Photo: PSP Images

Stephen Jelley delighted by upturn in fortune

Stephen Jelley admitted he was delighted to see things come good for Team Parker Racing after a strong start to the new BTCC season at Brands Hatch.

Jelley managed just two points finishes in 2018 having switched to an ex-West Surrey Racing BMW 125i M Sport but headed into the season opener confident of a more competitive showing on track.

Now running with the same engine that featured in the WSR cars last season, Jelley qualfied inside the top ten only to be demoted to the back of the grid when the car failed the ride height test.

The changeable conditions ahead of race one saw Jelley as one of the drivers to run slick tyres and it allowed him to fight his way forwards from the back of the grid to take seventh.

Going one better with sixth in race two, Jelley then benefitted from a demon start to race three to rocket into the lead in the early stages.

Slipping back as far as fourth after contact with Matt Neal’s Honda, Jelley then benefitted when Neal’s suspension let go on the final lap to secure a first podium finish for the team and his first top three finish since winning at Rockingham back in 2009.

“It’s been the perfect way to start the season,” he said. “We had such bad luck last year with the car and we knew that the balance was good – we were just down on a power with an old engine.

“What we have now is the same package that Colin Turkington ended 2018 with and that was good enough to win the title through being consistent and racking up the points.

“We knew from testing that we’d be quick this weekend but it was a nervy way to make the most of it after the issue in qualifying. The tyre choice in race one wasn’t a gamble for me and the people who went with wets got it wrong, but I’m not going to complain about it.

“We consolidated that performance in race two and then race three was just absolutely mint; there’s no other way to put it.”

Jelley admitted that the result would be a huge boost for the Parker squad, which has enjoyed success in every other series in which it has competed through the years.

“We probably have the smallest budget on the grid and after a result like this, the guys are even enjoying taking the hospitality unit down – and they usually hate that!” he said. “Getting onto the podium has lifted everyone and there have been times in the past – like Croft and Knockhill last year – when you come back in after things have gone wrong and you feel like you’re ripping their hearts out.

“It’s brilliant that we can take the car back to base and put a trophy alongside it in the workshop and we can go to Donington Park and a big weekend at our home circuit with a real buzz about the place. Plus we’ll have a nice garage at the sharp end for the first time!”