Read on for the final part of our weekend feature with AmD Tuning, at the first round of the 2017 BTCC at Brands Hatch…
SUNDAY isn’t just a big day for AmD Tuning’s new signing Ant Whorton-Eales. It’s a massive day for his family too, and they’re all here in force to support him. Whorton-Eales has proved his talents on the TOCA package for several years now, but it was in the world of short ovals – a family tradition – where he cut his teeth.
He’s about to make his debut in the biggest motorsport series in the UK, and as Mum Sandra described, it was something he had his heart set on from a very young age.
“We’re a short oval family, that’s our life. We knew when he was 11 he’d start ministox. He was eight years old, sat watching the TV and BTCC came on,” said Sandra.
“He said ‘Mum, I’m going to race in British Touring Cars’ and I was like ‘Mate, we race stock cars! I never thought we’d be here…
“He started ministox, where the best start at the back. You’ve got to overtake about 30 cars to get to the front. He was in the lead by the second or third lap, it was phenomenal.
“We had people coming up to us saying ‘He’s too good, get him in circuits’. He waited until he was 14, and then he started Sax Max. The first meeting it was mother’s day, and he didn’t qualify too well. But in the race he was just overtaking, and overtaking, and everyone was saying ‘he’s a star’. I was the proudest mum ever on mother’s day!”
Things have naturally progressed since that day, but the ethos of the family certainly hasn’t. “It’s our only way of life, it’s all we know. We don’t do anything else, we just go racing!” said Sandra.
Standing around the sunny Brands Hatch paddock with the Whorton-Eales family, the anticipation of the first race of the season is palpable. As forecast, it’s a fine day and there’s no threat of rain, so running should be uninterrupted throughout.
The pre-race radio chatter is very busy, with Hollamby urging the drivers to check mirror positions – and the small matter of not running fans over in the pitlane!
Both cars get good starts and make forward progress, but the race quickly turns into a dramatic one for Whorton-Eales. “I’ve got a red warning light, I think it’s a battery voltage light,” he calls over the radio. He also fears he’s got a water temperature issue.
The safety car is deployed for the startline crash between Matt Neal and Colin Turkington, giving time to regroup. “As long as the water is under 100 degrees you will be fine,” says Barnett.
After the restart, Whorton-Eales still has issues with the water temperature reaching 130 degrees. He’s forced to pit, but is able to rejoin quickly.
“I know you’re a lap down, but try and hold your position,” says Barnett. Whorton-Eales clearly pays heed, setting lap after lap on par with the leading runners as he runs close behind the battle for the lower end of the top 10. Despite finishing 25th and last, it’s a great debut for the Clio Cup champion as he finishes on the tail of Power Maxed Racing’s Tom Chilton.
“Well done mate, good pace all the way through. How did the car feel?” asks Barnett.
“It was pretty mint until the last two laps, then the tyres dropped off. The rear was stable though,” says Whorton-Eales.
For his part, Jackson enjoys a solid race and takes the flag in 22nd, an improvement of seven positions on his grid slot.
Race two is no less dramatic for the rookie. Whorton-Eales is turned around at Graham Hill Bend on the opening lap by Eurotech Racing’s Jeff Smith, and drops to the back of the pack.
“Have you got any damage mate?” asks Barnett. “No, it was a very light touch to the left rear, just a gentle push,” calls the driver.
Luckily, a red flag for Jason Plato’s nasty startline crash means a full reset and a second chance. But after the restart, Whorton-Eales is again the blameless victim of a contretemps between Dave Newsham, Dan Lloyd and Luke Davenport and ends his race in the gravel at Clearways. His door and exhaust is damaged, meaning some repair work between races for his mechanics.
Things are looking better on the other side of the garage, as Jackson continues to make forward progress.
“How’s the car Ollie?” asks Cheetham. “The balance is good, I don’t think we are working the tyres right,” calls the driver, as another safety car period bunches the pack up.
“You’ve got Turkington and Neal behind so you’ll need to have a good restart,” comes the ominous warning from Cheetham. And while he’s not able to keep them behind, Jackson is able to take the flag in 15th place, which later becomes 14th after Rob Austin’s exclusion.
“We’ve got our first point!” shouts a happy Jackson. “That was a big improvement in the car. It rode the bumps a lot better.”
“Well done dude, that’s P15. Good job,” says Cheetham.
The AmD mechanics are hard at work between races, fixing the damaged Audi of Whorton-Eales. Given the damage some rival teams have picked up over the course of the day, it’s a mercifully quick fix, and Whorton-Eales’s car looks as good as new as it leaves the pits for race three.
Jackson runs P11 early on and a top 10 result looks on the cards. But then come hits from Team Hard’s Jake Hill and Triple Eight Racing’s Aron Taylor-Smith in quick succession, putting pay to those ambitions.
“The rear tracking’s out,” says Jackson, whose description of the driving of Hill and Taylor-Smith as “outrageous” is the most printable aspect of his radio chatter at this point.
He eventually finishes 16th, just a place outside the points, with Whorton-Eales battling understeer and the lower reaches of the midfield runners to take a day’s best finish of 23rd.
“That was a bit rough, and not the result we should have had. But the car was ****ing mega. The rear gave us so much more grip,” says Jackson over the radio. “Well done guys, thanks a lot. It was a big challenge but we got there.”
With the weekend at an end, and the first points of 2017 on the board, there’s time for both drivers to reflect on how things have gone.
Jackson said: “We had a bit of a slow start to the weekend because we haven’t done any testing, but Keith and the boys have done a great job, and we’ve made massive steps over the weekend.
“The Audi’s always been a good car, but it’s always been a difficult car to drive. That’s the first time I’ve ever gone out in it and felt comfortable leaning on it, that it wasn’t going to bite me but would still be competitive.
“Rob, Rick and the guys work so hard. Rob went for virtually three months without a day off to get the cars ready. We’re not the biggest budget team, but we punch above our weight. The prep of the car is second to none.”
“I had a couple of punts in that last race, but all’s fair in love and war!”
For his part, Whorton-Eales said the day was a valuable learning experience.
“We’ve not quite got the results we hoped for in terms of Jack Sears points, but as a team we’ve learned a lot,” he said. “We’re only three races in, with 27 to go. There’s no point looking at points or positions at this stage.
“I think as a team we can keep moving forward, me and Ollie, I’ve learned a lot and the championship is mega.
“I’ve been involved in the TOCA paddock for five years now and I always wanted to be here. Now I am it’s fantastic, I love the crowd coming down, how smart everything looks. It’s just great to be here.”
The unplanned pitstop which pitched the lapped Whorton-Eales onto the tail of the top 10 in the first race provided the Clio Cup champion with his most valuable experience of the weekend.
“I think that was the most benefit we’ve had all weekend was rejoining in the pack around the top 10. It proved that we are there with the Audi, we stayed with the front pack,” he said.
What strikes you about the BTCC in its current guise is the sheer amount of work which has to happen for a team like AmD just to get into the points – let alone challenge for podiums or wins. It’s great for the fans, because the championship is ultra-close and the standard of drivers is on a clear upward trend, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier for the teams.
A solitary 14th place may not look that spectacular on paper, but consider the facts. We’ve now got 13 cars on the BTCC grid with varying degrees of manufacturer support; some of the most experienced teams and best touring car drivers in the world and a rule set which means marginal gains are the order of the day.
AmD’s continued presence on a grid this competitive is an achievement in itself – and long may it continue. Independent teams have always been the bedrock of the modern day BTCC, and if they’re all operating to the standards that AmD achieve then the future of the series is in safe hands.