Toyota’s independent racer Frank Wrathall ended his maiden season in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on a high note at Silverstone today, confirmed as the championship’s top rookie and also as the BTCC fans’ favourite driver of 2011.
Not only that, but the Dynojet Racing driver put in the performance of the day to storm from 25th on the grid in the championship finale through to ninth place at the chequered flag in a virtuoso display on his way to claiming his second top-10 finish of the weekend.
Frank, 25, went into the last of the day’s three races buoyed by having received the BTCC.net Forum Fans Trophy in recognition of his stellar performances during his maiden season in the UK’s most popular race series.
Organised by members of the fan forum on the championship’s official website, the prize is richly coveted by all BTCC drivers, not least because each of the fans voting contributes towards the cost of the handsome trophy.
The award was handed to Frank during the Silverstone pit lane walkabout by one of the contest organisers, David Hughes.
“It was a bit of a shock when I first heard that I had won,” said Frank. “I am more than pleased to accept the award, which I see as being not just for me but for the whole team. It really shows that people appreciate what we have been through this year and what we have achieved. It’s been an incredible journey from start to finish.
“It’s great that the fans feel a part of what you are trying to achieve. The support we have had from day one, when we were struggling to finish races, has meant a lot not just to me but to everyone in Dynojet Racing. Even on your worst days the fans’ support seems to give you a little lift.”
Frank went on to put in a brilliant performance in the final round, more than making up for the disappointments of race two, in which damage picked up in a collision forced him to make two pit stops for repairs, leaving him two laps down on the winner and in 25th place.
It was a brilliant against-the-odds drive, one which underlines his and the Dynojet team’s superb second-half pace in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Frank made a great start, claiming five scalps on the opening lap to move into 20th place and making up a further six places on lap two. On the fifth lap he passed Rob Collard’s BMW for 12th and then got the better of a long battle with Oliver Jackson (Vauxhall).
A drive-through penalty for Vauxhall independent James Nash promoted Wrathall to 11th, and then Frank moved into 10th when Mat Jackson’s Ford pitted with bodywork damage. That put Wrathall on to the tail of the championship front-running Hondas of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, and Frank managed to steal past Shedden at the final corner to snatch ninth from the Scotsman’s grasp. It was his second points-scoring result of the day, having opened his account with 10th place in race one.
“I’m smiling now,” said Frank. “I was so determined to end with a decent performance. It was always going to be hard to get into the top 10 from 25th on the grid, but I made a good start, the car was brilliant, getting stronger and stronger, and towards the end of the race it felt like I was one of the quickest people out there. To pass Shedden at the final corner was pretty sweet.
“We’ve had a tough day but we’ve definitely ended on a high with that performance. The whole team can be proud of that after fixing the car so quickly after the second race. To reflect on the job that they have done all year for me, I can’t fault them; they’ve been absolutely fantastic. The Toyota has been far better than I ever imagined, and that’s all thanks to the team.”
Frank ends the year 12th overall in the championship, the best-placed newcomer in the series, and 10th in the Independents Trophy. The highlights of Wrathall’s season came at the Knockhill and Rockingham circuits, at which he secured four podium finishes, with a best result of second.
Toyota’s second independent racer, Tony Hughes, enjoyed mixed fortunes at Silverstone in the Speedworks Motorsport Avensis. The Stockport racer qualified in 27th place on the record 30-car grid and sped to 19th in the first of the day’s races. Race two brought Tony 21st place, but his hopes of an improved finish in race three came to an end on the opening lap when his Avensis was barged off the track by a rival, breaking a suspension component.