Alex MacDowall ended his debut season in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) with several of his pre-season aims accomplished in what the 19-year-old called a “fantastic” year.
Stepping up from the single make Renault Clio championship to the Touring Cars with the RML run Silverline Chevrolet squad was always a high-profile way to make a debut in the super-competitive series, but he was able to impress the paddock from very early on in the season – scoring points in all three of the season opening Thruxton race and taking his first steps on the BTCC podium at Brands Hatch in just the third meeting of the season.
That early promise was shown again at Oulton Park when, presented with pole by the random grid reversal for the final race at Oulton Park MacDowall survived the opening exchanges before a drive failure brought frustrating retirement after four laps.
As the year went by, and MacDowall became more accustomed to the car and the racing, results improved. When the second half of the season began at Snetterton in August it did so with MacDowall's Chevrolet Cruze in pole position after he became the youngest BTCC pole winner – at 19 years, 197 days – after the wet qualifying session.
However, Snetterton was also indicative of the disappointment MacDowall suffered at points during the year. Having won the pole in such style his lead didn't even last as long as the first corner as the gear lever broke as he accelerated away from the line.
“Snetterton really was a weekend of highs and lows,” assesses Alex. “Making history as the youngest driver to qualify on pole in the BTCC was fantastic, it felt great, but to have nothing but bad luck after that was a bit much – like the driveshaft problem at Oulton!”
“We proved we deserve to be at the front though, we were there on merit from pretty much the start of the season.”
A second pole position a few rounds later at Knockhill with a run that broke the track record again failed to result in a maiden win, Alex instead collecting his second podium of the year behind race one winner Gordon Shedden, whose aggressive (and sideways) move on the opening lap saw him past the Cumbrian driver who was, again, denied the first win he craved.
“We really did show our true pace in qualifying this year, it was a fantastic season overall and while I would have liked to have taken more podiums – and maybe a win or two – I think I proved I've got what it takes to be a consistently competitive force in the BTCC,” Alex laments. “Things didn't always work out for me in the races, and I made a few mistakes too, but our pace was always great.”
That pace was even able to show through less than perfect scenarios, none more so than at Silverstone. Race two contact had left MacDowall with a damaged car and whiplash, which Martin Depper only made worse when he ran into the rear of the Cruze when Alex was slow away. Despite the injury, and with a car much shorter than Chevrolet ever intended Alex was still able to battle back into the points.
Aside from the two podiums, MacDowall also ended the season with three fourth places, often just fractions of a second from taking third, or, in the case of the first race at Silverstone, at the end of a race where MacDowall remained close to teammate and eventual champion Jason Plato.
The third of those fourth places came in the final weekend, and moved MacDowall into the top ten in points. However, a reverse grid race win by Andrew Jordan demoted Alex back to eleventh.
It would have been great to end the year in the top 10 but it was still a superb season,” said MacDowall. “Driving for Silverline Chevrolet and working with such a professional and dedicated team of people at RML, in my first season in touring cars, was a real privilege and an honour. I want to thank all of them for their hard work and for helping me develop as a driver through the season.”
Once the BTCC season was over MacDowall was part of the RML test team working on the 2011-spec Cruze that will race in next year's World Touring Car Championship. Alex, meanwhile is aiming for a second season in the BTCC, this time as a contender for the title.