Jade Edwards scores first point of her BTCC career at Snetterton
At Snetterton, Jade Edwards became the first woman since 2006 to score points in a BTCC race, as the BTC Racing's driver gained 8 places and finished 15th in Race 3. After her debut in 2020, Jessica Hawkins was also back in the series for a one-off, and the W Series racer showed promising pace as she targets a spot on the grid in 2022.
When Jade Edwards got behind the wheel of the #99 BTC Racing Honda Civic Type R at Thruxton over one month ago, she became the first woman to race full time in BTCC – the premier touring car championship in the UK – since 2007.
At the season opener, Edwards enjoyed a solid debut and scored a top20 – and a P14 in the Independents Trophy – in the first race, before being taken out in a first-lap incident in Race 2. The Brackley-based team did an amazing job in fixing the heavily damaged Honda in time for Race 3, but an alternator problem on the grid would prevent Jade to start the final race of the weekend at Thruxton.
Nevertheless, her pace showed both in testing and in the first race suggested that the 31-year old second-generation driver could potentially be fighting for top-10 finishes – surely a remarkable target in such a competitive field.
But coming into the second race meeting of the 2021 season, Edwards wasn't the only woman on track: W Series racer and Aston Martin F1 Team ambassador driver Jessica Hawkins made her second ever appearance in the series, after a one-off at the same track in 2020.
Joining Motorbase Performance in the Racing with Wera & Photon Group Ford Focus, Hawkins was given the last-minute chance to return to the top touring car championship by Andy Neate – the driver that had caused Edward's crash at Thruxton – who had decided to stand down for a round for personal reasons.
"Having known Andy and his family for a good few years, I received a call from him last week asking if I was available on the weekend of the next round of the BTCC." – explained Jessica. "Whilst I thought it was a little out of the ordinary for him to be asking, I did not expect his response to be 'I would quite like to sit Snetterton out, and I’d really like to put you in the car'. Obviously, he didn’t need to ask twice! Shocked and speechless at the time, I am humbled to be on the receiving end of Andy’s generosity – I’ll do my best to make the Neate’s and the team at Motorbase proud. Extremely excited to be making a return to the BTCC at Snetterton after my debut in 2020" – added Hawkins.
"Following on from what can only be described as a bitterly disappointing season opener at Thruxton, and more pertinently the aftermath that has followed; I have personally taken the decision to take a short sabbatical from the BTCC at Snetterton." – stated Neate, who also cleared out that he would make his return in the Motorbase Ford Focus at Brands Hatch in June.
"It came down to my decision who would step in for me. It was an easy decision really, I could not personally think of anyone more qualified, talented nor deserving of a chance than Jess Hawkins." – said Neate. "I’ve always been a huge fan of Jess, it gave me so much joy to call her up and ask her to take my seat for Snetterton. Jess is a fantastic British talent and I know she has full-time BTCC aspirations too. I hope this opportunity I can give her will be the platform for her to secure a slot on the grid in the not so distant future."
The young Brit – who started her on-track collaboration with Aston Martin F1 just one week before at the Azerbaijan GP – was quickly up to speed in the first practice at Snetterton and set the 20th time in FP1. Edwards was P26 in the first session, but bounced back and climbed the order in FP2.
Team BMW's Colin Turkington inherited pole position after the disqualification of Gordon Shedden, with Hawkins an impressive P17 and Edwards P24.
Under high temperatures at the Norfolk venue, the first race of the weekend went to the pole sitting BMW of Turkington, who held off the early attacks of Tom Ingram in the EXCELR8 Hyundai. The two leading drivers exchanged fastest laps and Ingram – who had opted for the softer tyre compound – was able to get alongside the BMW 3 Series in a couple of occasions in the opening stages, but the four-time series champion defended well.
Ingram would try to close in again on Turkington in the second half of the race, with no success; the driver of the #2 BMW 330i M Sport took a lights to flag victory, three seconds clear of Ingram and almost 10 seconds ahead of Rory Butcher, who claimed his first podium of the season in the Toyota Corolla GR Sport.
Jessica Hawkins finished 23rd, having dropped back a couple of positions after the start. Similarly, Jade Edwards slipped back to 28th after the opening laps but, despite the whole field completing the race, she was able to recover to P25 when she took advantage from some of her rivals' mistakes. She was 17th among the Independents, and sixth in the Jack Sears Trophy class.
