Pidgley satisfied with BTCC debut
Ollie Pidgley achieved his long-held dream of competing in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham over the weekend, 11th/12th August, having sealed an eleventh-hour deal to join the UK’s biggest and best series just days before.
Pidgley, who has been competing in the MINI Challenge this year, started the past week preparing for this weekend’s latest rounds of the MINI season at Brands Hatch. But when the opportunity to graduate into the BTCC for the final four events of the year presented itself, there was no hesitation. After signing a deal to join Trade Price Cars with Team Brisky Racing on Tuesday, Pidgley got his first mileage at the wheel of the squad’s Volkswagen CC during a shakedown test and then headed into his eagerly awaited maiden BTCC race weekend.
Despite a luckless retirement on the opening lap of the first race on Sunday morning, Pidgley approached everything very sensibly indeed and went on to finish 25th in the second encounter and then an improved 22nd in the final race to accrue vital experience.
“It was always going to be hard work and a challenge to come straight into touring cars without any real testing, and with maximum ballast as a new driver, but everything went better than I thought it could and I’m happy overall”, said the Old English Properties and MSP Capital-backed driver, “In qualifying I was closer to the pole position time than I thought I would be, and then we moved forward in the races and made progress. I feel the racing in MINI this year prepared me well for this move to the BTCC, but it’s still a massive learning curve and there’s so much more to do. It’s amazing to be part of the BTCC and I have to say a massive thank you to all who have made it happen.”
Posting a best time of 1m25.301 seconds (81.87mph) in the opening free practice on Saturday, he went on to lap slightly quicker in session two with an effort of 1m25.273 seconds (81.90mph) and then gained an additional half a second in the subsequent qualifying session. Lapping in 1m24.793 seconds (82.36mph), Pidgley qualified 31st on the grid for his BTCC bow but he was more than satisfied to be less than two seconds shy of pole position, particularly considering his very limited track time behind the wheel of a touring car and with the 45kg of added ballast.
Focused on gaining as much experience as possible in race one of the weekend on Sunday morning, Pidgley’s plans were unfortunately dashed on the opening lap when contact at the exit of the Brook Chicane brought a bitterly disappointing early conclusion to his maiden BTCC encounter. Therefore beginning race two from the back of the grid again, there was also the added variable of rain ahead of the contest leading to a slippery track. Even so, all competitors ran with slick Dunlop rubber and the 20-year-old made a good start and put together a clean opening lap.
Moving into 28th position before the Safety Car was deployed, following a lap one incident, Pidgley was edged back to 29th place by James Cole’s Ford Focus after the re-start on the fourth tour and soon enough the Safety Car reappeared when Michael Caine crashed out in a sister Volkswagen CC. Racing got back underway on lap eight with Pidgley back in 28th spot and as several drivers hit trouble during the second half of the contest, so the BTCC rookie was able to pick off a few more places to eventually end the outing in 25th position.
Again eyeing improvement for the final race, the VW driver lined-up at the head of row 13 of the grid but as a result of Ricky Collard’s BMW grinding to a halt on the green flag lap Pidgley actually started an elevated 24th. As the lights went out for the start of the race, so the skies opened and rain made the braking zone for Deene Hairpin pretty treacherous. Emerging still in 24th place, after an early Safety Car period Pidgley pressed on and after moving into 22nd spot by lap 12 he then remained in position to the chequered flag on lap 16 to cap a strong debut weekend in the category.
“Driving the car is one thing, it’s everything else out of the car which you need to get adjusted to in touring cars as well – it’s obviously the biggest championship in the UK for a reason”, Pigley added, “It’s been great getting to know the guys at the team and they made all of us – me, my girlfriend Lucy and my mum and dad – so welcome and looked after them fantastically well. I’m really looking forward to Knockhill now in a couple of weeks, it’s not the greatest track for the Volkswagen CC with the twists and turns but I have been to the track before, a few years ago in Formula 4, and we’ll be going into that weekend with no ballast which will help from the start.”
After a whirlwind first week as a BTCC driver, Pidgley now has just a fortnight to wait until the championship continues at Knockhill over the weekend 25th/26th August.