Contact-strewn Rockingham races prove vexing for MacDowall
Silverline Chevrolet’s Alex MacDowall endured a massively difficult time of things during the latest three rounds of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship action at Rockingham on Sunday, 18th September – major contact in two of the races leading to his first non-scoring weekend of 2011.
In terms of pace, the Carlisle 20-year-old certainly had the ability to try and bolster his placing in the championship top 10 but problems with the brake balance on his Chevrolet Cruze in the second free practice session and qualifying on Saturday, 17th September, set the scene for a troublesome event.
Having been third fastest during the opening practice, hopes were high but the brake issue made for a seriously difficult qualifying run. Compromised too by a red flag stoppage as he ventured out for his final run, Alex was only able to post an unrepresentative 15th best time.
Nonetheless, with the RML mechanics having worked hard to rectify the car in time for Sunday’s first race, round 22, the Cumbrian got away well from the grid and climbed into 12th place on the opening lap before gaining 11th when Andrew Jordan retired.
As at Knockhill a fortnight prior though, the turbo-powered cars proved a handful and Alex was powerless to defend from Tom Boardman’s SEAT Leon on lap four out of Turn One so he was pushed back to 12th position. Soon after, he was able to latch-on to the tail of Andy Neate’s Ford Focus but try as he might he couldn’t quite find a way through.
On lap six though, as they headed into Turn One, Alex was able to position his Chevrolet to the inside but contact from Neate pitched the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Superstar into a spin. He was able to recover, but down in 19th place, and after a brief Safety Car interlude he made good progress back into 12th place.
Reunited with the back of Neate’s car with just a couple of laps remaining, Alex searched for a way past and after not quite being able to nose ahead on the penultimate tour he made his move stick through Gracelands on the inside on the last lap to take 11th place superbly – that was until Neate made contact with the rear of Alex’s car at Tarzan Hairpin to punt him wide and back to 12th spot.
“Our problems started in qualifying really with the braking issue, the car was snaking around at the back and not giving me a lot of confidence”, he explained, “Obviously the car was capable of good pace, as Jason (Plato) and Paul O’Neill locked-out the front row in their Chevys, but we didn’t have a chance with our problem so we ended up 15th.
“Racing the turbos was so hard again this weekend, they just drive straight past you. Race one wasn’t going all that badly though but I couldn’t believe (Andy) Neate. We had a bit of contact at Turn One but I was inside and it put me into a massive spin. I fought back and caught him up again and after I’d passed him on the last lap he just drove straight into the back of me!”
Yet more robust action determined the outcome of round 23 for Alex, this time from the Audi of Rob Austin on lap 12 – once again on the run into Tarzan. Having started on row six Alex got up to 11th by one third distance, before being bundled back a couple of positions, but he regained 12th on lap 11 and tried to get on terms with the turbo Ford of Tom Onslow-Cole.
With a train of three Fords holding Alex up as they battled among themselves, so he was caught by Austin and the latter hit the rear of the youngster’s Chevrolet as they exited Gracelands on the approach to Tarzan. Producing a great save to keep his car pointing in the right direction, Alex was able to finish in 15th position.
For round 24, a top 10 points score was the aim and he came incredibly close by concluding the race just a second shy in 11th place. Working his way into 12th spot just after mid-distance, Alex enjoyed a close battle with the BMW of Nick Foster over the final five laps and shaded him by 0.3 seconds.
Alex will be back at the wheel of his Chevrolet Cruze a fortnight from now, over the weekend 1st/2nd October, at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent for rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the 30-race season.
Provisional 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Standings (after Rd24):
1st Matt Neal, 204pts; 10th Alex MacDowall, 74pts