BTCC Crazy

Matt Hamilton’s Blog - Brands Hatch GP

I have always loved the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, without doubt one of my favourites! This is why I was so pleased when the deal to race there was confirmed early that week. Our limited budget was not looking likely to allow us to compete with such a short turn around between Rockingham and Brands. However, my TH Motorsport team worked incredibly hard over the week and through their superb effort I was able to make the grid at this fine circuit.

Arriving at the track on Friday morning we were all in high spirits, knowing that we had a good run at the track the year before.

Saturday was a sunny day with a dry track. Knowing the grim forecast for the following day, we decided the target for the day would be to find a balanced set up that could give us a solid base setting for the wet. After two strong practice sessions I was feeling comfortable in the car and despite a puncture in free practice one, we were all quite pleased with the ground work that had been put in for the race day. The puncture could have been nasty, I felt a big vibration on entry to paddock hill bend and had the tyre explode on the brakes at the following corner, Druids. Luckily, in 2nd gear, this is the tracks slowest corner. The tyre letting go a corner earlier or even around the fast GP loop could have really given us some damage and put us on the back foot for the rest of the weekend!

With the rain holding off late into the afternoon, we were all surprised to see a dry qualifying; however I was secretly quite pleased with this as I have only ever driven 4 wet laps in a touring car in my life! After the 30 minute session I was pleased to be starting 15th of the 22 car field and it showed that the work put in, in the morning sessions had paid off.

With qualifying over it was time to head back to the hotel and being just 1.2 miles from Bluewater shopping centre I felt it would be rude not to show my face in Hollister for a second day running. My family and I also managed to have an enjoyable, relaxing meal whilst there to unwind after the long day.

Race day arrived and my slim hopes that it might be dry, and BBC, ITV and the rest of the world had got it wrong, were soon turned to rubbish. I looked out of the hotel window and realised I would have to get to grips with one of these cars in the wet sooner rather than later.

Starting from 15th in race one, I made an average start and spent the first half of the race getting to terms with the wet weather. The team had done everything they could to ensure the inside of the car did not mist up and it worked a treat. In the closing laps of the race, I started to feel more comfortable in the weather and began to set competitive lap times as well as work my way up the field, eventually battling up to 12th.

My TH Motorsport team made some changes to my car for race two as we spent race one struggling with a little low speed oversteer. The changes worked wonders, as with more confidence in the conditions, as well as in the car, I was able to get onto the pace from the very start. I spent the entire race hovering around the top 10, mostly in the battle between 7th and 13th. As I entered the last lap I found myself in 11th place, just outside the points and putting pressure on the BMW of Rob Collard. Spending the previous 3 laps behind Rob I had found my car was faster through the second half of the race track and I was looking to get close enough for a last lap attempt at stealing my first BTCC points. This however was not needed, as halfway round the final lap, Collard made a small error and out-braked himself into Surtees bend, gifting me 10th place on the road and my first ever BTCC championship point. Half an hour later, this would become 9th due to the unfortunate exclusion of race winner Tom Chilton. The team were ecstatic with the points, and I think it’s fair to say a little relieved when P7 was drawn out of the hat for race three pole. I was hoping it would come to me… but not quite, I would have to start from 9th in the day’s final race.

The entire BTCC grid was faced with a difficult decision in race three. The track was drying and tyre choice was a huge factor in the outcome of the race. I made a very late call to put slick tyres on the front of my car and in the early laps, struggled to get heat into them and make them work. The only hope for the slick runners was a safety car during the race, and luckily we got two.

Despite being just outside the top ten I had a brilliant race and really enjoyed myself. I was having a race long battle with Tom Onslow-Cole and Gordon Shedden, finding it very difficult to go off line and overtake on the wet track. The slicks finally came in, but for me it was a little late. I was able to get as high as 11th before making a small error on the final corner of the race and dropping a place to 12th.

Two 12th’s and a 9th was by far my best touring car weekend to date and I am really pleased that I could give something back to the team. They had worked so hard to get the car ready for Brands in the 4 days they had and I can’t thank them enough for their efforts on the weekend!

I am now looking forward to Oulton Park in 4 weeks time, another round that may not have been going ahead for us. However I would like to say a huge thank you to some new secret (for the moment) backers. So bring on Oulton Park, where I hope I can keep up the good pace and look to score more points.

Matt Hamilton

Article originally written on Thursday, 6 May 2010. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.