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Collard Racing: Hampshire racer takes fourth after high-speed shunt

Rob Collard took fourth place in round 12 of the 2004 Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park, Cheshire, today, his best ever overall finish in the UK’s leading race series. The result came after he started 18th on the grid, the legacy of being knocked out of round 11 just two hours earlier, his car slamming into a tyre wall at over 100mph.

It was a strong day for Rob, fifth in the first race, his drive in the third and final race of the day earned him the ‘Driver of the Day’ award – all thanks to the work the Collard Racing crew had put in to repair his Brackenwood Windows-backed Vauxhall Astra after the shunt in race two.

The weekend had started well with Rob seventh quickest in Saturday’s 30-minute qualifying session.

“Seventh is good – but a tad quicker would have been nice,” said Rob, from Eversley in Hampshire. “The car was awesome on the first set of tyres we used, though I then got boxed in by other cars on a couple of quick laps. It wasn’t quite so good on the second set – but by then the track was a little slower anyway. It’s good to the first of the ‘true’ Independents on the grid.”

With the sun shining down, Rob was the hottest driver on the grid for Sunday’s opening race, making a storming start which saw him blast through the row in front and dive into the first corner in fourth position. In a battling race he came home fifth – matching his best finish of the season to date at that point – with the Collard Racing Astra mixing it once again with the big-budget teams.

“I made a really good start, and managed to force my way through the row in front. I tried to get past Colin Turkington’s MG, but the pace was really quick and I didn’t have the ultimate speed in the first two or three laps as they broke away.

“Then Matt Neal caught me and he got a run on me into Knickerbrook chicane, and he was on the inside and it would have been silly to have defended too much. I caught Colin back up, but he was able to brake better than I could and there was no way past. I’m pleased to be fifth though, it’s a good place to start the next race and I’m not carrying any weight.”

Another strong start in race two saw Rob running third overall in the early laps. Two works cars were right behind him, and when one found a way past, the other tried to follow through, a move that saw Rob and his assailant spear off the track at high speed and hit the tyre wall at the exit of the first corner.

“He came from too far back, missed his braking point, and bulldozed not only himself off the track, but me as well. He was very over-optimistic, came into the corner way too quick, and barged me off the track. I can do that to people – but as I am paying my own bills, I chose not to do things like that.

“The car seems to have come out of it quite well. There is a lot of bodywork damage, it was a 100mph shunt, but the tyre barrier has worked very well. I went into it sideways, and then it flicked the car into a spin. Even the tracking is still true, and we were lucky, there doesn’t appear to be any structural damage, unlike our shunt at Thruxton last year. That was a really hard impact, here the tyres wall seems to have worked well.

The damage to the Astra amazingly proved to be mostly cosmetic, and the Collard Racing mechanics had Rob repaired and on the grid for race three. Lining up just one row from the back of the grid, he stormed through in the race to record his best ever BTCC overall finish, just one position away from a place on the podium.

“I think I’ve leant how to get off the line now,” said a happy Rob, “that was my third good start of the day – we have a new clutch and that seems to really help. It was like my old days on ovals where you started at the back of the grid and had to work your way through. I got up to tenth, then the group in front of me all tripped over each other at the hairpin, I leant on them a bit, and came though to make lots of positions in one go. The lead three were too far ahead and not fighting, so I couldn’t catch them.

“I’m happy with the weekend overall, we qualified well and the car is right on the pace. The first race was good, the second disappointing as we could have taken another fourth or fifth place, and the last race was absolutely fantastic. That result was all down to the team, they’ve worked so hard, not only today but over the last few weeks, and they’ve really turned the car round.”

Next races: Mondello Park, Ireland, June 13th.

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