Handy Motorsport’s Simon Belcher ended the eighth event of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season at Rockingham on Sunday, 7th September, with mixed feelings after hopes of a potential maiden outright BTCC points score were ruined following race three contact.
Although able to claim the third Independents Trophy points finish of his debut season in the UK’s biggest series in the last Rockingham encounter, the race almost ended dramatically for Belcher in the wall at Turn One when he was tagged by Daniel Welch at 140mph at the start of the final lap.
Fortunately a superb sideways save, his second of the weekend at that particular part of the track, enabled the KÄRCHER-backed racer to take the finish in 18th position overall, building on 20th place in race two and 28th position in the opening contest at the wheel of his Toyota Avensis.
“It’s only a matter of time before we get our first outright BTCC point, I’m sure of that”, said the Swindon driver, “We had a great chance in race three and although it didn’t work out, no fault of our own, we’re definitely making progress and getting there.
“I’ve been happy with the car this weekend, we came to Rockingham quite confident we could do well and practice went OK. Unfortunately, and we’re not sure why, we went slower on new tyres in qualifying so that had an impact on where we started race one – and then the rest of the weekend.”In free practice one on Saturday morning, Belcher made a consistent start during a session which got increasingly foggy. Conditions improved for session two where the first year BTCC racer posted the 24th fastest time – just 0.8 seconds shy of the top 10. Disappointingly, qualifying didn’t go as planned and he had to settle for 27th on the grid for round 22.
Making a decent getaway, the 40-year-old had a trouble-free opening lap and although edged back to 28th place by Martin Depper at the end of lap two, a tangle at Deene Hairpin on the third tour between Chris Stockton and James Cole enabled Belcher to move through to 26th position.
On lap five, a heavy collision involving Lea Wood and Warren Scott at Deene resulted in Belcher moving up into 24th place and also led to a two-lap Safety Car period. At the re-start, though, a major moment as Belcher exited the oval banking at Turn One led to a lurid slide but he managed to save the car impressively after fractionally dropping his right-rear tyre onto the ‘marbles’.
Falling to the tail of the field, a subsequent pit-stop to change all four Dunlops – due to significant flat spots – meant he lost a lap to the leaders but did eventually finish in 28th position. In terms of his pace, Belcher’s fastest lap was a match for top 20 performance.
Beginning round 23 from 28th place, Belcher made excellent progress through the order during the first half of the race and was into 22nd position by lap eight. Profiting from difficulties for a couple of drivers late-on, the Handy racer broke into the overall top 20 despite suffering with serious tyre degradation over the final couple of laps.
Leading to a row 10 start for round 24, the Wiltshire driver wasn’t able to capitalise on the position when an overheating clutch resulted in a plummet to the tail of the field but he mounted a sterling recovery. Into the top 20 by lap 12, Belcher continued his rise up the order and was into 17th into the final lap just before Welch tagged the Toyota going through the banked first corner.
Thanks to a superb piece of car control, Belcher recovered without any additional contact and took the flag in 18th position overall. Post-race, Welch was hit with a three point penalty on his licence and a five place grid penalty for the next round at Silverstone at the end of the month.
“We started on the soft tyres for race three and didn’t know if they’d hold on, but the clutch overheated at the start which meant we were last before the first corner”, explained Belcher, “I chased the rest down, though, and after catching them I started picking them off. I think we were up into 17th after I passed [Daniel] Welch but then he just biffed my rear corner at 140mph at Turn One.
“Luckily, I managed to save it. Into a corner like that you just don’t go hitting someone – it could easily have ended up with a wrecked Toyota Avensis in the concrete wall. I think without that happening, we had a good chance of getting into the top 15 and our first outright point in the BTCC.”