RAIN STOPS PLAY FOR BLANCKLEY
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car driver Simon Blanckley became a victim of the dreadful weather that blighted the Donington Park race meeting last weekend, despite a fantastic start.
On Saturday, with the bad weather holding off, Blanckley was consistently in 14th during both practice sessions in his sibsport Honda, his best performance of the year so far, despite inexperience of the circuit. More success followed in qualifying with Simon eventually ending up 13th on the grid for round 16.
Blanckley made a strong start to round 16 and took a place away from Tom Ferrier's Seat off the grid, but was overtaken by championship leader Fabrizio Giovanardi and Irishman Eoin Murray by the end of lap one. After making up another place, Blanckley stayed out of trouble for several laps as others predictably fell foul of the dreadful conditions. The Durham driver was out on his own in lonely 12th - just two places shy of an outright championship point - when a safety car period closed the field up again. By lap eight Blanckley was closing on the vastly more experienced Mike Jordan in a similar Honda Integra. Meanwhile, behind Blanckley, Team Halfords driver Matt Neal had passed John George and quickly closed in on the sibsport driver. Going down through the Craner Curves on lap nine, Neal touched Blanckley's rear bumper, damaging the exhaust. The contact eventually caused damage to a driveshaft, ending his race. Neal eventually would finish on the podium in third.
The non-finish in the first race left Simon with 21st on the grid for round 17, but given the conditions, grid position didn't really have too much relevance. By the end of lap one, Blanckley was behind both of the Kartworld MG ZS cars in 22nd, which became 21st after Irishman Eoin Murray ahead slowed. Blanckley became part of an eight-car group battling for 14th position, and he made a position up on lap eleven. He then started to set quick lap times comparable with the eventual points finishers, and he overtook Fiona Leggate's MG on the penultimate lap and Richard Marsh on the last lap. Unfortunately, the conditions and the grid position meant that whilst he had the pace, Blanckley couldn't challenge for points.
In round 18, the final BTCC race of the day, Blanckley started in 17th but lost traction on the slippery surface and dropped two places, but stayed ahead of John George, also in a Honda Integra. He would close on Martyn Bell's BMW in front and it looked like the two would be having another classic battle, as they had done during the previous meeting at Oulton Park. However, as Simon chased Bell down, he hit a river of water that was travelling across the circuit at the Craner Curves and the car went sideways. Despite his best efforts to control the slide, the car entered the gravel at the Old Hairpin corner - where so many top drivers have been caught out in the past - and it was race over.
Simon Blanckley - Owner/driver
"Saturday was a great day for us - we set ultra fast times and it was easily our best day of the season so far.
"Being in the mid-field in the wet is really tough as there was spray everywhere; it was so dangerous, especially in the first race on Sunday. I think we could have achieved a point or two in race one had we not been forced to retire. Matt (Neal) apologised for the first race which was nice, but I know it was unintentional. We get on really well, and I'm happy for him that he got a podium after being quite far back.
"Away from the track we had a great atmosphere in the garage as I had arranged for a party of sponsor guests to come to the race, and despite the weather, everybody seemed to enjoy themselves."
Graham Hathaway - Team Manager
"It was a weekend of contrast for us really - a great Saturday and a difficult Sunday.
"The car was reliable as always and the lads did a great job to fix the driveshaft so quickly after the retirement in the first race.
"The positive fact is that we are still getting quicker."