Toyota drivers Frank Wrathall, Adam Morgan and Tony Hughes all experienced an up and down weekend during the opening weekend of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch.
Despite a lack of track time in the Dynojet Avensis, Wrathall finished the qualifying session with the eighth fastest time.
“We gave the Toyota a brief shakedown on Friday on the way to the circuit,” said Garstang-based Frank. “The first free practice session on Saturday was the longest time I had sat in the car, so I’m made up with eighth.
“To bring a car here with no testing and to qualify eighth, less than five-tenths off pole… it’s unbelievable. And the good thing is that there is huge room for improvement – it’s not like we can’t go any quicker; there is a lot more to come… It’s a great effort all round by the team, and I can’t thank them enough for all the hard work they have put in.”
The two Speedworks cars finished thirteenth and twenty first in qualifying. Morgan’s debut race lasted not even one corner after he was turned into the Paddock Hill gravel trap and the resulting damage meant that he was unable to start the second race.
“My initiation into touring cars – about 300 metres, I think it was,” said Adam, who was tapped from behind by the MG of Andy Neate, which in turn had been hit by another. “I got an OK start and was heading for Paddock Hill Bend and the next thing I know I get a smack on my left hand door and I’m heading for the wall… We were three abreast into Paddock and I don’t think the guy on the outside saw me; it was a chain reaction thing.”
Wrathall didn’t have much luck during the first race either as third gear went after a couple of laps, and this also put Wrathall out of the second race of the day.
“Third gear broke up,” he said. “It’s something that has never happened before, and who could have predicted it? It’s a shame because that was probably my best-ever BTCC start. I got off the line well and in the first couple of corners was battling through… I was in quite a good position, then it started vibrating and when I hit third gear it just exploded.”
Hughes had better luck in the opening race as he avoided all of the carnage and incidents to bring home the #50 car in sixteenth position, which he went on to replicate in the second race of the day. After the problems for Wrathall and Morgan, Hughes was the only Toyota driver on the grid for the second race.
The final race of the weekend saw the Toyota drivers once again caught up in various problems. Both Morgan and Hughes ended up in the gravel after hitting oil heading to Druids. Morgan was once again out of luck as his Avensis was collected while Hughes ended up in the gravel but avoided all the other cars.
Wrathall was able to avoid the carnage at Druids but worse was to come for the Dynojet driver. “I piled into the back of Dan Welch’s car, which stopped me going into the gravel,” said Frank. “It was a shame, though, because my first start was really good and had the race continued I could have been up there.”
At the restart, Wrathall’s car refused to fire up and once he got the car started, he was awarded a drive through penalty, which dropped him to the back of the field. He recovered to finish thirteenth and scored three Championship points.
“At least we got a finish,” concluded Wrathall. “The car just wouldn’t fire up, so I got a bump start and as a result of that we got a penalty, which was harsh. The Toyota wasn’t in top form – it had taken a couple of knocks in the earlier crash and wasn’t handling brilliantly.”
Hughes was able to avoid the main accident site at Druids: “I saw the yellow flag, saw the oil, saw them all parked and didn’t want to pile in the back, so I took my foot off the brake, losing a little bit of braking, but I was able to steer into the gravel and avoid the other cars.”
Once the race was restarted, Hughes was able to race on and brought home his Speedworks Toyota fifteenth overall and the result gave the fifty four year old businessman his first BTCC points finish.
“I’m really pleased with the way the Toyota is handling,” said Hughes. “What I need now is more power.”
Having seen the Speedworks Motorsport team rebuild the #33 Avensis after the race one off, Morgan was disappointed that his debut weekend hadn’t gone to plan.
“It couldn’t really have been much worse for a debut, really,” said Adam, “but I can at least take a positive from the accidents that neither were my fault. It’s such a shame because the team did a superb job to get me out there and the car felt OK. I could have had a good race but then the oil went down and it was game over.”
All three Toyota Independent drivers will be hoping for better luck during rounds four, five and six of the season at Donington Park over the 14/15 April.