This weekend’s opening round of the British Touring Car Championship will see two of Cheshire’s finest racers begin their 2021 campaigns.
Tom Oliphant, 30, had a breakthrough 2020 in the BTCC as he took his first win in the series at Brands Hatch, midway through the season.
This year sees the Tarporley racer stay with the factory Team BMW squad that claimed manufacturer’s and team’s honours last year.
He has enjoyed his best pre-season since joining the BTCC in 2018 and his confidence levels are at an all time high.
Oliphant said: “Having three cars back in the team we’ve got more tools to test things.
“Me and Colin (Turkington, BMW teammate) have been focussing on development of the car and setup tweaks while Stephen (Jelley, new teammate) has been acclimatising himself with the car
“This has probably been the best winter testing for a long time and we’ve achieved a lot. Obviously some stuff has worked and some hasn’t but it was nice to be out there with decent weather rather than the icy cold and wet days we usually have.”
Testing is something Macclesfield’s Joseph Loake, 15, has needed plenty of as he makes his debut in single-seater cars this year.
He will race in British Formula 4 this season on the BTCC support package and he has needed every lap during pre-season to understand his JHR Developments car having switched from Ford Fiesta racing.
“I think I’ve done less testing than anyone.” Loake said, “Everyone this year has either raced last year or been testing since June and I’ve not had that.
“I could be looked at as an underdog in that respect but lap times seem to be putting me towards the top five however it’s never easy to see for sure until qualifying.
“It’s been great to learn stuff off Abbi (Pulling, second year driver with JHR and title hopeful) through the testing programme. She has Alice Powell with her too who has also helped me a lot so far and that’ll continue into the season I’m sure.”
Loake in particular has high expectations for this weekend with the JHR team having won the last seven races at the Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire so his chances of silverware are as good as they could be for his rookie weekend.
He said: “It’s very early to be putting pressure on myself to score podiums straight away because anything can happen at Thruxton.
“The nature of the track means that one bad lap could lose you four or five positions so being as close to perfect as possible is crucial.
“Top five would be great this weekend and I’d love to take a trophy back to show my school mates but I don’t want to set too unrealistic goals for my first weekend.”
Oliphant meanwhile was more subdued in his hopes for the weekend’s action, with his rear-wheel drive BMW likely to be at a disadvantage in qualifying with Thruxton’s characteristic’s not suiting the 330i.
He said: “It’d be my dream to go out and stick it on pole, win the first race but you have to look at the facts and that is that rear-wheel drive cars struggle in qualifying there.
“I think we’ll be helped slightly with there being no success ballast so maybe we can claw back some time but i would still put money on a front wheel drive car being on pole and winning the first race.
“I’d be very happy with a solid weekend, three top six finishes are the aim and then we can build on that as we go to tracks that suit as better.”
Loake will be on track first on Friday for practice while Oliphant will have to wait until Saturday to unleash his BMW onto the circuit.