The 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is well and truly under way, having visited the historic Donington Park circuit on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border last weekend for the second of its ten rounds, writes Tom Onslow-Cole.
Changeable conditions made qualifying difficult for everybody. My initial run in the dry was good enough for 12th, but I came agonisingly close to going half a second quicker and reaching the top six.
Exiting the final chicane I ruined my lap by getting on the power a fraction too early and having a bit of a sideways moment, but it still was nice to see on the data that the time was in the car.
Sunday’s first two races were both positive even though we didn’t quite have the pace of cars built to the BTCC’s latest Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) regulations.
In contrast to Brands Hatch’s opening round where my eBay Motors team-mates and I suffered with excessive oversteer, we had a lot of understeer to deal with at Donington Park.
The BMW 320si is very sensitive to set-up changes and we went down a completely new route last weekend.
As a result we saw our performance eek away as the races progressed, while the NGTC cars with their larger 18-inch Dunlop tyres and brakes maintained theirs more effectively.
In addition, I had a brand new set of slicks that hadn’t had a heat cycle put through them for the second race and, while they were quick initially, the drop off was huge and I lost a lot of ground.
All things considered I was satisfied to achieve fifth and tenth-place results.
For the third race we had our second set of scrubbed tyres and the car felt well balanced even though we hadn’t made any changes to its set-up.
It was also the first time this season I’ve been able to make the most of the BMW’s strength away from the start.
I moved up from tenth to fourth place off the line and we appeared to be pushing forward until my race unravelled shortly after.
On the run from the Old Hairpin on lap three my eBay Motors team-mate Robert Collard ran wide and forced me to change my line.
The reigning Champion Matt Neal’s Honda Civic was unfortunately tucked in behind me and an unintentional tap from him sent me onto the grass, damaging my front splitter and ruining my aero balance.
I can’t moan about it because I’m pleased to have scored points for tenth place – these will all help at the end of the year when we start bringing in the big results – and we know from the data that we’re not far off the pace.
All we need is a bit of luck.
After Brands Hatch I felt there was more to come from me as a driver and I’m far more comfortable in the car now I have two race weekends under my belt.
The tricky conditions in qualifying allowed me to play around with the BMW, my starts are looking better and I’m getting to know the ins and outs of both the car and the eBay Motors team.
Now Hampshire’s ultra-high speed Thruxton circuit awaits (28-29 April) and I’m genuinely excited about it because I love the track’s fast and flowing nature and the fact you can feel when you’ve drilled in a quick lap without looking at the time on the dash.
The speed of the BMW will definitely help but bravery is essential, too, and I’m conscious of the fact that rear-wheel-drive cars are less forgiving if you have a bit of a moment – you have to be very precise.
I know I’m capable of racing at the front as in previous seasons but I hope everything comes together so we’re able to maximise the weekend.