Team Parker Racing’s Stephen Jelley says the final race of the 2019 British Touring Car Championship season opener at Brands Hatch was the “icing on the cake” after strong showings throughout the day.
Jelley, who campaigns an ex-WSR BMW 125i M Sport this season, qualified eighth on Saturday [6 April] before a ride-height infringement saw him sent to the back of the grid for race one.
In the opening race, Jelley made the correct call to run slicks, and made up 23 positions over the 24-lap race distance, and believes that “set up” even better results in the next two races.
“We were on the soft tyres for race one, the slick was the way to go,” Jelley told TouringCars.Net. “We started 30th and then just the tyre choice, we carved our way through the grid
“It was the right tyre to be on, the wet just chewed itself up. Managed to work my way up to seventh, which was perfect and just set the rest of the weekend up.”
Jelley admits race two was more of a typical encounter, but was still buoyed by the fact he was challenging for third on raw pace before he slipped back to seventh.
“I only moved one spot further forward in race two, but that was a bit more of a normal race,” he said.
“We had the performance though, I did try a move for third but it didn’t come off and I slipped behind Tom Ingram and a couple of others, but you’ve got to have a go haven’t you?
“But still bagged a good lot of points, and then race three was just the icing on the cake.”
Starting sixth for race three, Jelley got a lightning start and was already alongside front-row starter Senna Proctor into Paddock Hill Bend, before cutting back and taking the lead at Druids.
He believes the cause for the good start was a mixture of a favourable starting position and the cars ahead paving a clear path for him to stay flat out.
“I just started on that little crest, I knew I could put a bit more down and get that good run,” he said.
“But then the cars ahead just sort of moved in the perfect way so I didn’t have to get out of the throttle at all.
“And then just sent it down the outside when there was a clear gap, nearly went around the outside of the Subaru, but just got on the marbles a little bit.
“I didn’t want to get the tyres dirty, and then managed to do the switchback to get the inside into Druids. It was a bit of a tight one, but at that point it was going in.”
Jelley then lead the opening laps, but Matt Neal’s soft tyre-shod Honda Civic Type R closed in and snatched the lead on lap eight.
As the three-time BTCC champion’s tyres wore later in the race, Jelley closed back in, the pair making contact at Graham Hill Bend before Neal’s suspension ultimately failed on the final lap.
“It was fantastic to lead the first few laps,” said Jelley. “But I knew that Honda had the soft tyres on and was going to be quick for the first few laps.
“I could see the gap to fourth was quite a long way back so I was almost willing to concede a little bit just to make sure we got the podium.
“Because the podium is more important to the team than risking a DNF for the win. So it was just about being sensible really.
“And then Matt’s tyres then went off, which was a bit of a pain because he was then holding me up a bit, and we had a big ding-dong.
“We came together a little bit and I had to let him back past when I pushed him wide and then Butcher went through as well. So it all kicked off, but really happy to get the podium and may the rest of the season carry on like this.”
Although this is Jelley’s sixth BTCC podium, with the previous five scored during the 2009 season, it marks the first for Team Parker Racing in the series.
“They’ve never had a touring car podium before, so this is just the start and we can start racking up the trophies behind where the race car lives now!
“So it gives the guys something to push on for and a bit of buzz for the weekend.”