Pete Walker looks back at one of the BTCC’s more controversial moments from 2019:
“I’m gutted.” They were the only words that Jake Hill could muster as he emerged from the Stewards Room at Oulton Park, his maiden win revoked by the addition of a 20-second time penalty for contact with Matt Neal.
Starting from pole position for race 3, the Trade Price Cars Racing driver immediately found himself under pressure from Neal’s Honda, requiring a brave and robust defence during the opening laps to keep his Audi heading the pack. But then a late brake from the Halfords Yuasa Racing man, hurtling into Lodge corner at the end of lap 2, allowed the three-time former champion to claim the inside line and launch his attack, drawing level as the pair crossed the line.
The following image sequence from ITV Sport shows just how three seconds changed the race (and Hill’s debut win) as Neal firstly took the lead but was then tagged and spun out of contention. There was nothing malicious in the move, Hill was simply too close, but the resulting contact could have easily been catastrophic, the combination of Neal’s speed, the proximity of the barrier and the rapidly closing cars of Jason Plato, Tom Ingram and Rory Butcher creating the potential for more than just mayhem. As it was, only Plato was immediately retired though Ingram would later join him in an early exit.
As you can see from the final screenshot, it was just the lightest of touches but it sent Neal spinning with all four tyres smoking furiously. Those behind instinctively swung wide in avoidance, gouging turf as they scattered, but Hill’s fractionally mis-timed move not only propelled him forward but suddenly into clean air too. It seemed that his much-awaited win beckoned, and whilst the BMWs of Stephen Jelley and Tom Oliphant commenced their pursuit, Hill would retain his advantage for the remaining 19 minutes, crossing the line a full second to the good at the flag.
Yet despite the initial celebrations from the AmD crew and assembled guests, it was immediately clear that the biggest battle for Hill that Sunday wouldn’t be with either Neal or Jelley but rather with the Clerk and the Stewards, and no matter how driven his defence was, the video evidence simply wouldn’t be beaten.
And so less than hour after celebrating with champagne, Hill was penalised by the addition of 20 seconds to his race time, demoting him down to 14th whilst promoting the hard-chasing Jelley to P1.
It would be Jelley’s third win of his career (his last being a decade ago), and the first for Team Parker Racing in touring cars. But for Hill, the bitter taste of defeat would soon change to joy as just 11 weekends later, he converted pole position in race 3 at Knockhill into a lights-to-flag win, holding-off a determined challenge from BTC Racing’s Josh Cook. And this, of course, wasn’t the only reward from his season to remember: The young man who had so capably impressed his teammate, former F1 star, Mark Blundell, found himself promoted to AmD’s senior squad for 2020, so offering-up the opportunity to show his true pace in the squad’s FK2 Honda Civic Type R, and quite possibly more silverware than he ever dreamed possible.