Stephen Jelley enjoyed his easily the best weekend of his HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship career at Croft, securing a hat-trick of podium finishes from the weekend.
The Team RAC driver went into the fifth round of the season lying outside the top ten in the championship standings and eager to impress after tough weekends at both Donington Park and Oulton Park – the latter where he picked up a fine for an incident with David Pinkney on the final lap of the third race.
The former British F3 race winner qualified on the second row of the grid in the North East but a fine start saw him jump to second on the run to Clervaux behind team-mate Colin Turkington – holding position through to the flag to secure a 1-2 finish for Team RAC and his first podium finish in the series.
Jelley then repeated the feat in the second race before a fine drive in race three – in conditions similar to those that saw him crash off heavily at Croft last year – saw Jelley come through to from ninth on the grid to take third place and complete his podium hat-trick.
“I'm obviously delighted it's happened at last,” he told the official series website BTCC.net
, “but to be honest, I wasn't overly surprised. It's been threatening to come for a while. The pace has been good all season but I've just not had that last bit of luck you sometimes need.
“I hope this will silence a few critics who don't know what they are on about. The next step, apart from the top of the podium, is to prove that it is no flash in the pan.”
Jelley's third place finish in race three saw him come home behind championship winners Fabrizio Giovanardi and James Thompson, and he admitted that for a moment, he thought victory could be on when Giovanardi made a move on Thompson for the lead around the outside at Sunny.
“When I saw Fabrizio go for the lead I though maybe, just for a second, that maybe it was going to kick off,” he said, “they'd already had a moment earlier on. That was very audacious of Fabrizio but really brave and required a lot of skill and James – to his credit – gave him the room.
“Maybe he sensed I was close behind and knew if there was contact I might get them both. Third will do me fine, though, given the conditions. It was a freaky race. The spray was phenomenal and I don't know if I'll be wearing that race suit again…”