The Fujifilm Super Touring Car Trophy began as it meant to carry on at the Silverstone Classic, with a drama-filled opening race on Saturday afternoon.
Patrick Watts took pole in a closely fought qualifying session by just 0.070 seconds ahead of Stewart Whyte‘s Honda Accord, with Tim Harvey rounding out the top three in his 1990 Ford Sierra Cosworth.
Harvey stormed to the lead off the rolling start as the straight line speed advantage of the RS500 over the Super Touring machines was made clear, although Watts closed the gap in the corners with the superior cornering speed of the Peugeot 406.
The two BTCC legends battled at the start of the second lap, allowing Neil Smith‘s Alfa Romeo 156 to close up and make it a three car fight for the lead. The fight would only last half a lap, though, as Watts lost the rear of the car out of Copse corner, collecting the barriers and causing heavy damage to the right hand side.
“I don’t know why it happened,” explained Watts. “I was held up by Tim in the corners, so I may have lost some rear tyre temperature, it surprised me. We have the parts to fix it, but I don’t think we’ll have the time, so I doubt we’ll be able to get it repaired for tomorrow’s race.”
From then it seemed like it would be a two horse race for the win until Harvey began dropping back, being past by Whyte and falling in to the hands of Frank Wrathall‘s Vauxhall Cavalier. Whyte swiftly closed in on the Alfa Romeo, the duo battling for the win over the final two laps.
“It began overheating early in the race,” said Harvey. “I had to do all I could to stop it from completely going so I couldn’t push to the limit. Unfortutely the engine let go right at the end of the final lap, so I had to coast through and defend third place. But it was the original engine from when I stepped out of the car in 1990, so it had to let go eventually!”
Whyte took the lead on the penultimate lap at Brooklands, and managed to lead for an entire lap, until Smith attempted the same move on the final lap. This time, however, both cars ended up off the circuit, Whyte appearing to close the door on Smith at the last minute. Whyte managed to keep the lead despite the spin, while Smith found himself desperately trying to hold back Wrathall for second.
The win appeared to be in the bag for Whyte, but the Honda spun off the circuit at Maggots, promoting the battle between Smith and Wrathall to a battle for the win. Smith managed to hold off until the flag, with Tim Harvey taking third place despite an overheating Sierra.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said a delighted Smith. “Stewart was quick, and was very hard to overtake. He passed me at Brooklands on the penultimate lap and I gave him the room, there’s room for two cars and then the following lap he didn’t do the same. But that’s touring car racing. It was definitely the toughest race of my life.”
A stewards’ enquiry late on Saturday night came to the conclusion that Smith was at fault for the incident at Brooklands, excluding him from the race and promoting Frank Wrathall to the top spot on the podium.
“I saw them spin off and I just thought ‘please stay off the track’,” said Wrathall, before the stewards’ decision was made public. “We were closing the gap leading up to the crash, and we seemed to be strong at the end of the race. Had I known it was the last lap I probably would have gone for the win, but first in class is great. Tomorrow’s race will be a lot harder and we lack a lot of pace compared to the newer Super Tourers, but we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”