TCR UK Touring Car Championship – Rounds 3 & 4
Croft – 7th May 2023
The third and fourth rounds of the 2023 TCR UK Touring Car Championship played out in front of an enthusiastic coronation weekend crowd at Croft on 6-7 May, with Jac Constable and Jenson Brickley taking the victory laurels.
On TCR UK’s first visit to North Yorkshire since 2019, Constable showed terrific pace in his Audi RS3 LMS to win Round 3 before teenaged rising star Brickley proved his promise with an assured victory in Round 4.
The top six drivers – in five different models of car – were separated by barely more than a quarter of a second in Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session on the challenging 2.1-mile Croft circuit, demonstrating just how competitive this year’s championship is proving to be.
It was the Gen II-spec Audi RS3 LMS of Rob Boston Racing’s Jac Constable that topped the timesheets, but only after a terrific late run. Bradley Kent had put his Hyundai Veloster N onto provisional pole with a cracking time mid-session before Carl Boardley upped the ante with a pair of super-fast laps in the CUPRA Leon Competición now run by his own team in conjunction with Hart GT.
As the time ticked down, Boardley appeared to have done enough to secure a maiden pole position and he elected to save further fresh rubber for Sunday’s races.
But Constable had other ideas, setting a time just 0.026s quicker than Boardley and then having to abort an even quicker run at the death after a mistake in the tricky double-apex Sunny corners.
It was still enough for Constable to secure Audi’s first TCR UK pole position, while Boardley hung on to second despite a series of late improvements almost toppling him. Kent’s Essex & Kent Motorsport-run car and the JH Racing Hyundai i30 N of Callum Newsham would make up row two, with reigning champions Chris Smiley (Restart Racing Honda Civic Type R) and Constable’s team-mate Joe Marshall completing the closely-matched top six.
Jenson Brickley’s family-run CUPRA was seventh, the youngster kicking himself after spinning near the end of what was set to be his best lap. Area Motorsport trio Adam Shepherd, Alex Ley and championship leader Bruce Winfield completed the top 10 as they couldn’t quite find the optimum performance in their i30 N’s which were laden with compensation weight after their strong showing at the opening race weekend.
Round 3 – Race Report
Some overnight rain left a slightly damp track surface ahead of Sunday’s opening race. But it was quickly drying as the sun shone for the ever-popular public grid walk that opened proceedings. Expectant spectators once again made the most of the opportunity to get close to the star drivers and their cars before the on-track battles commenced.
While the track had almost dried before lights out, it was still slightly damp on the inside line. Boardley took full advantage of his drier line to jump Constable at the start and lead the way as the field made their way sensibly through Croft’s notorious opening sequence of Clervaux, Hawthorn and the chicane.
Smiley had used his experience to leap into third, ahead of Newsham, the cautious Kent and Marshall. But as Boardley eked an advantage out front, a train was starting to form behind Smiley’s Honda.
It wasn’t long before Boardley started to suffer with understeer and, as Constable hit his stride, the Audi began closing on the former British Touring Car racer’s CUPRA by a few tenths each tour, setting a new fastest lap in the process.
Constable mounted his challenge just past half-distance at Tower, but Boardley was able to ease him towards the damper line. As Constable collected a squirrely moment on the grass towards the super-fast Jim Clark Esses, the Suffolk man made his escape once more.
Meantime, Kent had been able to make his pressure count by getting inside Newsham for fourth at the hairpin. That immediately became third as Smiley slowed up before pulling off with a sensor problem on his Civic that was competing in only its second race weekend.
Out front, Constable re-gathered his composure and started to reel Boardley in once again. A grandstand finish looked to be on the cards until a lock-up at Sunny left Constable settling for a very strong second that would go some way to making up for a tough season-opener at Snetterton.
But there was to be another twist. Boardley’s fine drive looked set to secure his maiden TCR UK victory, but he was hit with a 5 seconds track-limits penalty, handing Constable victory by less than a second.
Kent was third, while Newsham was disappointed to just miss out on the podium in fourth. Marshall completed a great race for Rob Boston Racing in fifth ahead of Shepherd and Winfield, who were both still searching for that elusive set-up sweet spot.
Gambling on the track drying more slowly than it did, Brickley was running older rubber which left him slipping to eighth, ahead of Brad Hutchison’s Bond It with MPHR Audi RS3. The top 10 was completed by Ley who managed to bring the car home despite suffering a tyre delamination.
