BRANDS HATCH - an Easter Surprise!
Last weekend (1st & 2nd April) at Brands Hatch was the place for the opening rounds of the 2018 British Truck Racing Championship. With the new season, Team Oliver Racing was delighted to welcome to the team many new sponsors and partners alongside the many existing and loyal ones that have provided support and enjoyed the team’s record breaking success for many years. The team also welcomed a new driver, Martin Gibson, to the fold. Martin will take hold of the wheel of the SCANIA for the season with its all new livery. Michael Oliver will stay as major part of the team providing technical support and will never be too far away from the action as he is also having a go at car racing; going behind the wheel in the FUN CUP championship.
Due to the season opening event being held over the Easter Bank holiday weekend the team had the opportunity to have plenty of time to set up the all new team paddock area that included a new double awning enclosing the whole of the teams work and hospitality area. On the Saturday afternoon, Stuart and Martin had the opportunity to have a first run on track in the trucks after their winter overhauls. Martin was faced with a massive learning curve - having a wealth of race car and bike experience sitting in a race truck was a new experience. Stuart however, with his experience, was eager to get the season underway. The unknown was that Team Oliver Racing was one of many teams that was to be racing on the new GiTi Truck Race tyre. During the two test sessions both drivers made great headway with the truck setups that suited the short 1.2 mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit.
On Sunday morning all the drivers went on track in the qualification session. Unfortunately, due to various over winter championship management changes, the field of competitors was significantly depleted from that of 2017. Fortunately this did not reduce the challenge. On his first fast flying lap Stuart immediately posted a lap time of 59.154 seconds with an average speed of 73.51 MPH. This secured him pole position for race one. As always with Stuart, he was still looking for more. Lap after lap he went faster and faster finishing the session with a significant time advantage ahead of the second-place driver. Martin did not disappoint and quickly got to grips with the truck and the track. At the end of the session he had secured ninth place on the grid for race one. Sunday afternoon and race one got things underway. Stuart did not disappoint and made a text book start and took the lead. Unfortunately mid-race a truck ran wide at Clearways bringing out the Red Flags. Meaning Stuart had to do the start all over again. There was little doubt that he would not get around Paddock Hill bend first and this he did, again taking control of the race leading him on to reach the chequered flag with ease. Martin also made very good headway and quickly learnt how to throw his five and a half tonne truck around, crossing the finish line in a very respectful seventh place. The result of race one gave the team yet another record to add to their tally by winning the first ever BTRC race on the new GiTi Truck Race Tyre.
Easter Monday morning and the second race of the year saw the reverse grid race start format coming into play. This saw Stuart start from the back row and Martin from near the front. When the lights went out on the rolling start both Stuart and Martin made good headway. Unfortunately, following some aggressive driving, the Red Flags came out again resulting in a short break to carry out repairs to the Armco. On the re-start both drivers again were off to a good start. By the chequered flag Stuart was up into third place and Martin was, again, in a respectful seventh place. For the second race of the day the weather had turned and the track was wet. Again, Stuart was starting near the back and Martin a few rows further forward. The race got underway at a steady pace in very difficult conditions. Unfortunately, on the fifth lap, Martin slid wide at Druids ending up stuck in the gravel trap but this time the Red Flags stayed rolled up and Stuart kept on his charge through the pack, once again finishing the race in third place.
Following the race the teams were hit with a bomb shell from the officials informing them that they had decided to add another championship race to the day. With little time to prepare the team worked hard to prepare for the next race. Again Stuart was starting from near the back and, due to his previous DNF, Martin started nearby from the back row. With the rain still falling the race started but unfortunately on the first turn a driver lost control and went into the gravel trap causing another red flag stoppage. When the re-start got underway the weather had deteriorated further but both of Team Oliver drivers managed to stay out of trouble and they both made headway and, by the finish line, Stuart was yet again in third place and Martin secured a fantastic fifth place. Because of the surprise addition of another race time was short for the team to prepare the trucks for the last race however, the trucks were made ready in time to race. With Stuart starting one row behind Martin the pressure was on for both to make a good start. The start went like clockwork - Martin got off the line without delay and quickly took the lead of the race however, Stuart managed to get up past him on the approach up to Druids and was then off ahead of the field, quickly pulling a significant lead. Unfortunately, at the start of the second lap on the approach to Paddock Hill bend when Stuart applied the brakes the air bias valve burst causing a loss of air to the brake system sending him into the tyre wall at a speed of more than 80 MPH. Thankfully the safety tyres did their job and no major damage was done. With the truck stranded in a vulnerable position remarkably the race continued and Martin held his ground and crossed the finish line in sixth place.
The team are delighted with the performance of both trucks and drivers and all are looking forward to continuing their 2018 British Truck Race Championship challenge. In the points standing, even with both drivers unfortunately having one DNF each, Stuart is currently in second place and Martin is in an unbelievable sixth place in the Championship!