MacDowall mixes it at the front at Donington
Cumbrian racing driver Alex MacDowall was in the thick of the action at Donington Park over the weekend, 18th/19th September, to secure a best finish of fourth place during the first of the event’s trio of highly entertaining Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races.
Now just four points shy of the coveted top 10 in the overall driver standings, the 19-year-old BTCC rookie delivered a great performance in round 25 to avoid trouble and come through from 10th on the grid into the top four – just 0.3 seconds shy of a podium result.
Although disappointed not to have continued the sparkling qualifying form he’s been producing since the mid-season break, Alex was still only half a second shy of pole position. Furthermore, after Saturday afternoon’s grid-determining session it became clear the Carlisle-based driver’s Chevrolet Cruze had actually been suffering with an engine-related performance deficiency.
With the issue rectified by the Silverline Chevrolet team ahead of Sunday’s races, Alex started round 25 from the fifth row. Although pushed wide onto the grass exiting Redgate for the first time as he ran on the outside line, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star soon regained his lost ground and by lap six he was back into the top 10.
Following a five lap Safety Car period, required to recover Paul O’Neill’s stricken car, Alex remained tight to the rear of the train of cars ahead and worked wonders to avoid a multi-car collision just ahead of him at the newly configured chicane.
Moving up into seventh place initially, Alex then made further inroads into lap 13 at the expense of others who were delayed in the incident at the chicane at the end of the previous tour. Therefore he ran in fourth place behind the BMW of Mat Jackson but the Safety Car was deployed again on lap 14.
Racing resumed in time for just two final laps and although pressuring Jackson ahead, waved yellow flags at the chicane – as a result of team-mate Jason Plato’s car being stranded in the gravel after being involved in the lap 12 chaos – meant Alex was prevented from attacking at the last corner. He ended the outing an excellent fourth and his best lap was just 0.1 seconds shy of the fastest of all.
“The first race was a good result, we capitalised well on other people’s problems and I managed to stay out of trouble to come really close to another podium”, said Alex, “I overtook a lot of cars this weekend and I think I proved I can race as hard as anyone in the BTCC, I’m definitely not frightened to get stuck in and mix it with any of them!”
In round 26, Alex wasn’t able to make the most of his second row starting position – which he claimed thanks to his finishing place in race one – when some robust action dropped him down the order to an eventual finish of 11th position.
Initially moving up into the top three past Tom Chilton at McLeans on lap one, Alex had to cut across the gravel at the chicane a few corners later to avoid contact and he slipped to seventh. Although fighting back into the top five, he was pushed back down the order again at mid-distance and had to settle for a finish just 0.3 seconds outside the final points-paying position.
The third race of the weekend, round 27, ended with a high-speed exit for Alex on lap 10 at the Old Hairpin following contact with Tom Onslow-Cole. Having moved up from 11th to ninth on the first lap, he was forced wide onto the grass on lap two and dropped to 14th but fought back impressively into 10th by lap six.
Pressuring Onslow-Cole as the race entered its 10th tour, Alex held the outside line down through the first part of Craner Curves and had edged ahead of the Ford Focus on the run into the Old Hairpin but contact to the rear of his Chevrolet pitched him off at a great rate of knots into the gravel. Even so, he ended the weekend just four points shy of the coveted top 10 in the championship.
He commented: “It’s a shame the second and third races didn’t pay off but we’re still really close to (Andrew) Jordan in the fight for 10th place in the championship. That’s our aim for Brands Hatch, if I can finish my first season in touring cars in the top 10 I’ll be happy.”
Alex’s maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship campaign will come to an end three weeks from now, 9th/10th October, at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent.
2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship driver standings:
1st Jason Plato, 224pts; 11th Alex MacDowall, 75pts