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Harper and Young Star at TOCA Opener- with Stephen Lynas

Wins, podiums, poles, fastest laps, points, penalties and a DNF were all in what drivers from this side of the Irish Sea had to show from their races at the opening TOCA race weekend (6/7 April) held on the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit

Dan Harper took a win and a 3rd place in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB races with Karl Leonard winning the Pro-Am class. In the Renault UK Clio Cup, Jack Young took two 2nd places while in the British Touring Car Championship Colin Turkington and Chris Smiley finished 5th and 7th respectively in race 3 after disappointing performances in their first two races.

Sunday morning in Kent arrived with rain, fog and cold temperatures which made for tricky driving conditions and difficult tyre decisions.  Reigning British Saloon Car champion, Colin Turkington, was in confident mood. He had qualified 3rd on the grid and fastest of the of the West Surrey Racing trio of newly prepared BMW Series that were having their racing debut. Chris Smiley was also well placed, 12th fastest on the thirtycar grid, and looking forward to his first outing in his latest spec BTC Racing Honda Type-R.

In common with all those at the sharp end of the grid, Turkington and Smiley took the delayed race 1 start on wet tyres and for the opening laps were well in contention, running as high as 3rd and 10th respectively in the early laps. But on a drying track those further down the grid who had decided to take their chances on slicks began posting faster lap times. As the early leaders plummeted down the order eventual winner Josh Cook, Smiley’s teammate at BTC Racing, climbed from 17th to take the chequered flag. Turkington finished 19th while Smiley’s race finished on lap 16 when he was punted off the track at Graham Hill Bend.

Race two didn’t go much better either for the Northern Irish drivers. Both started on the soft tyre – regulations require drivers to use both a soft and hard tyre at least once in the three-race weekend programme – which didn’t offer as good grip in the cold conditions. Smiley started from the back of the grid due to his earlier DNF and finished 20th with Turkington picking up his first points of the season in 14th     

In the final race of the day, Turkington and Smiley found themselves on the better tyres and with reasonable grid positions. Both cut their way through the field with Turkington eventually climbing 9 places to finish 5th and setting fastest lap and Smiley making up 13 places to cross the line in 7th.

For both drivers, it was not the weekend either had hoped for but with their teammates winning, Cooke in race 1, and Andrew Jordan taking race 2 for Turkington’s BMW team, each know they are driving competitive cars.

Colin Turkington acknowledged that he had hoped for better results following an impressive qualifying but described the weekend as “hugely exciting and a promising sign of what is to come from the new 3 Series…The car is fast out of the box but I just need some time to tailor it to my driving style.”

Chris Smiley was in upbeat mood too. I feel really positive after this weekend as we have genuine pace in the car… We’ve only had four days with the FK8 and we’re in a good place with it already, and I can go to Donington Park – which is one of my favourite circuits – in confident mood.

Much is expected of Dan Harper in the Porsche Carrera CupGB this year and the 18-year-old from Hillsborough didn’t disappoint in his first races of the season.  After securing pole position, he took a lights to flag win and fastest lap in race 1 crossing the finish line 2.3s ahead of Lewis Plato. But Harper’s race was not without incident. On lap 22 he caught several backmarkers at Surtees and ended up sliding across the grass to avoid them allowing second place Seb Perez to close right up to the leader’s rear wing. However, Harper regained control, and the track, and calmly set about rebuilding his lead helped when Perez himself slide wide at Paddock Hill Bend.

Championship returnee Karl Leonard finished 5th and won the Pro-Am class while former Kirkistown Formula Ford driver John Ferguson took the flag for 12th and was 3rd Am class driver home.

In the reversed grid race, Harper started from 4th position but quickly dropped to 5th behind the more experienced Leonard. However, Harper fought back and after retaking fourth he set about securing a podium place which he took on lap 11 passing Perez along the Cooper Straight. Leonard again finished 5th and won the Pro-Am Class while Ferguson finished 14th.

Satisfied that he couldn’t have asked for anything more from a weekend which gave him the championship lead and the Driver of the Weekend award, Dan Harper added these words of intent. “Now I have the championship lead, I don’t want to lose it. I love Donington… We go there full of confidence and hopefully we can enjoy another weekend like we have had at Brands Hatch.” 

In practice for the Renault UK Clio Cup just a few thousandths of a second separated Max Coates and Belfast’s Jack Young with Coates having the advantage. And so it proved in race 1. Coates led all the way but with Young pressing him for all 19 laps and finishing just 0.35s adrift. 

Young described himself as “quite happy” with 2nd place giving him his first podium in the UK Clio Cup. “It’s points in the bag – but of course I wanted the win. I didn’t know it was the last lap – otherwise I’d have had more of a go!” In the second race, Coates again started fastest, but this time Young took the lead going into the first corner as they sped clear of the rest of the field. It was Coates’ turn to make life hard for the leader eventually forcing an error but not enough for the lead to change and Young took a revenge victory by almost a second. “I knew when I got the jump on Max at the start he would make life hard and he did just that on every lap. Luckily I kept enough momentum going when I put a wheel over the wet kerb to just stay in front. That woke me up a bit and after that I put more concentration into keeping it tidy to make sure.”

But it wasn’t sure for the stewards who decided Young had broken safety car procedures when he braked heavily having already accelerated at the re-start. Despite an appeal the decision stood and Young was docked 1 second demoting him to 2nd place by 0.132s.

The TOCA package now moves to Donington Park for a weekend of racing on the 27-28 April.

Stephen Lynas

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