TCR UK Touring Car Championship – Rounds 1 & 2
Snetterton 300 – 9th April 2023
The TCR UK Touring Car Championship’s 2023 season, which is set to be its best yet, began with two thrilling races in front of an appreciative crowd at Snetterton over the weekend of 8-9 April.
Bruce Winfield headed home hugely successful international racer Josh Files to win Round 1 in his Hyundai i30 N. Rising star Lewis Brown then took victory in a dramatic Round 2, piloting a CUPRA Leon Competición on his debut weekend in the championship.
With a 24-car field including new drivers, teams and cars, as well as the established stars of the championship, Saturday’s first competitive action of 2023 was eagerly anticipated.
It was Area Motorsport’s Josh Files, winner of four TCR series since 2016, who showed his international class by topping the timesheets for much of the session as the Hyundai Elantra N made its UK debut. But a red flag led to a seven-minute shootout around the 2.97-mile Snetterton 300 circuit with times tumbling as the track rubbered in.
New Hyundai Customer Racing Junior Driver Bradley Kent pumped in two flying laps in his unique Essex & Kent Motorsport-run Hyundai Veloster N to pip Files by just 0.078 seconds. But scrutineering checks found Kent’s car to be suffering from an intermittent reading from a technical sensor, and it was sent to the back of the grid.
Files would therefore claim the £1000 bonus and line up in pole position for his TCR UK debut, with Hyundai i30 N-mounted team-mates Bruce Winfield, Adam Shepherd and Alex Ley completing a great day for Area Motorsport in second, third and fifth.
Reigning champion Chris Smiley, entrusted with the global debut of the new Honda Civic Type R FL5, was fourth, and Chameleon Motorsport’s Lewis Brown (CUPRA Leon Competición) completed the top six on his series debut.
With the top nine drivers covered by exactly one second, a close-fought contest was in store.
Round 1 – Race Report
Sunday’s on-track activities began with the re-introduction of TCR UK’s hugely popular public grid walk. Fans were able to see the cars up close and enjoy selfies with the drivers under the spring sunshine as anticipation built ahead of the opening race of the season.
With prize money of £1500, £1000 and £500 on offer to the top three finishers, it wasn’t just championship points, trophies and prestige that the drivers would be fighting over.
When the action got underway, Winfield and Shepherd got the jump on Files, who suffered a sluggish getaway, while Smiley’s Honda also had a look into the opening corner at Riches before tucking into fourth position.
The leading quartet settled into a rhythm before Brown managed to squeeze inside Smiley for fourth through Williams and onto the long Bentley straight on lap four of 13.
Shepherd’s chances of an opening-race podium vanished when he suffered a tyre delamination and was forced to pit. That released Files to fire in the fastest lap and close up to the leading Winfield. With the duo’s two cars having differing strengths – Winfield’s i30 stronger on acceleration and Files’s Elantra better on the brakes – Files was unable to make a move.
So Winfield was overcome with emotion as he took his fourth win in TCR UK, coming shortly after the loss of his father Paul, a very popular figure in and around the paddock.
Files was more than happy with second position, while Smiley secured a debut podium for his new car as Brown struggled for grip in the closing stages and suffered a delay in backmarker traffic.
Fourth was nonetheless an impressive result for Brown on his first TCR UK start. Alex Ley, like Kent a newly announced Hyundai Customer Racing Junior Driver, was fifth on the day after his 18th birthday.
Three more debutants filled the next three places as experienced touring car racer Carl Boardley brought home his Zest Racecar Engineering CUPRA Leon sixth ahead of Joe Marshall (Rob Boston Racing Audi RS3 LMS Gen II) and 19th-birthday boy Jenson Brickley (Jenson Brickley Racing CUPRA Leon Competición).
Callum Newsham’s JH Racing-run Hyundai i30 N was forced to retire from a strong sixth position with gearbox problems mid-race, while Jac Constable (Rob Boston Racing Audi RS3 LMS Gen II) was another to suffer misfortune. After water-pump issues prevented Constable from setting a time in qualifying, he had charged from the back to run in ninth when driveshaft failure forced him to park up in the closing stages.
Smiley’s Restart Racing team-mate Scott Sumpton was ninth in the older Honda Civic Type R FK7, while Brad Hutchison’s Bond It with MPHR Audi RS3 LMS claiming the crucial 10th position – and with it pole position for the top-10 reversed race two grid – despite feeling that the car was down on straight-line speed.
