The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is the highest profile UK race series. For many drivers, it is their ambition to join BTCC champions such as Colin Turkington, Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Ash Sutton and Andrew Jordan on the grid.
Dunlop, as the Official Tyre Supplier to the BTCC, once again, provided an opportunity for champions from the MINI Challenge to test a winning touring car at Snetterton today.
MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Champion Ant Whorton-Eales was the first to earn the test opportunity, but for him it was a step into familiar territory. He took part in Dunlop’s annual prize test in 2016 after winning the Renault Clio Cup. This launched him into BTCC, driving an AmD Tuning Audi S3 in 2017, before choosing to tackle the highly competitive MINI Challenge this year.
The Staffordshire racer relished his second Dunlop opportunity, saying: “It was great to test a proven winning car. Motorbase have come a long way in developing this car in the two years since my first test.”
Reflecting on his year in the MINI Challenge, Ant added: “It’s a definite stepping stone to the BTCC. I’d rate it as the best one make series. A driver with Touring Car ambitions should definitely consider the MINI Challenge.”
He was joined at the test by MINI JCW Vice-Champion, Nathan Harrison. Like Whorton-Eales, the Oxfordshire driver drove the Team Shredded Wheat with Gallagher Racing Ford Focus RS, and benefited from coaching from BTCC race winner and former Independent World Touring Car Champion, Tom Chilton.
Harrison said. “This was an amazing day, thanks to Dunlop and Motorbase. It’s a great opportunity and I’m working hard on raising a budget to move up to BTCC. The grip and power of the car felt great and I feel that the MINI Challenge has been a step towards preparing me for this.”
Each driver handled the Focus around the three mile Snetterton 300 circuit. Michael Butler of Dunlop Motorsport stated: “We are grateful to Motorbase Performance for giving our Dunlop Champions such a brilliant opportunity. Dunlop invest heavily in national level motorsport, and this year we showcased talent from the MINI Challenge, which has established itself as a genuine step on the ladder into BTCC. The 265hp MINI JCW cars provide performance that is close to Touring Car level so it’s no surprise Nathan was able to adapt so quickly, just as Ant did two years ago.”
The two drivers used Dunlop’s Sport Maxx Prime tyre in the morning before switching to the Sport Maxx Option Soft for race distance runs in the afternoon. “Adapting to the different tyres is a skill that top BTCC drivers need to have. It’s a curved ball we like to throw into the test programme so we can coach the drivers on optimising tyre performance.” added Butler.
Oly Collins, Team Manager, Shredded Wheat with Gallagher Racing, explained the importance of the test: “It was a varied day with two drivers of different experience levels. With Ant returning to the BTCC we trusted him to start his runs on cold tyres and bring them up to speed quickly. For Nathan, he had the opportunity to drive after Tom Chilton had brought the tyres and brakes up to temperature. He then progressed perfectly to get on to the pace very quickly. Both drivers didn’t over-drive the car and performed impressively.”
A third MINI Challenge star also earned a BTCC prize drive. Kyle Reid, who won the MINI Cooper Pro category this year, will test the Focus in 2019 as he was unable to attend this session.
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