BTCC ROOKIE DOYLE ACHIEVES TOP 15 GOAL ON DEBUT
In-Tune Racing's Michael Doyle climbed a literal mountain at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 29th/30th March, to achieve a deserved top 15 race result on his HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship debut.
The 20-year-old Scotsman, who has made the step-up to the BTCC in its 50th anniversary season after a successful three-year tenure in the ELF Renault Clio Cup support series, arrived at the Kent track on Friday without an engine in his BTC-specification Honda Civic Type-R and faced a race against time to get the car prepared for Saturday's qualifying.
Although forced to miss the opening free practice as the team mechanics put the final finishing touches to the car, Michael emerged on track in the second session but was only able to complete an installation lap due to a power steering glitch.
With a persistent misfire and gear problem throughout qualifying, Michael lined up 25th on the grid for his maiden BTCC race having never even driven the car before. Forced to pit after several laps due to the recurrent misfire, he did re-emerge five laps down on the leaders but wasn't classified in the results due to not having completed sufficient distance.
Round two saw the In-Tune racer, who lives in Gartocharn on the banks of Loch Lomond, start 22nd on the grid and he eventually finished in 18th place after a see-saw battle to place himself on row nine of the grid for Sunday afternoon's third and final race.
Easily his most impressive and promising drive of the weekend, the In-Tune Garage Services and Andrew Watt Car Components backed star ran much more strongly in the third encounter, adapting to cope with his car's continued problems.
Although the race was affected by two Safety Car periods, Michael kept his cool and ran in 16th position on lap 14 after getting ahead of the S2000-specification Chevrolet Lacetti of Harry Vaulkhard. An entertaining battle with Arkas Racing team-mates Erkut Kizilirmak and Martyn Bell then ensued, Michael emerging ahead and taking 15th place at the flag.
Showing gritty determination and commitment throughout his first weekend in the BTCC, the top 15 finish was just reward for a great effort and never-say-die attitude. With more time in the car and some genuine test opportunities, Michael is confident he and his team can quickly move higher up the British Touring Car Championship pecking order.
Perhaps most impressive was the fact Michael had to contend with the misfire, problems with his gears on the downshift and a blank dash-board display in every race. Yet he managed to work around the issues to improve with every outing, even though things got progressively worse throughout raceday.
"We said at the start of the weekend if we could finish in the top 15 we'd be delighted and that's what we managed to do in race three", he commented, "Actually, to bring the car home in all three races was a great achievement considering we haven't tested, we missed the first free practice and then only had one lap in the second practice.
"Qualifying was our first proper run with the car and that's when problems with a misfire and the gears came to light and compromised things. It's been very hard work and our budget is tight but we're confident we'll improve as the weeks and months go by. There is much more to come from me and the car, we're not in the BTCC to make up the numbers.
"Without any testing at all, to have been lapping just a second off the pace of Fabrizio Giovanardi (reigning BTCC Champion) was really satisfying with all of the problems we've had. From 52.1 second laps in round one, we got down to 50.8 second lap times in the third race. Racing in the BTCC is my dream and I can't wait for the next round now."
Highlights of Sunday's action from Brands Hatch will be broadcast on ITV1 late tonight, Monday, 31st March, at 00.50. Further screenings will be carried on Men & Motors and ITV1 during the coming week -- please check listings for further details.
The second BTCC race meeting of the season, featuring rounds four, five and six, will take place two weeks from now at Rockingham International Super Sports Car Circuit in Northamptonshire on 12th/13th April.