However, Sumpton’s car was excluded from the results post-race after a team mistake in incorrectly declaring his tyres. That promoted debutant Alistair Camp’s Pro Alloys Racing Hyundai i30 N to 10th – after holding off Bradley Kent’s charge from a delayed pitlane start – and pole position for race two.
Round 2 – Race report
Reversing the top 10 to form the grid for the day’s second race always creates an action-packed encounter, and Sunday’s finale was no different.
Brad Hutchison managed to jump Camp at the start, with Marshall also making a fine getaway from row two to challenge for second into the opening corner before running slightly wide.
A superb start from Files, combined with cleverly hugging the inside line for the tight Wilson hairpin, allowed him to grab fourth. He then followed Marshall inside Camp at the slightly more open Agostini hairpin before grabbing second at Williams.
Meantime, Smiley’s fabulous-looking new Honda had taken a heavy hit into the inside barriers at Riches after getting turned around in the opening skirmishes, before bouncing back across the track. Thankfully his car was avoided by the pack, but with it stranded just off the circuit, a short safety car period was required.
Racing resumed on lap three of 12, with Hutchison leading Files, Marshall, Camp, Brown and Ley. With Hutchison still struggling for straight-line speed, the pack remained close and, as Files tried to find a way past, Marshall made a fantastic manoeuvre around the outside of Coram for the inside line at Murrays. Marshall’s slower exit from the tighter line gave Files and Brown a run down the Senna Straight, but Marshall completed the spectacular move into Riches.
Marshall now focused his attention on Hutchison and cut back into the second part of the Esses at Nelson to momentarily move ahead, only to run onto the grass and drop down the order.
Files finally managed to pass Hutchison with a similar move to Marshall’s through Coram and Murrays. Brown, Ley, Winfield and Boardley all found their way past Hutchison over the next lap.
Once in front, Files and Brown were able to open an advantage, with Brown impressing as he matched Files’s terrific pace. The pair set identical fastest laps at one point before Brown managed to go 0.03s faster.
A grandstand finish was on the cards, especially as Files’s pace began to drop on the penultimate lap. Sadly for him and the Area Motorsport team, small wisps of smoke suddenly exploded into an engine blow-up as he exited the first corner of the final lap, denying him the chance of an opening-weekend victory.
So it was Brown who took an impressive 5s victory over Ley, with Winfield completing a fantastic weekend by scoring his second podium finish of the day. The top three were presented with prize money cheques of £750, £500 and £250 on the podium, as they will be at each weekend’s second race this year.
Kent completed a strong damage-limitation exercise by climbing through to fourth ahead of Boardley and Shepherd. Marshall recovered to seventh, with Brickley and Hutchison following him home. Camp just held on to 10th ahead of Newsham, whose JH Racing crew had done a fine job to source and fit a replacement gearbox.
As the highest-place rookie in both races, Lewis Brown twice took the Tom Walker Memorial Trophy honours. Similarly, Carl Boardley won the Goodyear Diamond Trophy section, for drivers aged over 40, in both races.
Round 1 winner, Bruce Winfield
“Very emotional. It couldn’t have been a better start to the championship really. I qualified P2, was absolutely ecstatic with that and to jump Josh [Files] on the start. I got a great start so it gave me some clear air to just do my own thing.
“Josh wasn’t going to try anything silly. Rob Baker, the Area Motorsport team owner, gave us all words before we went out and said, ‘Don’t do anything daft!’
“Fortunately as well, I had strengths where Josh had weaknesses. He was better on the brakes and I was better on the exit of turns so it gave me that bit of breathing room so I didn’t have to defend.”
Round 2 winner, Lewis Brown
“If you’d have asked me Friday if I’d have won a race, I’d have a trophy under my belt by the end of the weekend, I would have laughed. But the team have worked tirelessly all weekend to get this car underneath us.
“We made the moves at the right point and that’s what gave us a gap. And the set-up changes we made for that race just transformed the car and were what we needed.
“In race one, we learnt so much about the car and I learnt myself as a driver how the races go and how the tyres drop off. So it was all a learning weekend.
“I’ve said to everyone, Josh Files is a world-class driver, he’s a former TCR Europe champion. So to race against him and be on the same pace, it’s great.”
The 2023 TCR UK Touring Car Championship is back in action in in 4 weeks time, where rounds 3 & 4 will take place at Croft in Yorkshire.
You can purchase tickets for this event at the following link: https://www.croftcircuit.co.uk/racing/brscc