Top-six joy at Knockhill for Toyota man O’Neill

Speedworks Motorsport is this evening celebrating best-yet results for its Toyota Avensis BTCC racer after Paul O’Neill scored a hat-trick of top-six finishes in the Knockhill rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

O’Neill, standing in for regular driver Tony Hughes, was on mighty form throughout the championship’s Scottish weekend, claiming seventh place in qualifying. In the first of the day’s races he moved into fourth early on as others struck trouble. He slipped to fifth when the Honda of local hero Gordon Shedden found a way past mid-race, and then lost fifth to Mat Jackson’s Ford on the final lap after a tap. “I thought for about five minutes that I might be on the podium,” said a delighted O’Neill. “The Toyota was brilliant and the race was great fun. I didn’t think that I would be up to fourth straight away, although I knew there would be carnage…”

There was even better to come in race two, with O’Neill stealing fifth from Jackson on lap seven and three laps later dropping Jackson’s team-mate Aron Smith, both of them with well-executed manoeuvres at the notoriously tricky hairpin.

By this stage the leading trio, comprising BMW men Robb Collard and Tom Onslow-Cole and the Honda of Shedden, had pulled a sizeable advantage and fourth was the best that O’Neill could realistically hope for. The Cheshire driver was delighted: “Sixth and fourth – I would have bitten your hand off and chewed it if you’d offered me that before the weekend.”

O’Neill started the finale from seventh on the grid and snatched sixth from the Ford of Aron Smith three laps from the end.

Tony Hughes paid tribute to O’Neill’s efforts: “It’s been fantastic. I knew we were starting to get there with the car but I must say that Paul has done everyone proud – Speedworks, Toyota and TOCA. Everyone loves him to death and the coverage he has given us on TV is brilliant. Sixth, fourth and sixth: I don’t think even he would have dreamed of doing so well.”

O’Neill’s team-mate Adam Morgan enjoyed a good day at Knockhill also, equalling his best-ever BTCC result with 10th in race one and following up with 11th in the final race.

“I made an epic start,” said Adam. “I did two or three cars into the first corner and picked a few more off after that. I think it’s the first time today I have done a full race distance at full whack. The tyres went off a bit at the front and my brake pedal went long towards the end but otherwise the Toyota was great and I’m very happy. On the whole, not a bad day.”

There was drama in the Dynojet Racing camp, however, with Frank Wrathall failing to complete a single racing lap all day.

Wrathall had qualified the team’s Toyota Avensis a promising fifth on the grid, and held fifth into the opening lap of the first of the day’s three races. An engine problem ended Frank’s hopes of podium glory: “The car came to a halt in the middle of the track,” said Wrathall, “and that was that. To add insult to injury I got hit from behind by another car.”

With so little time between races on the packed Knockhill timetable, Dynojet Racing elected to retire from the meeting. “There was just too much work to do to get things right,” added Frank, who would subsequently have had to start from the tail end of the field. “This is not the sort of track where you can come through from the back… This is the first engine failure we have had all year. Qualifying was promising and it’s all very disappointing. We will come back stronger at the next event.”

The Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire is the next stop on the BTCC tour, over the weekend of 22/23 September.

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