– Thompson masters challenging Oulton Park circuit on exceptional series debut.
– “Bobby is a star of the future,” says ‘delighted’ team boss.
Hornchurch’s fastest teenager Bobby Thompson made a sensational debut in the hotly contested Milltek Sport Volkswagen Racing Cup over the Easter weekend, scoring a trio of top ten finishes in the first three races of the year at Oulton Park despite never having been to the challenging Cheshire venue until two days before the first race.
Eighteen year-old Thompson shrugged off the lingering effects of the flu as well as Oulton Park’s fearsome reputation as a track where ‘you don’t have a small accident’ to put his fully race prepared Team HARD VW Golf GTI R Cup race car in the top five during pre-race testing despite having less than half a day to learn the undulating, tree-lined 2.692-mile circuit.
“As we were driving to the track we said that our goal would be to get a top ten finish,” said Thompson, who is known throughout the paddock as ‘Bobster. “As soon as I got on track I loved the circuit, it’s very bumpy and some of the sections through the woods are fantastic. It’s a track that requires a lot of commitment and I quickly learned that being brave can really reward you with a good lap.”
After precious few minutes to learn the track it was straight into qualifying and the first of three 20-minute races on Saturday but with nearly 30 cars all vying for a free piece of racetrack, Thompson found himself trapped in traffic at the most critical moment during the timed session.
“I felt I missed an opportunity in qualifying,” said Thompson, who is part of Team HARD’s burgeoning Young Driver Programme. “The tyres have a really short window in qualifying trim and I just missed it but it is all part of the learning experience for me.”
Despite failing to get a single clear lap, Bobby was still fast enough to ensure his striking #19 DNA Insurance Services/Go HAM Clothing/Racehub backed entry ended qualifying in ninth place overall, guaranteeing the driver who enjoyed a glittering karting career in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone backed Formula Kart Stars Championship before his move into car racing a top ten start in both race one and race three. “I can’t be too disappointed as everyone in the top ten is a former series champion, a series race winner or an ex British Touring Car driver.”
There were no sign of any pre-race nerves before the opening race of the year, although, as Bobby himself put it “the goal was to bring the car home in one piece” and there was a frightening moment when the lights turned green as a multiple car pile-up brought out the red flags and meant the race would be shortened.
“I knew the car had a good set-up and I had talked through our strategy with the team mechanics Les, Ben and Elliott, who have all made me feel really welcome in the team,” recalled Bobby. “We know that the Golf’s aren’t as quick as the VW Scirocco’s in a straight line but the Scirocco’s are harder on their tyres so as the races progress we can claw back an advantage. However with race one being shorter than we expected we never got the chance to take advantage of that.”
Even with fewer laps than planned Thompson was still able to hold on to the lead group, which included former series champions Aaron Mason and Joe Fullbrook to bring the #19 machine home in ninth place, a result he was justifiably proud of.
“Overall I was really pleased with the first race even if the chequered flag came out a bit too early for me,” said Thompson, who enjoyed a relaxing Easter Sunday off before tackling rounds two and three of the championship on Bank Holiday Monday.
Starting ninth for race two, which took place on an extremely chilly Monday morning, Thompson learned another valuable lesson very quickly when he realised the track temperature was far below what he had asked his team to set the car up for.
“As soon as we went out onto the pace lap I knew I wasn’t in an ideal situation and I just couldn’t get enough heat in the rear tyres,” said Thompson, who still managed to maintain ninth position until the closing stages, when a recovering Lucas Orrock demoted him to tenth. “I found it tough to stay in touch with the leaders and it was my fault as I asked the team for the wrong set-up but I’m still learning and part of that proves is to learn from my mistakes.”
With temperatures climbing throughout the day Bobby knew that he would be in better shape for the final race on a much warmer track and, from ninth on the grid he made an excellent start to run in seventh place for the opening few laps. With a top six finish within his grasp Bobby began to push the limits even further around some of Oulton Park’s more difficult sections.
“There is a really fast double right hander between the trees called Church Corner,” smiled Thompson. “At the start of the weekend I was doing 110mph into the corner before touching the brakes, flicking the car into the turn and then getting back on the power. I could see sixth place ahead of me and for a few laps I noticed that coming into the same corner I was now doing 120mph before turning in!!
“Unfortunately I used the best of my tyres trying to get into sixth and at the end I was caught by two other drivers and they pushed me back to ninth so I learned another valuable lesson that I’ve got to manage my tyres better over the course of a full 20 minute race but I was still really pleased that I could bring home another top ten finish for my team and my sponsors. I was really pleased to be able to keep DNA Insurance Services in the top ten as it is their first race with me and they are a local business who has put their faith in me.”
Bobby’s Team HARD team boss Tony Gilham was full of praise for his young charger, who currently lies tenth in the overall championship.
“Bobby is an exceptional young talent and a joy to work with,” said Gilham, whose team also competes in the prestigious British Touring Car Championship. “Already he has shown front running pace, which is way ahead of the schedule we had forecast. He has adapted unbelievably well to front wheel drive and is for sure a star of the future. But not only that, he has the desire and commitment and the perfect attitude to go to the very top and we are all glad to have the man known as ‘Bobby T’ racing for Team HARD.”
After making guest appearances on Simon Baldock’s Saturday afternoon show on Time FM and on motorsport radio station Downforce Radio in the build-up to the season opener, Bobby’s fans can watch all the Oulton Park action on Motors TV in the coming weeks and Bobby is hoping that the extra media attention that comes with racing in Britain’s best supported saloon car series will help him secure some much needed additional funding that will allow him to do some testing before the next rounded of the championship at the Rockingham Motor Speedway near Corby on May 3rd and 4th.