"i'm quietly confident'

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quielyv confide:I

MOTOR SPORT is delighted to welcome

Paul Radisich as a regular columnist. Winner of last year’s FM Touring Car Challenge (saloon car racing’s unof ficial World Championship), Paul will be providing a first-hand account of life as a works Ford driver in the British Touring Car Championship

idon’t think there’s any doubt that the British Touring Car Championship is the most fiercely contested series I’ve ever been involved with. I’m used to competitive situations. Most championships I’ve contested have been tough, but the thing with the BTCC is the depth of quality in the field. There are so many good cars.

None of this was really a surprise to me. Last year, while we were waiting for the Mondeo to be race-ready, I had plenty of opportunities to watch from a distance. When you stand on the sidelines for half a season, you get an opportunity to suss everybody out and take a long, considered view of everything. It was obvious that when I started racing it was going to be pretty tough. As it transpired, it was exactly what I’d expected. Compared to single-seaters, everything in a touring car happens a lot more slowly, and if you’re pounding around on your own, working on set-ups, it can be quite monoto

nous sometimes. But the quality of the racing makes it a really enjoyable series to do.

Once we got going last year, the team did very well. Andy (Rouse) and the lads put together a car that was both quick and reliable, and that latter element really is vital.

Given the way things worked out, it’s easy now to wonder what might have happened had we started earlier in the season. The simple fact is that we didn’t, and that doesn’t worry me. If we’d brought the car out earlier in the year it would not have been so competitive. OK, you could say that it was competitive from the moment that we swapped from rearto front-wheel drive. That’s just the way it goes. At least we finished third overall, which was pretty good in the circumstances, and that gives me something better to aim for this season. During the winter, I’ve been jumping around the world a bit. I had a contract with

Ford to do the Nissan/Mobil series in New Zealand. Glenn Seton and I won at Pukekohe, but Glenn, who’s more used to his bigger, rear-drive Falcon, had hit the wall in the first race at Wellington. It’s a difficult circuit, and it was just one of those things.

I’ve also been doing some work for Ford in lapan, though that was development work on road cars, rather than a race programme.

I returned to the UK in February, and we’ve been able to run the new Mondeo a couple of times since. As we speak, we haven’t done much dry running, just a couple of afternoons at Snetterton, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen. It feels more precise, and gives better feedback through the chassis. Andy’s been able to fine-tune the car. He’s done a few of the things that he wanted to do last year but which we didn’t have time for. The Mondeo was good to start with, so it really is a process of refinement more than anything else. Cosworth has come up with a little more development over the winter, and the car’s now a bit lighter and the weight has been spread a little more evenly around. They’re all typical of the things that you don’t get time to do when you build a car up in a matter of weeks in the middle of a busy racing schedule.

As a result, I’m quietly confident about our chances. I think we’ve got the package to be very competitive, at the very least. I think we can build on what we did at the

end of last year. Every time I go out I’m still learning something new about front-wheeldrive cars. You’ve got to remember that most races I’ve done in touring cars have been in the two-race series back home. Compared to many of the other guys, I’m short of front-drive tin-top experience. I still think I’m getting into the swing of things. There’s certainly some more to come from me, but I’ve only got one expectation and that’s to win the series. Without a doubt the standard of the BTCC

is going to be better this year. Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks that they’ve improved their cars since last year. And by considerable amounts in some cases. The quality of race preparation and professionalism is going to increase. Last year, I think it’s fair to say that only the BMWs were really well organised when the season started, and they got the jump on everybody else. I don’t think we’re going to see that this year. Everyone’s going to be well prepared from

the start.

I accept that we’re going to start as one of the favourites, if not the favourites. That doesn’t faze me at all. It’s better to be noticed than unnoticed! I’ll just get out there and do the best I can do. If we get beaten by a better person, then we get beaten. You can’t underestimate any of the opposition.

As far as the series itself is concerned, I hope it will stay as it is for a few years. It’s always on the cards that those who are not winning may drop out. With 10 manufacturers involved, it’s hard to know what will happen. Things got spread around fairly well last year, with six of the eight manufacturers winning. If that keeps happening, then there’s no reason why people won’t stay in there.

Could you make the BTCC even better?

Well, 1 don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘as good as it can be’. You can always improve things. The TV exposure is good, and it’s going to increase, so everything’s still moving forward and more sponsors are showing interest. Things like the Volvo estate should be good, too. From a marketing point of view it’s terrific; technically, we’ll just have to wait and see. They’ve got good people there and they know what it’s all about. It’s something different, and it’ll bring more attention to the series as a whole. That can only benefit all of us who are involved. P R

P • Paul Rad:nth • •

he son of former racer Frank Radisich,

Paul was born into the world of motorsport, and commenced his career in motocross (“The most competitive and reliable thing available in New Zealand”), aged eight.

After spells in production saloons and Formula Atlantic at home, he was selected as Racing for New Zealand’s Driver to Europe, where he arrived in 1984 to contest the British F3 Championship with Murray Taylor Racing. Pole position for his second race at Thruxton raised a few eyebrows, but neither that nor a subsequent podium finish at Silverstone were enough to attract muchneeded extra funding, and he was forced to return home after only a handful of races.

“In the old days, when Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme came over to Europe, they’d raised money through the car park fee, things like that, which was alright when there were crowds of 150,000 or so. In my day, the crowd was 20,000 tops, so we had a lot of blessing but not much money.”

He was unable to race again until 1986, when he rejoined Taylor’s F3 operation as team-mate to Damon Hill. “1 did the best part of the whole season, but our Ralts were not competitive against the Reynards, and all I had to show was one third place.”

Thereafter, he embarked upon something of a nomadic career, competing with distinction in a variety of classes, both in New Zealand and the United States. “Basically I was getting into anything that people would let me drive Formula Atlantic, Super Vee, even a little bit of TransAm but I never managed a full season in any of them! It was very frustrating.”

At the same time, he was also beginning to earn his spurs as a touring car racer with Australian legend Peter Brock’s team. Later, in 1990, he shared a Dick Johnson Sierra with current BTCC adversary Jeff Allam, and the pair finished second. He has since competed regularly in long-distance events and in New Zealand’s Nissan/Mobil miniseries.

He got to know Andy Rouse in 1989, when Rouse arrived in Australia to drive for Brock, and the two have kept in close touch ever since. “I’ve always made a point of coming to England for two-to-three weeks a year, and I’ve spent a lot of time with Andy. I think my name had always been in the hat for a drive in previous years, along with many others. We’ve been close to deals before, but everything finally came together last year.”

Although late development of the Ford Monde° delayed the start of his season until Pembrey, the eighth of 17 rounds, his lateseason form produced three wins and elevated him to third place in the championship. By the end of the year, he’d led for more laps than anybody bar champion Jo Winkelhock.

He crowned his remarkable rise to prominence by winning both heats of the FIA Touring Car Challenge at Monza, making him saloon car racing’s unofficial ‘world champion’.

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