18th July 2005
Fifth for Fiona on Touring Car debut.
Farmer’s daughter goes fast with environmentally friendly fuel.
Farmer’s daughter Fiona Leggate finished a fine fifth in class and in the top ten overall in the final race of three in her debut in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft in the North East of England.
Fiona, who has only been driving race cars for just over two years, put in an admirable effort as she took her Techspeed Vauxhall Astra Coupe to the finish in all three races in Britain’s premier saloon car racing series.
The debut of the Lincolnshire-lass in the BTCC brought one very obvious difference to the series and one that was not so obvious unless you took a close look behind the doors of the team pit garage. The obvious change was, of course, that Fiona was the only female to line up on the grid against fourteen male drivers. The less obvious factor was that Fiona’s Astra did not fuel-up with petrol like the rest of the grid, but rather it was powered by environmentally Bio-ethanol fuel.
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship sees action from both manufacturer entries from Vauxhall and SEAT with star drivers like 2001 champion and television presenter Jason Plato, and also Independents teams with their own championship within the overall honours. Fiona’s opportunity to join the series came thanks to the Government backing from the Motorsport Development UK Energy Efficient Motorsport initiative.
Twenty-five year-old Fiona took to the track for her first taste of BTCC action on Saturday where she undertook two practice sessions before the qualifying. She was driving for the Independents team, Techspeed, who have previous run Paul O’Neill, brother of ex Spice Girl Mel C.
After a suspension failure on her car in the first practice session after only two laps on track, Fiona had it all to do, but she kept her head and come the end of the qualifying session she had put in the seventh fastest time of the Independents cars, the thirteenth fastest overall.
Sunday saw Fiona line up on the grid for the three races, the last of which was televised live on ITV1. Race one saw a solid debut as Fiona guided her green and white Astra to an eleventh placed finish. The second race saw Leggate pushing hard and challenging for tenth place, which would have meant pole position for the reverse top-ten. However Fiona made a rare mistake and ran wide at the hairpin leaving her with all to do in the final race, where she started from the back of the grid.
Race three in the BTCC is usually an action-packed affair, but despite all the bumps and bangs elsewhere in the field Fiona kept her nose clean to come home tenth overall, and fifth in the Independents runners.
“I feel really happy, I think overall the weekend’s gone really well and as we planned,” said Fiona at the end of the weekend. “I knew we weren’t going to be up there with the front-runners, but as long as I was making improvements race after race I was happy. I haven’t had any bumps, I haven’t damaged the car, and the engine’s run fine on the Bio-ethanol fuel - it’s been great to show how good environmentally-friendly fuel can be.”
Techspeed boss Marvin Humphries was happy with his driver’s performance. “It’s run very well,” he said. “We’ve had a very good weekend with three races and we finished three races and Fiona’s progressed very well in the time she had on track. She’s done very well, we moved forward in each race; it’s been a daunting task but I think she’s come through it very well.”
Despite its very different fuel for a race team, Bio-ethanol presented no problems and delivered on track. “Logistically it’s not different, we put the fuel in and the car runs with it; it’s not been a problem,” says Humphries of running the car on the ‘environmentally neutral’ fuel produced from the fermentation of sustainable crops such as sugarbeet and wheat.