The opening rounds of the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship saw Sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed Motorsport score points in all three races at the Hampshire circuit of Thruxton, with Paul O'Neill claiming a very popular third place in race 2.
Thruxton is the home round of title sponsor Sunshine.co.uk, and the sun shined on what was a very encouraging start to the season for Widnes racer O'Neill and Guernseyman George.
After a wet qualifying session which left O'Neill tenth and George at the back, both drivers managed the Sunshine.co.uk Honda Integra's tyres during all three races, avoiding the punctures and incidents which caused the other competitors to fall by the wayside.
A storming drive in the season opening race saw O'Neill claim a highly impressive fourth place, having closed in on the Airwaves BMW of Mat Jackson during the closing stages of the race, and finished within half a second of the podium, something which he would achieve in the following race.
Starting on the outside of the second row, and with an extra 18kgs ballast in the car, O'Neill made a flying start and settled into third, chasing down the brand new works Chevrolet Cruze of Jason Plato for the opening 12 laps, before being passed by the flying Matt Neal.
O'Neill would regain his third place when Neal and Plato made contact entering the Club Chicane on the 15th lap, passing Plato as he was sideways. This was his second podium for the team.
O'Neill backed up his strong early season form with a 6th place in the final race of the day, having started down in seventh place due to the top 9 drivers being reversed from the second race.
Leaving Thruxton, O'Neill is currently 4th in the overall Championship standings with 28 points, and third in the Independents Championship.
“We've shown we are a force to be reckoned with this weekend,” he said. “Everything I said was possible before the weekend has come true, but I didn't imagine I'd be leaving Thruxton so high up in the standings. The results in all three races were gained on merit, we weren't handed anything, and it shows that the car is still more than capable of being in the top six with good preparation – and the team has done a fantastic job with them.
“The podium at Snetterton last season was special as it was the first one for six years, but I really felt I deserved my third place this time around. We've been one of the top teams this weekend, the boys have worked to the maximum, and we have to try and build on it at Rockingham.”
For team mate George, the weekend signalled a return to the points for the first time since he scored a point in the final race at Snetterton in 2008, and his first on track point since 2007.
George qualified towards the rear end of the grid, but showed glimpses of pace and managed his tyres to finish an impressive ninth on the road and with it the reward of two points on the board.
Race 2 didn't go to plan for the enthusiastic Cornishman, who ended up fighting with the VW Golf of Shaun Hollamby, which kept the crowds around the fast, flowing Thruxton circuit entertained, while a gearbox problem caused George to retire from race 3.
Even with the problems, George was delighted to secure his first points in over a year and on his Sunshine.co.uk debut: “I've had a brilliant weekend,” he said. “Ninth in the first race were my first points finish for over a year, so it was a great way to start. The car was strong all weekend and I really enjoyed working with Paul; it's been great to have a team-mate for the first time. It was little bit disappointing that I had the gearbox issue in the final race but my times have improved throughout the weekend which was my main aim. I'm looking forward to being back in the car at Rockingham.”
The cars had undergone a whole lot of development work during the winter, and the results recorded by O'Neill and George are testament to the work put in by the team. Marvin Humphries, of Tech-Speed Motorsport commented: “We came here thinking a podium was possible after the work we did over the winter, we worked on the set-up and it was kinder on its tyres, the cars worked well on track and the boys did a fantastic job with them. We've shown that we can still get decent results with an old car. John did a good job throughout the weekend and fitted in well, although it was a shame that he had the gearbox issue in the final race. As for Paul, what can I say? The podium in race two was a great result and he drove well all day – the boy done good!”
For title sponsor Sunshine.co.uk and their MD, Chris Brown, their expectations were matched, as he explains: “We had a suspicion we were going to do well here and Paul said a podium was possible – and that's what happened,” sunshine.co.uk MD Chris Brown said.” We have proved to some of the doubters that an old car can still be competitive and that the team is more than capable of fighting near the front. Seeing both cars in the top ten in the first race was phenomenal and John did an excellent job to get into the points. In the second race, I felt physically sick for the final two laps and Paul did us proud to get onto the podium – if anything he was unlucky not to get through to second. I need to find a copy of the point's standings so I can frame it, and I hope that we can now carry on as we have started.”
The team will next hit the track when the Championship arrives at Rockingham for rounds 4, 5 and 6 on the 24th and 25th April.
Photo credit: Pete Mainey