BTCC: Croft Team Petronas race notes

David Leslie once again flew the flag for Team PETRONAS Syntium Proton with a superb second place at Croft in Round 11 of the 2002 British Touring Car Championship. His stirring drive was applauded around the Yorkshire circuit where he first raced...

David Leslie once again flew the flag for Team PETRONAS Syntium Proton with a superb second place at Croft in Round 11 of the 2002 British Touring Car Championship. His stirring drive was applauded around the Yorkshire circuit where he first raced back in 1976.

Qualifying
With spirits high at Team PSP following yet another third place for Leslie at Mondello Park, the team was keen to aim higher still and went for a radical chassis set-up for Leslie, with Bennett taking a slightly softer line. Despite good straightline speed, the set-up for the Proton Impians was not ideal for the mixture of high and low-speed corners at Croft. Still, Phil Bennett in 9th spot recorded a time just 1.019 seconds behind poleman Thompson, with Leslie 0.04 seconds back in 11th for the Sprint. Phil Bennett said: “We went for a big change which didn’t really work. Even so we’re closer than ever to the front-runner’s times. It shows just how competitive this series has become.” For the Feature race, it was much the same result for Leslie securing 12th place, but electrical gremlins struck Phil’s car preventing him recording a time; he would start from the back of the grid.

Sprint Race – 15 laps
For once, the race weekend was bathed in sunshine. Leslie made a superb start and completed the first lap in 8th place, harrying the Peugeot of Eaves and being chased by Turkington’s MG. After some confusion over the start lights, Phil Bennett was running well until he was nudged by O’Neill at the notorious hairpin which was to claim several other experienced drivers. Shortly after, drama hit the race as O’Neill’s car spun and caught fire; the safety car came out to allow the marshals to clear up the car, its leaked oil and other incidents.

Once the pace car cleared the track, Leslie continued to dice with Eaves and Turkington. The pace was too hot for Eaves’ car, which started to drop back allowing Leslie to attack Morrison in fourth place. More drama ensued as Reid succumbed to the gravel trap, elevating the Hughes-Morrison-Leslie gaggle to fight for third. Leslie nipped past Morrison and when Muller pulled off with a puncture, Leslie was running third with just two laps to go. He was right on Hughes’ bumper and found a way past when the works MG driver went wide, storming to a richly deserved second place. Phil Bennett found his car understeering more as the race unfolded; he had an unplanned excursion at Clervaulx and finally finished in 12th place.

David Leslie said: “What a great return to Croft for me and a terrific result for all the lads at Team PSP! The car was back to its strong performance and I could push hard right through the race. It was tricky with lots of oil on the track but the chequered flag was a wonderful sight. A big thank you to the lads for a great car.”

David Wong, Team Principal, Team PSP said: “I’m very proud of the team – this was a superb on-track performance which has exceeded our hopes for this season. Congratulations to all the engineers and mechanics here and in Malaysia, and special thanks to David Leslie for another careful yet spirited drive.”

Feature Race – 25 laps
After his success in the Sprint race, Leslie lined up on the grid with 30kg of success ballast. Both he and Phil Bennett put in solid performances, moving through the pack to finish 7th and 8th respectively. Phil Bennett had been running ahead of his team-mate for most of the race until his bonnet came loose on lap 22 and to make matters worse the electrical gremlins returned, causing him to drop back. He said: “That was much better until the misfire returned. The car was really well balanced and I thought I might be on for a top-six finish. Still, I’m pretty chuffed – our pace in free qualifying shows we can do it. Just look how close the qualifying times were – this is now a really competitive series and we’re right in the thick of it.”

David Leslie said: “That was hot work! We tried another different set-up for the Feature race and it didn’t really come off – another notch on the learning curve. Still, despite my gear-linkage breaking four laps from the end, it was another good solid points-scoring result to add to the team’s tally. Three thirds and now a second – Team PSP is moving on up!”

Peter Gillitzer, Operations Director, Team PSP said: “This was an excellent weekend and a real pat on the back for everyone at Team PSP. We’re already looking forward to our home race at Snetterton.”

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Series BTCC
Drivers David Leslie , Phil Bennett