“It’s hard to describe really what a championship win means. There’s a lot of relief, a bit of sadness that it’s over, and a hell of a lot of joy that we’ve won.”
For Tom Oliphant, 2015 marked a substantial milestone in his prospering GT career as an impressive season in the Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup culminated in the championship title during an emotional Brands Hatch GP season finale last month.
In his second season in the BTCC support championship, the 25 year old showcased incredible consistency on his way to the title, finishing all 27 races bar one in the top four, continuing a run of 51 top ten finishes in his last 54 Supercup races.
Oliphant featured on the podium 21 times across the year, joining only the former series champions in achieving over 20 in a season, and when speaking to The Checkered Flag he sung the praises of the Century Motorsport team for their successful campaign.
“To have every single finish inside the top four bar a retirement due to an engine failure out of their control, that’s quite incredible really and that alone put us in the driving seat this season,” Oliphant enthused.
“The Century Motorsport team have been amazing all season. A big thanks to Chels and Tom my mechanics, and Nathan, Tim and Jen for all their hard work, they’ve always given me the car that I want and I can’t thank them enough.
“To win the championship, it probably means more to them than to anyone else, so it’s really nice to bring it home for all their hard work, all the late nights in the workshop and the long days in cold, wet, miserable places testing over the winter.”
After picking up a couple of wins and being a podium regular in his 2014 campaign, Oliphant headed into the season with big ambitions, but saw a fast start for HHC Motorsport duo Carl Breeze and Jamie Orton leave him over eighty points adrift in the championship after eleven races.
“Last year I came fifth and won some races, so I was determined that in my second season I would challenge for the title,” he said. “The HHC trio are class acts though, they are very quick drivers, so I knew it would going to be incredibly tough with them being able to share data and work on more set-ups.
“Ollie Jackson has been a fantastic team-mate, but being new to the championship it took him a little while to get used to the car and the championship. Therefore it was largely the case at the start of getting points where we could while they had a strong spell.”
Dovetailing his Supercup campaign with another season in British GT kept Oliphant busy across the season, with a change on focus towards his Supercup endeavours in the middle of the season proving to be key as he embarked on a title defining run of results.
Converting pole position into double victories in three consecutive meetings at Snetterton, Croft and Knockhill flipped the championship battle on its head, and set the groundwork for a run of seventeen consecutive podium finishes that guided him to the title.
“The turning point for us was Croft, we were quickest by eight tenths of a second in qualifying and we had to win the first two races,” he reflected. “My mentality was that when I’m on top, I have to take everything I can, and when I’m not to take the points I can and not beat myself up that we’re not winning.
“We maximised that spell really well, a big improvement for us, we took the wins when we were on top and battled well from fifth or sixth in the reverse grid races to keep getting podiums, and that’s what put the nail in the coffin really and what put our name on the trophy.
“The confidence a time like that gives you is incredible, it gives you the freedom to just go out there and drive.”
Oliphant picked out two performances that he felt were integral to his title success, a battling drive through to third in the Croft closer, and a crucial victory at Silverstone that swung the pendulum back into his favour as the season headed towards its conclusion.
“The big one for me was race three at Croft,” he explained. “Having the engine cut out on lap one was devastating, ending the lap twenty seconds behind the leader. I threw everything at it from then and came through to third, nearly had second on the line, and that really hit home that we can do this, it was the moment I thought we could win this championship.
“The other race that really sticks out was Silverstone race one, with so much pressure coming off Rockingham. Carl [Breeze] was on a real high, so to turn second place in qualifying into a win there really switched the momentum back in our favour.”
The championship success marks Oliphant’s first success since making the transition to GT racing late in the 2013 season, and the former Formula Renault BARC driver says he’s delighted with his development over the last two years, but has more success in his sights.
“I don’t recognise myself compared to the driver I was two years ago when I first entered this championship,” he commented. “I’ve got a team behind me, with iZone, Andy Priaulx, Century, my sponsors, my family and everybody that have worked night and day to make me the best driver I can be.
“There’s still a long way to go. I’ve won a championship, now I want to win a championship in Europe, a world championship. If you have the right people behind you, which I feel I do, and if you put every effort you can in, there’s no reason you can’t achieve it.”
Oliphant intends to begin his route to those ambitions with a move into European competition next season, though admits dovetailing any prospective campaign with some more racing in the UK is also a target.
“The next step is to go into Europe,” he concluded. “I’ve won a national championship, and the only way to go up in Britain is to go into touring cars, but at the moment that isn’t something that interests me as I haven’t quite got the budget for that.
“I’d like to follow the GT route, and going into Europe, whether it be Blancpain, ADAC or something like that, is the step for me. I’d love to stay with Ginetta in some way too, and maybe mirror a European conquest with something in Britain. Talks are being held and we’ll see what comes along.”