Both Support Our Paras Racing drivers, Derek Palmer and Max Coates, impressed in the latest rounds of the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship at Croft, scoring points in both the Independents Championship, and Jack Sears Trophy.
Coates, the 21-year-old from Scorton, who lives just five miles from the North-east circuit, improved throughout the weekend despite only sitting in his No71 Infiniti Q50 for the first time on Saturday morning.
And backed by a posse of family and friends, Coates not only achieved his principal objective of the weekend — completing all three races without damaging the car — he bagged his first Top 20 finish in the day’s finale.
The North Yorkshireman also scored points in two of the races in the Independents Trophy, and on all three occasions in the Jack Sears Trophy for BTCC rookies.
“At the beginning of the week I didn’t know anything about the car: and now I’ve just had my first top 20 finish,” Coates said as he shielded his eyes from the late afternoon sun which drenched Croft.
“I’m properly made up.
“At the start of the week, I didn’t think my smile could get any bigger, but it has. I’ve improved with every session, so I’m pleased with my overall performance. It felt really, really good, and that has made me seriously excited about the next race at Snetterton.
“I started the weekend in the 1min 29.7s and finished on a 27.2s, so it’s a big difference. I haven’t seen the times, but I’m sure the gap to the lead times is now closer than it was at the beginning.”
In actual fact, in qualifying, Coates’ gap to the polesitter was 3.440s: in Race 3 the gap was just 1.914s to the fastest lap of Matt Neal.
“It’s more than 12 months since I raced,” Coates smiled, “but I now feel like I’m a racing driver again. And it’s a brilliant feeling.”
While Coates bagged two third places and one fourth in the Jack Sears, team-mate Palmer not only finished 19th overall in the day’s finale, but he also scored a second, third and fourth in the Jack Sears.
The 28-year-old Zurich-based Scot from Lesmahagow now stands third in the race for the prestigious Jack Sears Trophy.
But Palmer endured a battle-scarred weekend as his No22 car was pummelled and battered as he mixed it in his debut on the high-speed, technical track.
“A tough, tough weekend,” he admitted. “It’s been rewarding, but ultimately it could have been so much better.
“There were a couple of times I paid the price for being in the wrong place and being collected in someone else’s accident, and in the second race the performance of my soft-compound tyres dropped off dramatically and I lost places.”
After an impressive start in Race 1, Palmer’s progress was halted at the chicane on the second lap when his Q50 was punted from the rear. The impact catapulted him into the rear of Stewart Lines, spinning the Toyota and badly damaging Palmer’s car.
The Scot though recovered from having dropped around 12-seconds, and rejoining in last place, to battle back to finish 22nd, just 1.569s behind Coates.
The Mallory Park-based TENA Men-backed team’s race cars are prepared by injured ex-servicemen from the Parachute Regiment, with all team profits being donated to SUPPORT OUR PARAS, the official Regiment charity.
And after the Paras completed major repairs to Palmer’s car for the second race, he found himself clipped by another car before a half-spin late in the race due to his deteriorating tyres saw him drop back to finish 23rd.
In the day’s finale, Palmer made a bad start, thanks to not being able to see all the lights on the start gantry from his grid position, but battled through to battle for 18th.
Despite clearly having the faster car, the Scot was unable to get passed the Toyota of Simon Belcher and had to content himself with 19th.
“It’s very difficult to pass round here without making contact, and I got stuck behind Simon for something like the last six laps,” Palmer continued.
“I could get close, but I just couldn’t get passed without risking damaging both our races. That said, Simon drove brilliantly defensively when he had to, so hats off to him. It was frustrating though because I was clearly a lot quicker than he was.
“I’d opened a healthy two-second gap over Max behind me, but once I got stuck behind Simon, Max was able to close right back up. And that was my progress halted.
“But yeh, overall, we’re here, we’re racing and we’ve made more steps in the right direction.”
Photos: Copyright Jakob Ebrey