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Thompson stakes claim for full-time BTCC seat with first BMW test

British Touring Car Championship fan favourite Bobby Thompson starred in his first run with top BMW team West Surrey Racing at the Brands Hatch official test on Wednesday.

Bobby Thompson, Team BMW

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

The 28-year-old Thompson, who is regarded by many series insiders as a champion of the future in the right circumstances, is now working flat-out with the Sunbury squad on trying to put a deal together to start the 2024 season at Donington Park at the end of this month.

Thompson, who has always struggled to raise a budget to compete in the BTCC, did not register on the timing at Brands because his BMW 330e M Sport was not fitted with a transponder.

That was because he was not running with the Cosworth-supplied hybrid boost system, meaning he was approximately 30bhp down on the other WSR BMWs of Jake Hill, Colin Turkington and Adam Morgan.

Despite this, Thompson was clocked in the 48.3s bracket on two separate WSR stopwatches and his onboard data logging, which would have put him in the top 10 in the times on his first day in a rear-wheel-drive BTCC car.

In the early running in the wet morning session, WSR recorded Thompson at a 53.50s on his very first run during the opening hour, at a time when the pace was set by reigning champion Ash Sutton’s Alliance Racing Ford on 53.350s, with Hill the fastest BMW on 53.363s.

“With the hybrid being a bigger jump this year [due to the new BTCC regulations doubling the boost gain], I’m fairly happy with that,” Thompson told Autosport.

“In the wet, I got out of the car in the morning saying I’d be ready to go into a qualifying session – I was over the moon with it.

“We made some changes for the dry, and I was happy to feel those changes.

“Of course, I’ve got my head around front-wheel drive and what things do, but rear-wheel drive is obviously different, so it was nice to have a little play and go in a direction I like, which is stiffer.”

Bobby Thompson, Team BMW

Bobby Thompson, Team BMW

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Thompson was engineered for the day by John Waterman, who has led development of the 3-Series over the past few seasons and ran Turkington from 2020 to 2023.

“In the wet we just got our eye in and made a few changes,” added Thompson.

“I didn’t care what the other guys did with the car – it was just about getting comfortable, and obviously they’ve driven the BMW for years, so they had a pre-feeling coming into the test of what they would want to feel.

“I was coming in from scratch, so I could go in my own direction.”

Because of lack of budget for his test-only deal, Thompson was restricted to one set of fresh Goodyear slicks for performance runs.

“Now I know what I know, I would have loved another set of boots – I reckon I could have brought it down to a 48.1s,” he said.

“Thank you to WSR and Dick [Bennetts, team principal] for what they’ve done to get me out on the day.

“Hopefully things can work their magic and it can get me on the grid.”

Bobby Thompson, Team BMW

Bobby Thompson, Team BMW

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Bennetts said: “The idea behind the test was to generate publicity. Does that turn into money? We don’t know.

“He did a very decent job considering it was his first day in a rear-wheel-drive touring car.

“He had a lot to learn, for example about brake balance, and that takes a while with anyone, but he did very well.

“We were very impressed with his feedback, his attitude, and he didn’t have any spins.

“He’s a nice guy off the track and good to work with on the track, and he did a great job first time out.”

While the odds are against Thompson being in the car for next week’s official test at Croft, the D-day for whether he starts the season is the following week’s BTCC Launch Day and test at Donington Park – scene of the opening round.

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“I don’t come from money, and even a little bit of money in motorsport terms is an insane amount of money,” said Thompson.

“We need some funding, and we’re looking at every avenue we’ve got.

“We’ve got some irons in the fire, but a lot’s got to come together.

“We’ll keep pushing – we’ve got the best people on it.”

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