That sinking feeling. . .

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British Touring Car Championship

An inopportune engine failure at Silverstone finally put the BTCC title out of reach. There is still, however, a world title to be defended. . .

This is going to be a short column. I’m afraid I’m not in a very talkative mood. My whole year has been geared up to winning the British Touring Car Championship. I’ve been totally single-minded, put in a lot of work along with the Ford team, and it all went up in smoke at Silverstone.

If you lose in a straight fight, if you’ve had a fair crack at it, you lose. But if you lose because of a mechanical failure, it’s very frustrating. I keep an eye on what’s going on around me, but I’m very focused on what I am doing – I get totally wrapped up. This total intensity makes success a huge relief, a big high, but equally, failure really brings you down. And that’s what I’m suffering from now.

Heading to Silverstone I knew that winning the championship was a pretty tall order; Alfa Romeo’s Gabriele Tarquini was 66 points ahead of me going into the last four races. This was a big margin to overcome, but you never know what might happen in motor sport as mechanical failure can hit anybody, any time.

Unfortunately, it hit me.

I made a pretty good start and I was holding fourth place behind Alain Menu’s Renault. Tarquini needed to pull out another eight points over me to be sure of the title, and, therefore, I need to overtake Menu to keep my hopes alive. I was pretty confident I could do this, as I was hanging back a little bit to conserve my tyres, and was planning to make a push when Alain’s tyres went off. . .

But I never got a chance. My engine started to go tight on the seventh lap, and my heart sank. I did another lap, but it got worse and I came into the pits. Cruising down the pit lane was not a pleasant experience. The end. I stayed for the second race, but I couldn’t watch it I find it very boring if I’m not involved. And I left straight after that. The team discovered that the problem was caused by a broken piston Andy (Rouse) had a similar problem at Brands Hatch and what makes this more disappointing is that the engines in the BTCC are not working very hard – 8500rpm is not a lot to cope with.

But it’s all gone wrong just lately. Four races ago, at Oulton Park, I was third and leading Tarquini with five laps remaining. If things had stayed this way I would have been just 14 points behind him in the championship. But there is no room for ifs and buts in motorsport – I lost all my oil pressure and had to stop. Now he’s 108 points ahead of me and I’ve lost second place in the championship to Menu. It can all turn round so quickly in this series.

At the start of the year most people tipped me to win the title. But they were forgetting how the championship had stepped up a gear. Sure, I was the man to beat at the end of the last season, but when you look at who was in it then, and who’s in it now and the cars they have come up with. . .

We have made big improvements to the Mondeo, but other teams have clearly made even bigger improvements than us. Some people say that the car doesn’t look as comfortable to drive as last year’s, but to be honest, it wasn’t always totally comfortable to drive last season. It’s just that things look better when you’re winning. It’s been consistent, but at no track has it really been the car to beat. I’ve had so many second places I’ve lost count, but there’s only been one win, and winning it what it’s all about. Most people would’ve been happy with the season I’ve had, but this year there was only one thing, and that was winning the championship. It might sound hard, but we failed. We had our aims and we failed to reach them. And that’s how I look at it. But I can’t brood for too long, because I’ve got to get back that second position in the last two rounds. And then have to defend my World Touring Car Champion title at Donington Park next month. That would be a nice consolation. P.R.

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