in one of the drives of the season in race three to pass more than 20 cars and cross the line in a career best seventh place, much to the delight of both driver and team.
“Rockingham was probably the biggest emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever been on,” added Thompson. “Our car was just so fast and even though we didn’t get the results we deserved in the first two races something inside me just told me that we could still get points from the back of the grid in the last race. It didn’t matter who I was racing and how many races or championships they had won, I just felt able to make moves and clean passes all race and the tyres just stayed with me all the way through. There were definitely some emotional scenes in the pits after the race, especially from my dad as my family have sacrificed so much to keep me racing and it was special to re-pay all their hard work on the biggest stage in British Motorsport.”
Unfortunately there were to be no further point scoring drives in the remaining three race weekends of the season with an engine failure in qualifying at a sodden Knockhill, two retirements as a result of contact from other drivers and a driveshaft failure at Brands Hatch putting paid to his chances. However Thompson gave him growing legion of fans a timely reminder of his untapped potential with a sterling drive from 31st to 19th in the 30th and final race of the season around the fabled Grand Prix circuit at Brands, passing no less than three BTCC champions in the form of Turkington, Neal and Jason Plato as he did so.
“Before the last race all my family, friends and sponsors were on the grid just cheering and wishing me good luck and the guys on the radio were just saying thanks for all my efforts this year. It was the last race for my engineer Ben too and I just thought to myself ‘I’ve got to try and end my first season on a high.’
“I think I was so pent up that it wouldn’t have mattered how the car was handling I was determined to pass as many cars as I can,” added Thompson. “I knew the pressure was off Colin but at the same time I didn’t want to be the one who punted the reigning champion out of the way.
“I know it wasn’t for a championship point but the final race felt really good and it was a good way to say thank you to my mechanics and family for all the work they have put in this season.
“It has been an incredible year, the best of my life and if it wasn’t for my family and sponsors GKR Scaffolding Ltd, BB Contracts, KCP Demolition, Rio Soft Drink, Vanarama Chelmsford, Vox Digital, Dirty Dog Sunglasses, Powell Systems, Milwaukee Tools, Stratis Platform, Autonational Rescue, Technicool Air Conditioning, GTEC, WinRisk Ltd, ABA Technical, Swift Personnel and everyone at 8 Air Ambulances none of it would have been possible.”