Some journalists – no names, no pack drill – seem to think that the British Touring Car Championship is as good as over. It’s true that Alfa Romeo stole all the early headlines and that Gabriele Tarquini put together a string of victories at the start of the season, but I’m only 30 points – which can be recouped in the course of a double-header race meeting behind him.
This championship is so long and tough that it is important to be consistent, especially in the double-headers these races can really make or break you. Often it’s not the fastest car that wins the championship but the most consistent; obviously, it’s great to be both, but if I haven’t been in a position to win a race I have aimed to score as many points as possible. I’ve lost count of the second places I’ve scored, but there have been enough to keep in touch with Gabriele, and I’m sure he’s beginning to feel all the pressure.
He’s made all the running this season and barely put a foot wrong, so he must be wondering what he has to do to shake me off. His spectacular clash with Tim Harvey at Knockhill meant that he scored no points compared to my 36, and this emphasises just how important the double-headers are. But it’s a case of swings and roundabouts for he scored 48 points at Brands Hatch while I was nerfed out of the first race and the points by Patrick Watts. I feel the championship is coming back to me and I aim to grab it, even though it was disappointing to lose third place when my oil pressure dipped in the most recent event, at Oulton Park. . .particularly as Gabriele had been behind me at the time.
The Knockhill races were really tough. The track is very demanding on a driver, one mistake can ruin your weekend because there’s no room to play with. To make matters worse, I felt decidedly under the weather and not just the Scotch mist that delayed the morning warm-up. I was running a high fever, and my condition was not improved by having Alain Menu and Steve Soper sat right on my bumper for 31 laps. For one moment I thought I had done just enough to hold them off as I crested the line, for what I thought was the final time, fractionally ahead of Alain. I had been feeling a bit giddy for the last few laps, and in my fatigue I had miscounted the laps remaining we still had one to go and Alain had the inside line for the next corner. . .
Thankfully, there were a couple of hours between the races and I was able to dose up on fluids, sugar and salt. Because of this I felt a little better for the second race, and I was able to grab second place from Alain near the end, while Steve scored his first BTCC win of the year for BMW.
All the races in this championship are tough, and sometimes it all gets a little bit fraught, but it was nice that the lead of both of these races was very cleanly contested with three cars running so close it could have all ended in tears. It was important that we showed we can race like this after the disaster at the British Grand Prix meeting.
This race is just like any other except that all the manufacturers have a lot of important guests there, and because of this it’s extra-nice to do well. What Nissan’s guests thought of having three damaged Primeras parked up in front of their hospitality tent is anybody’s guess. There were cars everywhere in the scramble into the first corner. I went straight through the middle of it. I think Alain Menu triggered it off, but I definitely think there were two separate incidents, and that John Cleland and Giampiero Simoni would’ve touched anyway. These things happen, it’s just a shame that it had to be this race.
I was third on this occasion behind Jo Winkelhock’s BMW and Tarquini. But my Ford Mondeo finished the race feeling stronger than it has done all season. It was a shame that I had started so far back because I think I could’ve given them a run for their money.
This race was the first occasion that BMW ran with its new wings and reduced weight: 25 kg have been removed from the rearwheel-drive cars while a similar amount has been added to us and the rest. Maybe the FIA should have gone halfway between this or waited to see how the new aerodynamics affected the car before taking off the weight, but now BMW has got exactly what it wanted and its cars are very competitive. They will be the cats among the pigeons for the rest of the season.
Talking of seasons, the ‘silly’ one has started. Drivers and teams are already making their plans for next year, and a number of drives will soon be up for grabs. As far as I’m concerned touring cars is where I want to be. I love single-seaters and I’m still hoping for a run in the Benetton, but this is more to satisfy my curiosity than anything else. Touring cars is a formula that is still going forward, and in this respect it’s the place to be. When you go out on your warm-up lap you are able to glance around, and it’s nice to see the big crowds because you know that this is stabilising our jobs as drivers. Touring cars is my bread and butter. So there are six races remaining the last three meetings are double-headers so it’s impossible to make any predictions. All I am sure of is that I can still win this championship. P R
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