The half way point of the 2022 British Touring Car Championship has come and gone at Croft circuit over the weekend of June 25th & 26th. It was a challenging weekend for multiple race winner Taylor-Smith as his Cupra was crippled by engine problems over the course of the weekend.
Taylor-Smith arrived at the circuit full of optimism off the back of a superb weekend at Oulton Park which saw the Irishman notch up his first top ten finish of the season in the Cupra. Team Hard has continued to develop and progress the chassis in only its second season in the BTCC and it’s quickly becoming one of the front-running front-wheel-drive cars in the hybrid era of the BTCC. Croft as a circuit offers a huge challenge for engineers, drivers and teams alike as it combines a wide host of elements that range from slow-speed technical sectors to some of the fastest corners in British Motorsport. The Cupra is renowned for being extremely competitive in technical sectors and as such, optimise was extremely high ahead of the weekend as the series headed to one of the Northerly circuits.
Taylor-Smith commented: “Weirdly Croft has always been one of my favourite tracks on the calendar despite my massive accident there in 2017. We’re entering the weekend off the back of our most successful weekend to date this season as such, we have great momentum on our side and the team are working incredibly well. I’m confident in the work that the team have done in this two week turnaround and I’m entering the weekend confident that we can continue from where we left off at Oulton.”
The weekend proved to be one full of heartbreak for Taylor-Smith as problems emerged from the very first lap in Free Practise when it was apparent that his engine was particularly down on power. These issues curtailed his running all day on Saturday. For the 2022 season the Cupra’s switched to an entirely new engine package with M-Sport, which until this point has proven to be a successful upgrade for the team. Teething problems are always to be expected when such a major performance determining aspect of the car are undertaken but Croft seemed to produce an entirely new set of issues that were not experienced to date. Unfortunately a number of engine problems removed the opportunity to fine tune the chassis throughout the two free practises and qualifying as the team had to switch focus to cure these issues as opposed to optimising the chassis performance. Therefore, the Irishman entered qualifying knowing that it would be a difficult session not having completed a new tyre run or any development on the chassis.
Taylor-Smith commented: “Let’s call a spade a spade, Saturday was a write off for us and while it’s difficult for me to swallow it’s even worse on the team. The crew on my car have done absolutely everything in their power but the cards were stacked against us with the engine issues that we experienced all day. That being said, Sunday is a new day and I actually love getting to carve my way through the packs. Points and the top ten are the objective which are always possible as you can never predict what will happen in the BTCC.”
But Sunday turned out to offer further heartbreak for Taylor-Smith as issues continued throughout the three races, which hampered his chances to score points. As always, the number 40 driver was one to watch on the opening laps in race one as he immediately made progress to break into the teens. A number of superb overtakes saw him jump the most amount of cars of anyone on the grid by the mid way point of the race. Another key aspect was that Taylor-Smith showed some of the potential of both himself and the Cupra as he put in lap times faster than those in the top ten but his progress was cut short when a rear upright snapped on the car coming out of the fast corner called Hawthorns. This resulted in Taylor-Smiths first non-finish of the season as the broken component sent him into the barriers in dramatic fashion. Luckily he escaped injury free but the car picked up substantial damage that jeopardised even making it back to the grid for the remainder of the day.
Taylor-Smith commented: “The team did a great job and got on top of the engine issues ahead of the first race. I felt we could go on the attack once again and we were making solid progress through the pack. Arguably the most encouraging aspect was the lap times that we were doing, they were easily fast enough to be within the top ten for the first time this weekend after only a few laps and I thought that we were in a great place to turn the weekend around. But then, out of nowhere a component on the rear snapped which sent me straight into the wall. Sometimes you just can’t write it!”
The team had their work cut out to repair the car in a tight turnaround between race one and two. It was very much all hands on the deck as they had to rebuild both the rear right that broke and caused the crash but also the damage from the impact on the front. It was a massive credit to the team to get the car back on the grid ahead of the second race which allowed Taylor-Smith to line up at the back after his non-finish in race one. The Irishman fought tooth & nail to make up as many places as places as possible to eventually cross the line in 21st. The second half of the race proved to be challenging as the engine performance in car 40 began to drop off with a reoccurring issue from Saturday. Obviously engine performance is crucial at all circuits but even more so at Croft as overtaking opportunities are limited due to the tightness of the circuit and without optimal performance further progress was next to impossible.
Taylor-Smith commented: “It has to be said that my car crew were out of this world to even get the car back on track ahead of race two. It was in an absolute ball after the crash and I wasn’t sure that we would be back out for even race three but they pulled out all the stops to make it possible. The emphasis was to repair the car, which they did a brilliant job in doing so, but the engine issues returned as the race went on. I’m clearly disappointed for myself but more so for the team as they are doing absolutely everything in their power but sometimes things outside of your control take over.”
Race three proved to be another ego battering encounter for Taylor-Smith as there wasn’t enough time between races two and three to carry out an engine change. The team went into the race knowing that the engine performance was sub optimal but Taylor-Smith was determined to battle his way back into the points despite the issues. For the opening few laps this looked possible as he jumped forward to be back in the teens until heavy contact from another driver broke the rear suspension on the car while he was nursing the engine issue and making the most of what he had.
Taylor-Smith commented: “Heart-braking is all I can say. The team were superb all weekend but we were on the back foot with issues outside of our control. It’s so easy to drop your head in this game and I’m certain this would happen if it wasn’t for the team that are around me. They are the best of the best but sometimes you need luck on your side and this weekend everything seemed to be stacked against us.”
The BTCC now enters their mid season break with the longest gap in the calendar until they venture to Scotland to race the infamous Knockhill Circuit on July 31st. However, there is no rest for the wicked as the team have an extensive two-day test program at Snetterton on July 12th & 13th. It is the perfect opportunity to refocus and progress the Cupra even further ahead of the next five race weekends.
Taylor-Smith commented: “We have nearly six weeks to regroup ahead of the next race but arguably the most important part of this is our two day test at Snetterton. Finally, we will have the chance to cycle through the set up changes that we have been evaluating since the beginning of the season in a testing environment. This is a great time for us to regroup as a team and come back even stronger at Knockhill. I’m treating this year as a season of two halves where we can reset from this point onwards and go into the second half with a clean slate to see what we can achieve.”
Be sure to stay up to date with Taylor-Smiths progress throughout the mid season break by following his social media channels and by keeping an eye on our site.