Crabbie’s Racing driver Jack Clarke carried momentum from Knockhill to Rockingham with a double points finish as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship headed back into England for the latest action packed tin-top show-stopper.
Last time out at Knockhill, Jack had his best weekend to date with three solid finishes, of which two were in the lucrative points paying positions. Last weekend (6/7 September) Rockingham welcomed the 31-car BTCC field to the Motor Speedway, which is a challenge for all of the drivers. The circuit boasts several short straights, tricky braking zones, slow technical sections as well as a high speed turn one, which makes up a part of the iconic high-speed banking with speeds nudging 140mph.
Clarke had already scored points in three of the seven events so far in the striking green Crabbie’s-backed Ford Focus ST, so the challenge now was to continue his progress, score regular points and edge closer towards the top ten and the potential race three reverse grid draw.
So attention turned to Rockingham for Clarke and the team – a circuit the tin-top debutant has never driven before, so preparation was key to be competitive at the youngest circuit on the BTCC calendar.
The first free practice session of the weekend was a learning exercise for the 26-year-old as he performed the usual session set-up requirements as well as learning the 1.94 mile course. A foggy morning added to the challenge but with a mature head, Jack settled in gently as the mist cleared allowing him to chalk up a 25th on the time sheets. Come the second session the Surrey-based driver showed a turn of pace to climb up to a solid 19th.
The sun tried to breakthrough the clouds in the all-important afternoon qualifying session. The sun wasn’t the only thing trying to breakthrough as the touring car rookie was hoping to edge into the top 20 and improve upon his best qualifying result of 21st, set at Snetterton earlier in the summer. And breakthrough he did. At a circuit Clarke has never visited he outshone more experienced rivals and left a previous BTCC race winner in his wake. The newcomers result would be 19th as the clock struck zero.
Sunday, and the conditions changed dramatically. Glorious sunshine baked the Northamptonshire venue as thousands of BTCC fans packed the state of the art grandstands eagerly awaiting the day’s three touring car contests.
The first race had plenty of drama for the Effingham based driver. On the first lap at Chapman Curve, Clarke was nudged wide by a fellow competitor which tipped the Motorbase Performance Ford Focus ST into a spin. Jack quickly managed to re-join the circuit but sadly some way off the back of the pack. On the soft tyre, which was the favoured compound for the weekend, Clarke got his head down and was on a mission to salvage a result. As the laps were ticked off the BTCC rookie made some fantastic passes, hunting his way through the field. His maturity and willingness netted him 18th just a handful of seconds behind three-time BTCC Champion Matt Neal. A few more laps and a points paying position could have been on the cards.
Race two was to be a quiet affair for Jack who had to get used to the harder compound, which created a lot of understeer on the tight and tricky sections. Jack stayed calm and out of trouble as he avoided many big accidents in the middle of the pack. A fantastic move by Clarke to pass the highly rated Marc Hynes on the high speed banking elevated the Crabbie’s driver into the points in 15th.
It was yet to be another cruel bit of luck for the Surrey racer in the final race of the day. With a good grid position and a top ten in his sight, Jack had trouble getting the car off the line allowing the rest of the field to pass him as he tried to fire-up the Ford Focus.
It was time to once again roll up his sleeves and put into practice what he has learnt so far in his short BTCC career. Jack certainly got involved in some close elbows-out battles and he cleverly made use of the pace in the latter part of the lap to pull off some cleverly planned moves to make his way back into the points.
As the sun set on Rockingham Jack Clarke was happy with his pace and performance, despite some moments of bad luck:
“It was a disappointing start to race day as unfortunately I was taken out on the first lap, which put me 40 metres off the back of the pack and it meant I had to come from 31st. I just had to drive my way forward and make the most of the soft tyre and we ended up in 18th, which was a good performance considering we had to come through the field. We struggled in race two on the hard tyre and had a lot of understeer but I got my head down to break into the points which was pleasing. Come the final race, the stall at the start was a mistake by me and I was kicking myself, but to come through to 14th from the back was very rewarding and I was happy to collect a few more points.
“I am getting a kick out of improvements as the line on the graph keeps going up and in the right direction. The progress we are making, makes the team, sponsors and I really motivated as we press forward. We couldn’t quite get the results that our pace deserved – it was just one of those ‘what could have been’ weekends. We know internally that we have made a big step forward and for Silverstone, Motorbase Performance have a good record there. The Ford Focus ST goes well on the National circuit so we could be on for a big marked improvement.”
The Northamptonshire double-header will conclude next time out at Silverstone for rounds 25, 26 and 27 on September 27/28.