Hampshire racer gains places in dramatic final sprint
The racing was as tight as the twisty Brands Hatch circuit when the 2004 Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship visited the Kent circuit for the second time this weekend, and Rob Collard survived a hectic meeting to take ninth overall in the final race - which ended with a dramatic one lap sprint to the flag. On that final lap the Collard Racing Astra gained two places round the 1.2 mile lap - a fitting finale to what had been a testing weekend for Rob and his small team.
Saturday afternoon’s qualifying was a typical Brands Hatch session, just fractions of a second separating the closely matched touring cars. A gearbox problem left Rob 14th on the grid, although still only six tenths of a second from the pole position time.
“Qualifying was extremely close,” said Rob, from Eversley in Hampshire, “we went out there and did a 49.9sec lap, were third quickest at one point. After we’d used our first set of tyres, we had a gearbox problem. As I braked for the Druids hairpin the gearbox jammed – which was a bit hairy. I came in and we made a temporary change with a spring and some cable ties.
“We hoped that would give some sort of springiness in the gear lever, and it was ok, but not brilliant. It is just so close though, two tenths of a second would put us fifth or sixth, but I’m pleased we have gone faster than we did in Free Practice, and I think we have good race pace.”
Sunday morning’s round 23 proved an uncharacteristic one for Rob, and although he was caught up in a hectic battle, it was at the back of the field with an MG - not a place the Brackenwood Windows-backed Astra is usually seen racing. Rob and his team poured over the technical data between races and the car was back on the race pace in round 24 - shown live on ITV - early in the afternoon, though that race ended with the car beached in the gravel trap at the Druids hairpin.
“I was blocked for several laps,” said an unhappy Rob. “I got to the inside going up to Druids and he kept coming across, as if he was trying to pinch me against the barrier. I was already on the white line at the inside of the track - and we tangled and he half-spun. I backed off the throttle so I didn’t spin him completely, went to go round him, and he went into me, and pushed me into the gravel.
“We had spent a lot of time altering the set-up from the first race, and the car was far more competitive than earlier. I got pushed wide in early in the race, if that hadn’t happened we could have been on for a top six finish.
“In the first race I got a bang from Michael Bentwood coming out of Druids on the opening lap and that damaged the steering, just one of those racing incidents, and I struggled for the rest of the race. Oddly, I then had one of the best races I have had for a long time with Jason Hughes’ MG.”
The final race of the day in front of the large Brands Hatch crowd was again live on ITV, a scenario that always seems to bring out the best in the BTCC. A safety car period near the end of the race saw the field released for a one lap sprint to the chequered flag - where Rob’s racecraft once more paid off as he gained two places on that lap to finish ninth overall.
“The last lap was really dramatic,” said Rob immediately after, “it was just gloves off warfare all the way down the pack - you could have gone from last to the top three. You had to gamble, but that’s Touring Car racing. I got taken off in the first race, and hit several other times in this race, that’s the way it is out there.
“It’s been a frustrating weekend, again in the third race I got hit early on and the car wasn’t the same after. It’s good to end with a top ten finish, and we have a very different type of circuit next, Snetterton is very quick after the tight and twisty tracks we have had for the last two rounds.”