The conclusion of the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone saw Airwaves Racing heading to Northamptonshire with their eyes set on the ultimate prize, the Drivers’ Championship as well as the Independent Teams’ and Drivers’ Championship but luck deserted them during the final three races of the season.
Having led the way after Snetterton, where lead driver Mat Jackson secured his fourth victory of the season, a run of bad luck at Knockhill and Rockingham saw the team facing an uphill task to recover the lost points.
Having proven themselves as the main challengers to the manufacturer backed Honda and Chevrolet teams, qualifying ahead of round twenty eight saw the #7 Ford Focus of Jackson splitting the two Honda Racing cars of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden.
Throughout the opening race of the day at Silverstone, Jackson constantly pushed Neal all the way until cruel luck robbed Jackson of a podium finish – as he hit the kerb at Copse and caused him a puncture. This then set the tone for the rest of the weekend as Jackson suffered another puncture at the beginning of the second race and had to pit for emergency repairs in the third and final race of the day and of the season.
Jackson hung on to fourth in the overall standings thanks to picking up the fastest lap of the race bonus point in races one and two, and was on for a top ten finish from twenty sixth on the grid in round thirty, but was hit twice by James Nash in the Vauxhall Vectra, which damaged the Ford Focus ST. Jackson took the flag down in twenty first place.
“The Airwaves team did a mega job with the Focus which was awesome all weekend; it was easily the best quality car that we’ve had all season and set a great race pace, unfortunately I just pushed it too hard on the curb in race one and that mistake set the tone and triggered a dog fight for us for the rest of the day,” said Jackson.
“We’re obviously gutted to have come away without a trophy this weekend, but the season just hasn’t gone our way since Knockhill. To finish in fourth place overall, narrowly missing out on the Independent title, and to be the top placed Ford after moving to a completely new car this season is still a huge achievement though, and one to be proud of.”
Liam Griffin, by contrast, had one of his best days as a Touring Car driver as he finished all three races as the highest placed Airwaves Racing driver. Having finished Saturday’s qualifying session as the eighteenth fastest driver, and within two tenths of double Champion James Thompson, Griffin took that form into the three races.
He finished all three races inside the top fifteen and for a time during the penultimate race of the weekend, was holding tenth overall and a number of the BTCC old school names behind him. He finished the season with a thirteenth place finish to confirm his progress and his most consistent weekend to date.
“It was great to finish on what was probably my best weekend of the season; better for the results to come late than never! I’ve finished the last ten races with consistent results, gained in confidence and car control which has built up over the last three weekends and shown in the results,” added Griffin.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first season in the BTCC. The Motorbase team have been amazing to work with and I’ve learnt a huge amount from them and Mat [Jackson] and ended the season a better driver than when I started! Also, it’s quite nice to be able to say that I beat a twice-crowned BTCC champion in all three races!”
The third Airwaves Racing Ford Focus ST was filled by former Champion James Thompson and he suffered a tough return to the series, with a single point for the fastest lap in the third race his only reward.
Thompson qualified the #6 Focus inside the top fifteen but come race day, his bad luck marred that of Jackson. During the opening lap of the first race, he suffered a suspension problem which forced him into retirement.
Round twenty nine saw Thompson fight his way up from twenty ninth on the grid to sixteenth during the first half of the race before he too suffered a puncture, which dropped him down the order.
Ahead of the final race of the season, Thompson then had brake trouble and after a monumental effort by the Airwaves racing mechanics, he took part in the race from the pit-lane and he finished in eighteenth, despite having a drive through penalty. He also set the fastest lap of the race, a 59.971s.
The 2002 and 2004 Champion enjoyed his BTCC return on a personal level, as he explains: “Personally, I really enjoyed the weekend. It was fantastic to be back on the BTCC grid and to be mixing it up with all the personalities again. Obviously from a team point of view, I’m very disappointed that the Airwaves boys didn’t get the results they deserved but they’re a great bunch to work with and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.
“I was really impressed with the level of professionalism within the team, especially with how they coped with the damage on race day, managing to turn the car around so quickly under such pressure. It’s a real testament to the skill and talent of the guys that they not only managed to get me back out for race three but give me the most competitive car on the track to set the fastest lap.”
Oly Collins, Team Manager for Airwaves Racing is disappointed with how the season finale panned out after what has been a successful campaign for the team: “This weekend was not the way we planned to end the season. We threw our all at it, unfortunately it was in vain and the day ended on a rather low note for what has been a successful season. Great thanks to all involved at Airwaves Racing and Motorbase; from the staff, sponsors, drivers, supporters and everyone involved in the team for all their efforts this year. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result that we deserved.
“I’m very pleased for Liam [Griffin] who ended the season on a high with three fantastic performances, showing that at the end of his first full season he can race with the best of them.
Obviously, absolutely gutted for Mat [Jackson] and the rest of the team for what could have been. After the highs of leading the outright championship going into Knockhill, it’s a hard pill to swallow.”
After the disappointment of the results at Silverstone, everything was put into perspective when it was announced that British racer Dan Wheldon had passed away as the result of his injuries suffered in the Las Vegas Indycar race.
Motorbase Performance and Airwaves Racing extend their condolences to Wheldon’s friends and Family at this tough time for them.