Round 4 – Race Report
Ley’s perseverance was rewarded with pole position for the end-of-day finale which features a top-10 reversal of the first race’s finishing positions for its starting grid.
But it was Hutchison who led away from the outside of the front row. The local driver’s time in front was short-lived, however, as he ran wide on the second lap, which let Ley and Brickley ahead. By the end of the lap, Shepherd and Winfield had it made it three Area Hyundai’s in the top four as Hutchison began to get shuffled down the order.
While set-up tweaks for Shepherd and Winfield had dialled out more of the understeer they had been suffering, Ley’s had turned into oversteer and he was forced into driving a defensive race. But he couldn’t hold off Brickley, who got a run through Tower and completed the move through the daunting Jim Clark Esses on lap three of eighteen.
Shepherd further demoted Ley at the hairpin, and the front two were then able to start pulling clear as Ley had his work cut out keeping the rest behind him.
Consistently strong pace from Brickley opened a margin over Shepherd, who himself had nearly five seconds in hand on Ley when a safety car was called on lap six. That was required after Dan Kirby’s Zest Race Engineering CUPRA went into the barriers at the complex. In the end, Kirby was able to extract himself so the race went green again before the pack had even formed a queue behind the safety car.
Brickley was alert to the situation and managed to rebuild his advantage over the closing laps. He eventually crossed the line three seconds clear of Shepherd to record his first TCR UK victory in just his fourth start in the championship.
Shepherd was happy to have improved his pace throughout the weekend and finish with a podium, keeping himself in touch in the championship. Behind them, Marshall and Winfield managed to jump Ley and secure third and fourth. It was a maiden podium for Marshall in his first season of front-wheel-drive racing.
Winfield had picked up damage in an earlier brush with Ley which split an oil collector tank, the resulting leak onto the side of his car not helping its grip. But he just managed to hold off Boardley to consolidate his championship lead. Boardley is in fact now Winfield’s closest challenger after scoring his fourth consecutive top-six finish to start the season.
Constable finished sixth. Having been elbowed backwards in a couple of first-lap incidents, he was fired up to mount a strong recovery drive. The Rob Boston Racing driver made a late dive inside both Ley and Kent into the complex, which was only ever going to have one outcome. He made contact with Ley, that then pushed Ley into Kent on the outside line, causing both drivers to retire from the damage made to their cars.
Newsham was seventh with Hutchison benefiting from a track-limits penalty for Smiley to take eighth. The Restart Racing driver had made rapid progress from the back of the grid in the opening exchanges. Oliver Cottam’s Paul Sheard Racing Audi RS3 completed the top 10.
Boardley’s performances earned him the Goodyear Diamond Award, for drivers over 40, in both races. With this being his first year in the championship, he also took the opener’s Tom Walker Memorial rookie honours. That trophy was added to race-winner Brickley’s haul in race two.
Round 3 winner, Jac Constable
“It was doable on the road, but these things happen. I closed in again but then I locked a front just tipping into Sunny In and that was it – just ran a little bit wide.
“I think we were quickest, or if not one of the quicker ones, on the track all of the time. I’m really happy with what Rob Boston’s put together this weekend. We’ve done a lot of development with the car with Audi and it’s made a lot of difference.
“We’ve had Detlef Schmidt [from Audi Customer Racing] helping us out. Detlef’s developed the car from the first phase so it’s good to have him here.”
Round 4 winner, Jenson Brickley
“We knew we had the pace coming from the Friday test but then messed up qualifying. Then we made the wrong tyre decision for race one. We thought everyone was going to go on new tyres and it’d be too oversteery for everyone. But it dried up too fast and we basically had terminal understeer.
“In race two, we were pulling out a gap on Adam Shepherd so it was a very good race – I can’t thank the team enough.
“I saw the safety car signs when we were two and bit seconds up the road. But I thought ‘we’ve done it once so when the safety car goes in, we’ll just try and do it again’.
“Hopefully we can take this into the next round and see where we can go from there.”
Next time – Oulton Park Island
The 2023 TCR UK Touring Car Championship is back in action in 4 weeks time, all in one day on Saturday 10th June, where rounds 5 & 6 will take place at Oulton Park in Cheshire, using the Island layout.
You can purchase tickets for this event at the following link: https://www.tcr-uk.co.uk/2023-calendar/