Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to BMW’s Tom Oliphant to reflect on finishing sixth in the driver standings in his third season in BTCC. ‘It’s been a hard three seasons. A lot harder than I thought it would be, I’ve been really proud of what I have achieved this year and I’m really looking on to next couple of years’
‘My target for this season was to get into the photo contenders at penultimate round and I did that. I think my aim was to challenge for title if I could but be in the mix which I was, you know apart from Jake Hill’s misery at the start of the year I felt like the 6 of us (Sutton, Turkington, Cammish, Ingram, Butcher) were always at the front and I established myself up there than midfield’
Oliphant stepped up his game this season and was considerably more consistent when it came to scoring points. When asked what Oliphant felt his biggest improvement this season was, he confirmed my thoughts; ‘I think point scoring, in my first couple years I was quick and qualified well but point scoring across all three races on a weekend and really focusing on coming away with decent points wasn’t something I really did and this year I was able to do that a lot better’
BMW won the teams and manufacturing championships in 2020. With Andrew Jordan withdrawing from the team and leaving Turkington and Oliphant, it meant it was more important to ensure consistent point scoring. This is one of Oliphants highlights from the season helping the team secure those titles. ‘When Jordan decided not to race it came on my shoulders to step up and help the team and BMW to get those titles, if I performed like I did last season I don’t think that would have happened’. Another highlight for Oliphant was cementing himself as one the drivers that is always up there.
This was Oliphants second season with BMW, last year he had Turkington and Jordan as teammates, two champions and well-respected drivers in the paddock. I just had to ask Oliphant how he found that and how much he was able to learn from these two drivers who have a lot of experience and success between them. ‘When I went into the meeting with BMW and WSR, first question I asked was if Turkington and Jordan are going to back, they’re basically the best team on grid and have been for a number of years but for me, I have always wanted to have the best teammate. I wanted to learn from Turkington and Jordan, they taught me so much, on and off the track, you know how professional you have to be and how hard you have to work, on the track, Jordan’s qualifying pace was inspiring to watch, the way Turkington manages championships is just incredible and watching them both, especially end of last season when they were both going for the title that was interesting. I feel like if I’m back next year and fighting for the title then I will be able to draw on that and what they can do and do it myself hopefully’
Oliphant has nothing but nice things to say about both drivers. I mentioned that they seem to have different driving styles, but Oliphant has seen it differently ‘That’s how it looks from the outside, the way Jordan throws that car around is breath-taking in so many different cars, has ability to drive anything on the limit. Turkington, people think he’s really consistent and quite safe, but his qualifying laps make you speechless. Snetterton he had max ballast and put it on pole, he manages at the last moment to bring out unmatched lap time, makes it looks effortless, world class driver’
Second round of this year’s season, Oliphant found himself on the top step of the podium claiming his maiden win in BTCC after an incredible move around the outside of Moffat and Jelley on the start finish straight. ‘I knew I had a good car down the pit straight, when they started fighting, I don’t know what made me go round the outside. Halfway round I didn’t really believe the move would work out. After that had Sutton on me for 14 laps and yeah probably worst person in the world to have behind you when you want to claim maiden win, it also made it better, if I had just won the race from getting ahead of Moffat and Jelley then wouldn’t been quite as impressive as fending off Sutton.’
However, Oliphant wasn’t able to celebrate like other drivers who have claimed their maiden wins in previous seasons have due to this year’s season going behind closed doors. ‘If you look back at Proctor’s first win etc they’ve got the whole team, jumping on the car. I got out, emotions were there, and I had two mechanics due to restrictions and no fans celebrating, didn’t have sponsors, had my whole family which was brilliant but my first win hopefully next year with fans will feel like my first win again which will be quite nice’
Oliphant really impressed me at Silverstone and had a really mixed weekend, qualified well, mechanical issue race one, sliced through the field race two and fought for a podium and potential win in the final race so I couldn’t resist not asking how he views that weekend. ‘I wanted more points from it, was rapid in qualifying and practice and got unlucky, I was pleased running in fifth behind Turkington and suspension broke which is unlucky. I really enjoyed race two, went all out, just having no weight and being able to throw the car around and pass as many people as possible. That’s what I love about touring cars, really good fun. Didn’t really expect to get top ten, aim was points from twenty-eighth on grid, to come ninth and start on pole was brilliant. Got two really good starts race 3, couldn’t keep Jackson behind which was disappointing as I wanted my second win of the season and I was quicker than anyone else around the top six, I think if I had gotten in front I would have driven off in the distance but yeah really disappointing but gave it my best. Good weekend but should have been a lot better.’
With all the serious questions, I had to throw some nicer, bit more fun questions. Oliphant named Donington as his favourite circuit ‘don’t know why, always gone well there, fantastic place to drive, all corners are fast, suits my driving style, almost always in any series except touring cars is where I have had my first wins’. So, everyone keep your eyes out next time Oliphant is at Donington, he will be flying round the circuit!
The last question was a hypothetical one, that is BTCC could have one race somewhere that isn’t on the calendar, where would he choose and why. ‘So many good answers, my big favourite track in life is Magny Cours, I think Portimao be quite good, erm Dijon perhaps, quite small but could be quite a good touring car track, proper old school F1 track and it’s got a long straight so could get quite interesting racing. Any of those tracks though, cracking circuits in Europe. If I ever became billionaire, I’d build a track with all my favourite corners.’
It was so much fun talking to Oliphant covering his season, what he has learnt from teammates and surprisingly what he would do if he was a billionaire!