BTCC star MacDowall takes third podium of season
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship racer Alex MacDowall achieved his third podium of the season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 2nd October, to reconfirm his true front-running credentials on a weekend when he was dogged by a catalogue of mechanical problems.
Taking a third place finish in the first of the three races, round 25, the Carlisle 20-year-old was unfortunately prevented from adding to his tally when a mechanical failure in round 26 resulted in a dramatic retirement and another non-finish followed in round 27 due to gearbox woes.
Despite an unbelievable amount of bad luck, the Silverline Chevrolet driver was able to hold on to his top 10 placing in the championship on a weekend when scorching hot temperatures made the challenging 2.3-mile track even more of a handful.
Right from the off in free practice on Saturday, 1st October, Alex was on the pace and showing great commitment around the fast corners of the Kent circuit’s Grand Prix configuration. Fifth in the first session and fourth in session two, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) ‘Superstar’ could have been quicker had it not been for an alternator failure.
The same was true of qualifying when engine issues limited the Cumbrian to the fourth fastest time but he headed into the first race of the weekend determined to take a podium at the very least from the second row of the grid.
Ahead of Sunday’s opening encounter, problems for Andrew Jordan meant he wouldn’t line-up on the front row and so Alex began round 25 in third place. Making an excellent getaway, he got ahead of James Nash’s Vauxhall Vectra to take second and fended off the rapid-starting Matt Neal.
Closing up immediately to the tail of team-mate Jason Plato’s sister Chevrolet Cruze, Alex matched the reigning BTCC champion during the early stages as the pair looked set to achieve a dream result for the RML-run squad.
Gradually edging clear of third placed Neal, the two Chevrolets continued to circulate in very close company but on the penultimate lap Alex noticed a vibration which proved a cause for concern. The net result was that he opted to settle for a safe third place instead of defending hard from the turbo Ford of Mat Jackson – the latter having taken third off Neal on lap 10 when he suffered a puncture.
Although disappointed to have missed out on the runner-up spot, Alex was nonetheless delighted to be back on the podium. He also posted the second fastest lap with a time of 1m32.853 seconds, just 0.021 seconds shy of Plato’s quickest.
“This is a proper track, a really ballsy track, and if you’re a good driver you can excel through the fast corners, which is where we’ve been strong”, said Alex, “We had second place done until I got a vibration from the front. I thought I was going to get a puncture so I had to think whether I wanted to let Jackson through or fight him and risk the tyre going. So I backed off and settled for third.”
Starting round 26 from third on the grid, Alex felt before the start there was a problem with the engine which had been replaced after qualifying and so it proved when a lack of power enabled Tom Onslow-Cole to get by for third on lap two.
Unwilling to let the Ford pull away, he redoubled his efforts and also had to work hard to keep O’Neill behind. On lap 10 though, as he headed along Cooper Straight, smoke began to dramatically pour out of the engine bay of Alex’s car and his earlier fears were realised as the engine blew.
“We were looking good in that race”, he said, “Onslow-Cole’s car was mega quick, I wondered where he’d come from when he passed me, but we were ok. Then the car just blew, I didn’t know what had happened but I knew it was terminal! It’s so frustrating to have a failure like that as we were on for another good finish.”
Forced to start round 27 from 29th and last on the grid due to his race two retirement, Alex noticed the gearbox rattling as he made his way to the grid and he was unable to use third gear. Still able to make-up several places on the first lap, it was only a matter of time before the gearbox expired – all in all, he didn’t stand a chance in the second and third races.
Alex’s second season of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship action will reach its conclusion a fortnight from now, over the weekend 15th/16th October, at Silverstone in Northamptonshire.
Provisional 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Standings (after Rd27):
1st Matt Neal, 225pts; 10th Alex MacDowall, 84pts