MacDowall proves pace during bruising Rockingham weekend
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Alex MacDowall rued what might have been at Rockingham on Sunday, 25th April, after three bruising races prevented him from making the most of a career best top three qualifying performance in only his second ever BTCC event.
The 19-year-old was a complete revelation during qualifying on Saturday, 24th April, when he steered his Chevrolet Cruze to third on the grid for the fourth round of the season with a superb lap time of 1m23.782 seconds (83.35mph) – just four 10ths of a second shy of pole position and two spots ahead of Silverline Chevrolet team-mate Jason Plato.
Ahead of Sunday’s first touring car encounter at the Corby track, drivers and teams were left with a difficult choice regarding tyres due to earlier rain leaving the circuit very slippery. Opting to go with slicks on the front and treaded wet-weather rubber on the rear, Alex held a top four placing initially behind a fast-starting Tom Onslow-Cole but gained the position back at Pif-Paf.
Pushed wide at Brook Chicane and slipping to fifth place, it soon became apparent the drivers with slick tyres on all four wheels were the ones in the box seat. Battling hard with ever-lessening grip from his over-heating rear tyres, Alex did a good job to bring the car home in 12th place.
For round five, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star lined up on the sixth row of the grid by virtue of his earlier finishing position and held high hopes of progressing up the order in fully dry conditions, having shown his true pace in qualifying on Saturday.
Some rough attention from one or two of the midfield runners left Alex with a lot of work to do and after being forced off the circuit at Deene Hairpin on lap seven while dicing on the fringe of the top 12, he had to mount a recovery drive from 18th place. Resolutely carving his way back through during the closing stages, Alex made his way back into 12th position with some strong driving.
Round six brought more of the same for the 2009 ELF Renault Clio Cup Vice-Champion. Starting 12th on the grid, he kept out of trouble well through the first hairpin but into Chapman Curve Alex’s car received a very substantial impact to the right-rear corner from David Pinkney’s Vauxhall Vectra.
Forcing the pair off into the gravel trap on the exit of the turn, Alex did manage to limp back to the pits but the contact from behind delivered a direct hit to the rear axle beam on his Chevrolet leading to broken rear suspension and a bitterly disappointing retirement.
“It’s been a very disappointing end to the weekend unfortunately, the wrong tyre choice in the first race really set the tone for the rest of the day and then we had some bad luck with contact in both of the other races”, said Alex, “It’s a real shame as in qualifying I proved what we can do, it was great to set the third fastest time and I’m just disappointed we couldn’t benefit from that.”
Hot on the heels of this weekend’s action at Rockingham, the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds of the 2010 season will take place at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, Kent, next weekend, 1st/2nd May, where Alex will be aiming to convert his undoubted pace into three strong race results.
2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship driver standings:
1st Jason Plato, 64pts; 12th Alex MacDowall, 11pts