BTCC Donington Park — April 22-23
Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport and Jake Hill enjoyed a strong start to the opening round of the 2023 Kwikfit British Touring Car Championship season held at Donington Park over the weekend (April 22-23).
After a dramatic qualifying session on the Saturday afternoon, Jake piloted his #24 WSR-run BMW 330e M Sport to set the fifth-quickest lap time in the initial thirty-minute qualifying session, before a fantastic lap in the 'Top-10 Showdown' was enough to earn the 29-year-old a third-place start in Sunday's opening race.
Earlier on Saturday morning the opening free-practice session of the weekend saw Jake finish in third place on the time sheets as the gap between the leading pack looked as close-knit as ever. An early red flag shortened the session somewhat, but Jake managed to record some strong times and gather plenty of valuable data in the process. For the second free-practice session, consistency was the name of the game as Jake once again finished third quickest driver on the grid.
The stage was set for a typically dramatic BTCC qualifying spectacle, with an initial thirty-minute session followed by the 'Top-10 Showdown'. In the initial session Jake's early running gave him some comfort as he earned a fifth-place finish and an opportunity to fight for pole position. Jake then came into his own in the shootout session that would follow. Initially, the Laser Tools Racing driver topped the timesheets but the margins were fine. With just a couple of minutes remaining, Jake had slipped to fourth in the standings before a memorable final lap, despite his grip fading, being enough to secure P3 on the grid and place him as BMW's fastest qualifier.
Jake commented: “Donington’s always held a special place in my heart and I’ve usually gone well here. Last year I had pole, a third and a win and qualifying’s gone well again today. Some of the other cars look very fast, but it’s nice to lead the way for BMW. I’ve been third in all the sessions so it’s been a strong one for us.”Sunday:
Pole-sitter Dan Rowbottom made a sluggish start, with both Jake Hill and Ash Sutton immediately eyeing an opportunity to surge into the lead. Jake slotted between both Ford Focuses and took the lead. As Sutton moved across, there was slight contact involving the three cars. Sutton’s machine was fired onto the grass, and he subsequently crawled into retirement.
Jake maintained his lead for most of the race but he was eventually overhauled by Dan Cammish a few laps from the finish. To finish in P2 in the first race of the year was a great result for Jake Hill and Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport.
An unfortunate post-race grid penalty for the contact with Sutton on the opening lap would see Jake start Race 2 from fifth place on the grid as the weather conditions took another turn — wet weather, dryish weather, what tyre to choose? This unpredictable weather would see multiple drivers at the back of the grid take the gamble on the wet weather tire in dry conditions, with those at the front opting to remain on dry (slick) tyres to retain track position. Jake would hold onto fifth position for the opening stages of the race, as the closely-knit leading pack battled its way through the rapidly changing weather.
Soon, the gloomy skies quickly gave way to pouring rain and a lot of drivers were making hurried pit-stops to change to wet-weather tyres but Jake came in quite late on in the race to change. A very slick and professional change of all four wheels by the team, just about 20 seconds. But too little, too late. “Race 2 we just made a bad call and didn’t box for wets soon enough but hey, we learn and move on,” was Jake’s comment after the race.
Race 3 would see Jake mount a phenomenal charge through the field from 16th on the grid as the wet conditions remained. A combination of calculated overtaking and great racecraft would see Jake storm up the order to the top-ten, before a brief safety car period to remove a stricken car would interrupt his progress.
At the restart, Jake would continue his mighty performance, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process as he rapidly caught the leading group of cars. The four championship protagonists from 2022 would go wheel to wheel for the remaining laps, battling nose to tail in a superb display of racing.
Jake was happier after this race: “Race 3 was a blinder, the car was just fantastic setting fastest lap and coming from P16 to P4 for the end result,” he said. And what a race it was — Jake steadily worked his way through the pack and eventually attacked BMW stablemate Colin Turkington to pass at the final chicane and into fourth place.
In the race for the chequered flag Jake tried desperately to get past Ash Sutton to get a podium but was pipped for the place by just 0.113 seconds.
Jake continued: “To secure a podium and valuable championship points in the opening round of the season is a great way for us to kick on as we head to Brands Hatch for the next round. We showed some great pace from the very start and the car felt incredible to drive across the whole weekend and grabbing second place in race one was a great way to start!
“The weather really threw everything it had at us this weekend and race two was very unfortunate for us, but to bounce back in race three was a fantastic way to end the day! A massive thank you to WSR and Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport for their brilliant support and we go again at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.”This valiant Race 3 performance would see Jake end the day in third place in the drivers’ standings with 32 points. Next up for Jake is his home circuit of Brands Hatch on the weekend of 6-7 May, where the Kent-based driver will resume battle on the undulating and technical Indy circuit.