Toyota independent team Dynojet Racing is today celebrating a milestone result in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – a fantastic fourth-place finish, and independent class victory, for Frank Wrathall and his Avensis.
Frank put in a stunning drive in the first of the day’s Snetterton rounds to secure his dramatic result and to open the second half of the BTCC season with a bang.
Lancashire driver Wrathall, 24, found it hard to take in as he was saluted on the Snetterton podium: “I can’t believe it… it’s absolutely incredible. It’s been such an epic journey from the first round in April. Now here I am standing on the podium. I’m speechless.
“The aim for the year was to get into the points. To get fourth overall and top independent at the sixth meeting of the year is way beyond our expectations. From day one we’ve known that the Avensis had the potential. To put everything together and to get a podium is the best reward for all the hard work that’s gone in.”
Wrathall’s drive on the new three-mile layout of the Norfolk track was a copybook performance. He started seventh on the grid in his Toyota after the best qualifying showing yet from one of the ‘Next Generation Touring Cars’, then he survived an opening lap fraught with danger, successfully avoiding the spinning Honda of Matt Neal to claim a place.
“I was a little worried about the start,” said Frank, “but I pulled away well from the line and put myself in the best possible position. I was tucked right up in the pack; then there was a lot of dust and a Honda spinning in the middle of the track. I used my head and picked my way through it.”
A brave dive down the inside of James Nash’s Vauxhall into Agostini secured him fifth on lap two, and Frank then latched on to the tail of fourth-placed Tom Chilton in his Ford. “I put him under a lot of pressure; he wasn’t holding me up but I was comfortable behind him. Then he made a mistake.” Wrathall’s pressure caused Chilton to run wide out of Riches on lap six, handing fourth on a plate to Wrathall.
By this stage the leading trio – Jason Plato, Alex MacDowall and Gordon Shedden – were four seconds clear and, though he chased hard, Frank was unable to reel them in. “The Avensis was good all the way to the flag; there were a lot of unknowns about how the car would perform towards the end of a race but in relation to everyone else it was brilliant.”
Wrathall’s result brought him not only maximum BTCC Independent Drivers points but also his first main championship points – the first-ever championship points scored by the driver of an NGTC car.
Frank shone in race two also, holding third place for eight of the 12 laps after a brilliant start and making progress on the opening lap. The Avensis man started from fourth on the grid and outfoxed reigning champion Jason Plato first time around through Williams to seize third. Frank proceeded to challenge the second-placed Vauxhall of James Nash for several laps until an overheating problem – caused by damage to the radiator – set in.
“I got hit from behind into the first corner,” said Frank, “and as a result I hit someone in front. From then on the car started to overheat, and it worsened as I came up behind Nash. I dropped back from him in the hope that some fresher air would help it, but it didn’t.”
Wrathall put up a spirited defence of third under pressure from Plato and his Chevrolet team-mate Alex MacDowall, but they both found their way past him on lap nine. Frank pulled over on the following lap to avoid damaging the Avensis engine. “I had a good go at keeping them behind me, but in the end it was impossible,” added a still-smiling Frank.
Alas the damaged radiator required complete replacement and there was insufficient time to achieve this before the third and final Snetterton race, so Wrathall had to watch from the sidelines – frustrated on one hand, but on the other confident that his performances in race one and two had more than proved a point.
There was a good showing also from Toyota’s other BTCC independent, Tony Hughes, who improved with every session in his Speedworks Motorsport Avensis. Tony qualified 24th on the grid and raced to 21st spot in race one; in race two he was holding 18th into the final lap when a throttle problem prompted the car to slip into ‘limp mode’ and Hughes pulled up to prevent possible engine damage; he too was unable to take the grid for race three.
Having had little seat time in the Toyota since the car was re-engineered to improve its handling performance, Tony’s results were respectable. “The chief problem I have is a lack of time in the car,” he said. “I need more testing time to get the best from it.”
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship heads north of the border for its next fixture: the daunting Knockhill circuit in Scotland is the venue on 4 September.