Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship newcomer Simon Belcher achieved his goal of finishing all three races on his category debut at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit on Sunday, 30th March, and departed the Kent venue pleased with his consistent start to the 2014 season.
With a superb grid of 30 cars taking to the track for the opening weekend of the campaign, the Handy Motorsport driver declared himself very happy to finish just outside the top 20 in rounds one and three at the wheel of his KÄRCHER-backed Toyota Avensis.
Improving his pace through both free practice sessions on Saturday, 29th March, Belcher lapped the 1.2-mile Indy Circuit in a time of 49.733 seconds (87.43 mph) during his first ever BTCC qualifying session to secure 25th position on the grid – within just 1.5 seconds of pole position.
Choosing to run the ‘soft’ tyres for the first race of the weekend – each driver having to use the softer compound in one of the event’s three contests – the Swindon racer gained two positions even before the start following problems for a couple of rivals.
Making a good launch at the first time of asking in his BTCC career, the 40-year-old got away from the line cleanly and although challenged by Martin Depper’s Honda Civic at Paddock Hill Bend, he fought back impressively around the outside at Druids to regain the place into Graham Hill Bend.
Running in 22nd position into lap two, Belcher was shuffled back a spot by Depper at Paddock and then circulated in 23rd place until lap 15 when a tangle between Depper and James Cole enabled the Toyota to move into 21st position where it remained to the chequered flag on lap 24.
Beginning round two from his earlier finishing position, Belcher again got away well from the grid but the Safety Car was deployed before the end of the opening lap due to a car off the circuit in the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend. When the action resumed on lap five, Belcher held 21st position and moved into the top 20 at Graham Hill Bend before being held out wide at Clearways soon after.
Elbowed down to 25th place over the course of the next few laps, the Wiltshire racer was able to gain back one position on lap 20 prior to a second Safety Car period and went on to maintain position in 24th spot to the finish. Post-race, he was elevated into 23rd position when Marc Hynes was excluded.
Starting round three from the 12th row of the grid, Belcher slipped back a couple of places initially before recovering into 22nd place and then gaining another position on the final lap to cap a good, solid maiden weekend. Notably, his best lap of the race was within one second of the pace set by race winner, and former BTCC Champion, Colin Turkington.
“The aim for Brands was to finish all three races, make progress with the car and learn as much as possible”, said Belcher, “We achieved our goals, stayed out of trouble, and laid a good foundation for the rest of the season. It would have been very easy to get caught-up in some incidents, we just needed to avoid anything like that and get as much track time as possible.
“It’s been fantastic being part of a BTCC weekend as a touring car driver for the first time, we had a huge crowd on Sunday and actually being out there on the BTCC grid is a special feeling – I really did enjoy it. Hopefully we can take what we’ve learned and make more progress at Donington, breaking into the top 20 if we can.”