After being excluded from both races at the second round of the TCR UK/Goodyear Touring Car Trophy at Castle Coombe, Irish driver Max Hart could be forgiven for thinking the world was against him.
I was in the UK on business and made the trip to the high speed circuit to watch Max in action. Having taken a win and a second first time out in his new Hyundai at Silverstone a few weeks previously, he was in top form ahead of qualifying. Despite having his TCR car pinned back by some 30bhp and some 60kgs of weight being added- as part of the series BOP (balance of power) regulations, he still managed to top the times in a foggy free practise one, his .7 gap initially suggesting that the restrictions hadn’t made any difference at all. Max was aware of the pace of the Cupra TCR cars in testing though, and suggested that it would be far closer in official qualifying. He wasn’t wrong! His Selco.ie and J.W Carnegie backed machine did clinch the all important top spot, but his seven tenths advantage was gone- the gap just four thousandths of a second ahead of the Cupra of Jac Constable, with Dan Kirby’s similar machine just a few tenths back in third. Max’s title rival and fellow Hyundai driver Lewis Kent was fourth but half a second off. Speaking to Max before race one, he was calm and confident.
“The car is good. I think there is more in it. A bit more work on setup and I think a 7.0 is on around here.” (His qualifying time was 1:07.39)
In the opening race, Constable anticipated the start, but then held back and the duo left the line as one. On the long uphill straight through Folly and on towards Quarry, the SEAT outdragged the Hyundai but almost immediately Max was dancing around in the leader’s mirrors, the duo immediately pulling clear. Initially, it seemed as if Constable might ease away but before long the Hyundai was in his wheeltracks again. When the unfortunate Will Powell collected the wayward Cupra of Alex Kite just after the start finish, the race was neutralised. Once they got going again, Hart was on the attack immediately and once he had forged a way through he was away down the road, ballast or no ballast, for an impressive win.
Max arrived back to the awning with two big trophies but for the second time that day, his car was held for a considerable period in post race scrutiny. There had been no issues in the morning but news soon filtered through that a problem had been found. A spacer in the front suspension didn’t conform. The penalty was strong and immediate- disqualification. I was cautious approaching Max on hearing the news as race drivers, by their nature, are volatile at times like these, and it was surely a major blow to his strong title aspirations, even at this stage in the season.
If I expected a tantrum, I was wrong. We had a quick chat, he told me the issue- said they would appeal and it became apparent that he was far more concerned with trying to win race two- having being put to the back of the grid as part of his penalty. True to his word, the Irishman was off the line like a scalded car when the lights went out for race two, easily despatching the VW Racing Cup competitors, before carving his way through the TCR grid. The race was being led by Max’s title rival, and reigning TCR Champion Lewis Kent, who was being shadowed by his younger brother Bradley. Before long- 5 laps to be exact- Max had assumed third position and set fastest lap as he closed in on the similarly mounted Hyundai siblings. As he had predicted though, his fronts were past their best by this stage and a big understeery moment saw him take to the grass out of the final corner. He kept it out of the barrier, just, but the Team HARD Mercedes of Darren Lewis had retaken the crucial final podium place. Max tracked him down but as he grabbed third place for the second time, contact was made, with the Mercedes losing its rear bumper and subsequently retiring. Once again, Max barely had time to celebrate when it was announced that the officials had decided to exclude him, and give him four penalty points to boot. An appeal quickly followed and the Stewards overturned the decision meaning Max kept his third place- and the accompanying points haul.
Crucially Bradley Kent, in a move that the team may rue later in the year, had sliced by his now championship leading brother and taken the win. This meant that even with his R1 exclusion, Max is still second in the title hunt as they head to the next two rounds at Brands Hatch on June 19/20.
I was hugely impressed with Max over the weekend- not just in the car but out of it too. I suspect he will not be easily beaten to the 2021 title and if he does think things are against him, he should remember the words of Henry Ford.
Images from Goodyear Touring Car Trophy