Henry Neal, Lewis Kent share Oulton Park wins
Henry Neal and Lewis Kent took a win apiece as the new Touring Car Trophy / TCR UK Championship season kicked off at Oulton Park.
Qualifying had taken place in wet and tricky conditions on Saturday morning, with series debutant Dan Kirby emerging on top in his PMR Trade Price Cars Cupra TCR.
Last season’s runner-up Kent had been the early pace-setter before a mid-session stoppage caused by rookie Max Hart putting his Cupra off into the gravel at Lodge.
After the session restarted, Kirby was able to jump ahead of Kent into provisional pole and his Hyundai rival was unable to respond, leaving Kent to settle for second spot.
Neal put his NGTC-spec Honda third having also improved after the stoppage, with Darelle Wilson’s Vauxhall joining him on row two whilst Tim Docker and Hart rounded out the TCT/TCR grid having lapped slower than the leading Volkswagen Racing Cup car of Bradley Kent.
When the lights went out on the opening 20 minute encounter, Kirby made a solid start to lead the field into turn one despite the best efforts of Kent to get ahead, with Wilson’s Vauxhall getting ahead of Neal on the run to Cascades.
However, Kirby then made an error part way round lap one which allowed Kent through into the lead as the Cupra slipped back to fifth, with Neal moving up to second when he edged ahead of Wilson going up Clay Hill.
Once clear of the Vauxhall, Neal set about trying to chase down Kent for the lead and took nearly a second out of the Hyundai racer on lap two.
The NGTC-spec Honda took a further second out of Kent on lap three as Wilson’s Astra went of into the tyres at Shell Oils from third, promoting Hart up into the podium positions with a recovering Kirby giving chase.
As the leading pair started the fifth lap, Neal had closed onto the rear of Kent’s Essex & Kent Motorsport-run car and out of sight of the cameras, Neal made his move for position and edged into the race lead.
As the Honda started to pull away at the front, the main focus of attention became the battle for third between Hart and Kirby, with the two Cupras running together on track.
Hart briefly got out of shape at Hislop’s but Kirby couldn’t take advantage and make a move, and the PMR man then made a mistake of his own at the same corner and had to take to the run-off area – giving Hart breathing space ahead.
As the race headed into the closing minutes, both Neal and Kent would have to contend with backmarkers amongst the VW Cup field but it was the Honda that would emerge victorious to secure the first win of the 2020 campaign, with Kent heading the TCR UK runners in second.
Hart would take a lonely third after Kirby dropped back through the final laps, with Docker’s Volkswagen taking the flag in fifth after a poor start that saw him slip back into the VW Cup cars.
The second race was shortened to 18 minutes as a result of incidents elsewhere, with the field lining up in the positions they had finished race one.
From pole, Neal bogged down slightly when the lights went out and that allowed a fast-starting Kent to blast into the lead on the run to turn one, with Hart holding onto third and Wilson making up two spots into fourth.
As had been the case in race one, Kent built a solid lead through the opening lap and then extended his lead out to nearly three seconds with a storming second lap. Further back, Kirby – who was running fifth – pitted his Cupra TCR at the end of the second lap and dropped out of the action.
Despite the tricky conditions on track, the field quickly became strung out at the front, with Kent comfortably clear of Neal out front, with a similar gap back to Hart; who had dropped Wilson’s Astra in the battle for the podium places.
Docker meanwhile had avoided dropping back into the VW Cup cars and was matching Wilson for pace as he ran fifth, until an error on lap five saw him slip away from the main pack.
It would be past the half way stage before Neal started to take time out of Kent but by that stage, the Hyundai was already more than three seconds clear up the road and well set to take the race win.
Kent immediately went quicker to extend his advantage on the following lap, with Neal unable to respond and put pressure on his rival.
The closing laps would see Kent edge further ahead as he secured what would prove to be a comfortable first win of the season, with Neal following him home in a lonely second spot.
Hart repeated his podium finish from earlier in the day with third, whilst Wilson bounced back from his off in race one to take fourth and put his first points of the season on the board. Docker again rounded out the TCT/TCR UK runners in fifth spot.
The series will race next at Silverstone in September.