If the first race was virtually decided at Turn 1 of the first lap, Race 2 saw an impressive recovery from BTCC reigning champion Ash Sutton, who won from eleventh on the grid.
After a series of stunning passes and a perfect first lap that saw him gain four places, the #1 Infiniti of Sutton found a way around the BMW of race 1 winner Turkington on lap 9.
Turkington would have to settle for second, while another exciting battle awarded third place to Ollie Jackson in the MB Motorsport Ford Focus. Jackson had a blistering first lap but then spent the final laps to defend from the return of Tom Ingram, who could not do better than fourth. Fifth was again the Toyota of Rory Butcher, as he edged Tom Oliphant across the finish line by a couple of tenths.
Having started from 23rd on the grid, Jessica Hawkins gained two positions and was P21 at the chequered flag in the #21 Ford Focus.
Just two places behind was Jade Edwards, who had survived a first lap contact and ran just outside the top-20 for most of the race.
On the final lap, Edwards overtook Jake Hill but lost a place to Butel - ultimately finishing P23 overall and 16th in the Independents class.
The reverse grid race featured Stephen Jelley on pole, ahead of BMW teammate Oliphant, Butcher and Ingram - with the latter quickly advancing to third at the start. From fifth, Ollie Jackson had another great getaway and moved up to fourth: the top four would become protagonists of a stunning battle for the lead on the second lap, when the two BMW teammates made contact and ran slightly wide into Turn 4, allowing past the Hyundai of Tom Ingram, who moved into second place, just behind Jelley.
Oliphant, dropped all the way down the order as further contact with Jackson left the latter with a puncture.
On lap 5, Ingram found his way around Jelley at Turn 1 and quickly opened a safe gap, with the BMW driver also coming under pressure from Ash Sutton and Gordon Shedden.
Both cleared Jelley, but the Hyundai of Tom Ingram remained unchallenged until the chequered flag - scoring both EXCELR8 and Hyundai's first win in BTCC.
Former championship leader Cook was fourth for BTC Racing, having jumped ahead of Stephen Jelley in the closing stages. They preceded The Toyota Corolla of Rory Butcher, who had a very solid weekend and scored 36 points at Snetterton.
On the softer tyre, Jade Edwards had a stunning race and made history by claiming her first point in the championship. Starting from P23, Edwards gained five positions on the opening lap and continued to move up until 16th place overall - 12th in class.
She then seized the opportunity on the final lap, when Aiden Moffat lost positions: by finishing P15, Jade became the first woman since Fiona Leggate in 2006 to score points in the series.
The result also gained her 11th in the Independent category and second in the Jack Sears Trophy.
“It feels good to get my first British Touring Car Championship point, especially considering we started 23rd – I half wasn’t expecting it." – said Jade after the race.
"I had Jake Hill behind me at the start, I said to him before the race I had no reason to fight with him so you go at the start, I’ll follow, and it paid off."
"We made a few places, then I had [Jason] Plato behind me and I thought ‘here we go, this is going to be such a hard race’, but our car had so much pace and on the soft tyres the car suited them amazingly. It just didn’t drop off, I kept the same lap times and managed to score that first championship point.”
Jade's pace in Race 3 proved that a top-10 can indeed be her next achievable goal.
Another driver that surely showed potential and promising pace was Jessica Hawkins, but the W Series racer couldn't ultimately capitalise due to another difficult start.
Lining up 21st on the grid, Jess finished P23, but was pleased with her pace and will continue to work to secure a spot on the grid next year.
"I'm proud of our pace - I think three really bad starts on my behalf prevented possible points but nevertheless it's a good experience and I'm very pleased with our pace." – commented Hawkins.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity and despite being a little disappointed with the results, I am pleased overall."
"I'd like to see Andy [Neate] return to be honest, but I'm going to work hard to make sure I'm Andy's teammate next year".
While Neate will return behind the wheel of his #44 Racing with Wera & Photon Group Ford Focus ST – and Hawkins will switch her focus to the upcoming W Series championship getting underway in Austria – Jade Edwards will aim for more improvements in the next BTCC around at Brands Hatch, Kent, for the third triple-header of the 2021 season on 26/27 June.