Frank Wrathall and his Dynojet Racing Toyota Avensis made another dramatic and successful appearance on the BTCC stage yesterday, claiming a brace of podium results at Rockingham, a best-yet second place finish and a new circuit lap record for good measure.
Just as at Knockhill earlier in the month, Frank’s Toyota set a searing pace in Saturday’s free practice and qualifying sessions and was more than a match for the established runners in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship throughout race day.
It was in race one that Wrathall secured a new BTCC lap record for the 1.94-mile Northamptonshire speedway on his way to third place. Coming on top of the two scored in Scotland, it was a hat-trick of podiums.
The 24-year-old from Lancashire started seventh and made up ground on the opening lap after a tardy grid getaway. Said Frank: “It was a bad start – too many revs and too much wheelspin off the line; where I was starting from was a bit damp and I struggled a bit because of that. My plan had been to hold station at the start and to keep it tight. It worked out that I just had to get stuck in and get involved, take my chances…”
As others in front clashed and fell by the wayside, Wrathall survived the chaos of the opening lap – which included a hefty thump in the rear of the Avensis at the Brook chicane – to hold on to seventh. He picked up sixth on lap three and then demoted Matt Neal’s Honda next time around to secure fifth. It was on this tour that he set the best lap of the race, 1m 24.550s, a tenth inside the circuit record.
James Nash’s Vauxhall fell victim to the terrific Toyota into the Deene hairpin on lap six, and then Frank spent 14 laps bottled up behind Gordon Shedden’s third-placed Honda. “Shedden seemed to be struggling more than anyone; that allowed Matt to catch back up and that put pressure on me to get past Gordon. I came off worst in a bit of a tussle with both of them.”
Having regained fourth from Neal after a lap on his tail, Wrathall then stormed past Shedden in a brave penultimate lap late-braking manoeuvre into Deene: “I was able to take my chance and get back past Matt, and then I had to be a bit brave on the brakes to get Gordon.” Added Frank: “We’ve done a lot of work getting the Toyota good on the brakes and that I think is where we have the biggest advantage over the cars around us.” From then on third place was a certainty for Wrathall and Dynojet Racing; Jason Plato’s Chevrolet took the win, 10.4s ahead of Wrathall.
Wrathall praised the Toyota’s balance: “When the race settled down the car just came to me; it was absolutely mega all the way to the end. I could do pretty much what I wanted with it, it was spot-on.”
Race two provided further success, with not only a third victory of the season for Frank in the Independents class but also second place overall, the best placing so far for a ‘Next Generation Touring Car’.
Frank started third and, after a hesitant start, clawed his way back to fourth spot by the end of the opening lap. Third place fell into his clutches on lap four when he dispatched the Chevrolet of Paul O’Neill into Deene and then, two laps later, he pounced on the Chevrolet of reigning champion Plato to secure second, again with a superb outbraking manoeuvre into Deene.
Wrathall spent the duration of the race harrying leader Shedden for all he was worth, but the Honda man held his narrow advantage to the line, crossing it just 0.38s ahead.
“Obviously I wanted to get past Gordon and take the win,” said Frank, “but I had a bit of breathing space and time to weigh up the situation… In the passing places I just wasn’t quite quick enough compared to Gordon. I think he had it under control but it was nice to run him so close. We are getting closer all the time; the Toyota is just absolutely fantastic and I’m having fun.”
Wrathall rounded off his impressive Rockingham weekend with a points-scoring finish – his sixth on the trot – in the ‘reverse grid’ finale, in which he started ninth with his Avensis laden with 36kg of success ballast, and finished ninth.
“It was a bit of a struggle because of the extra weight and the effect it had on my straight line speed; it made it hard to pass anyone, so I couldn’t make as much progress as I did in the earlier races. The weight affected the handling of the car as well as the speed; 36 kilos is a big lump and it’s the first time we’ve run that heavy. It was always going to be tough but we got the car to the finish, and in the points.
“It’s been an absolutely mega day, better than Knockhill and the best of the year so far because we’ve been quicker here.”
Wrathall ends the weekend a place higher in the overall championship standings – 11th – and ninth among the Independent drivers. Frank and the Dynojet Racing team will be back in action in a fortnight’s time (1/2 October) at Brands Hatch.