There’s a reason why TOCA weekends are so incredibly popular and it’s not all down to the headline BTCC.
Despite being a grid of teenage (often novice) drivers, Ginetta Junior has fast become one of the highlights of an exceptional card of support acts. There are quite literally shouts and screams at every corner of every lap, from commentators, crews and spectators alike, as twenty or so of the hardest, most determined young racers drive side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel and nose-to-tail in the pursuit of establishing a long and rewarding career in motor sport.
This year, some 15 ‘rookies’ will join the grid, making the transition from karts to cars and from what we’ve seen from pre-season testing, this could very easily be one of the closest title fights since the days of Caroline & Proctor (2015) and Tregurtha & Middleton (2016).
Eighteen top ten finishes for Josh Rattican last year suggests that he should arrive at Donington as the title favourite, though Joel Pearson, who only just missed out on a podium at 2019’s Brands Hatch finale might think differently. But as ever at the season’s start, it’s the crop of unknowns who spark the biggest interest, so earlier this week, I headed to Thruxton to see just what might be in store . .
WET, WET, WET
Lapping quickly in the dry at Thruxton takes immense skill and nerve; lapping quickly in the wet demands so much more. Almost half the grid (and their teams) braved the prospect of long nights of repair work to get in more valuable track time, yet despite the obvious warnings before leaving the comfort of the Eezy-Ups, there was no lifting-off or early braking, just a hardened group of racers knowing that each and every tenth counts.
Topping the times were former karting rivals Georgi Dimitrov and Tom Lebbon. Dimitrov delivering a sensational lap when the track finally dried but Lebbon looking commanding during the wet sessions. Both positioned their cars beautifully and carried speed in all the right places. Dimitrov looking sharp and edgy whilst 2020 Scholarship winner Lebbon took the Jenson Button approach of smooth and controlled-in, fast-out.
Josh Miller and Seb Hopkins both looked comfortable in the rain but didn’t match the front runners for balance as the track dried.
Whilst the two Will’s (Aspin and Rochford) both took chunks off their times as the day progressed.
Tom Edgar, Joe Warhurst and Rowan Vincent took time to settle on the punishing track but the experience gained will serve them well when the championship heads to Wiltshire in September.
Making a successful transition from karts not only requires great skill and application but an awful lot of patience too. When we’re watching the Ginetta Juniors race, it’s so easy to forget that some of them are only just fourteen, so it’s not how they enter the championship that I’ll be watching out for, it’s how they progress.