Colin Turkington's BTCC return


You wouldn’t think a touring car paddock at Donington would be somewhere Colin Turkington looks out of place, but on this occasion he does. The 2009 BTCC winner is here to contest the British round of the Superstars International Championship – the Italian equivalent of this country’s favourite series – and the atmosphere’s a little strange.

In April, at the same venue, he took the first win of his comeback BTCC season and it’d be fair to say that there hadn’t been a more popular victory for some time. The other drivers were happy for him, the fans more so. And now, between races on an overcast September Sunday, the quiet Ulsterman moves undetected through the same paddock, alongside mechanics weaving through the crowds on Vespas with cigarettes dangling from their mouths and loud, emphatic conversations between journalists and series officials. This corner of Leicestershire is Italian for the weekend and the Mediterranean temperament leaves Turkington as the odd man out.

With a full-time drive with eBay Motors (West Surrey Racing) this season it might seem strange that he’s dabbling with Superstars on a one-weekend basis but it all goes back to last year. “I didn’t have a racing programme and I was on the phone to everybody and anybody,” says Turkington. “I rang the people at Superstars to see if there was an opportunity to race and there was. But there was a date clash with a personal commitment so I couldn’t take it up. I rang them again at the start of this season and said I was still interested in the Donington round, preferably in a BMW, which is a brand I’ve been associated with for a long time. They said they could do it, so it was as simple as that.”

On Saturday at Donington he outqualified all but one other BMW and started sixth in race one on Sunday. “I was running P5 and then one of the other BMW drivers took me out. He probably didn’t like seeing me ahead of him,” Turkington smiles. “I was right in the gravel and couldn’t recover.”

Turkington in the Scuderia Giudici BMW at Donington

As if by magic the driver in question, Max Mugelli, pokes his head round the door of the Scuderia Giudici truck and our chat halts for a moment. It’s always interesting to see these little exchanges and it’s often difficult to know what to expect. Awkward memories of the televised Radisich-Ravaglia ‘discussion’ from Brands Hatch in ’96 loom large but there’s nothing so curt here. The two explain themselves, shake hands and share a gripe over the speed of their BMWs. Turkington signs off with a friendly “try again”.

It’s a piece of advice he’s been taking himself after a difficult period. It’s not often the reigning champion of a series disappears from the entry list but for 2010, Turkington was left without a BTCC drive. “I never wanted to leave,” he says, “but winning the championship coincided with the recession and the sponsor’s programme finished. The car was there but we had no funds to run it and I had no option but to stay on the sidelines. I did a bit of racing in the WTCC [10th in the 2010 standings despite missing half the season, with one win and several other podiums] and one season in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship [fifth in the points]. I just tried to keep my hand in.

“I never intentionally left, but like with this weekend it’s good to test yourself in a different environment. You’re always learning; the good drivers are the ones with experience, going to different countries and different circuits, picking up little techniques that help you along the way.”

That adaptability has stood him in good stead for his comeback to the BTCC this year. “Things have changed,” he says. “The cars are completely different, built to the new NGTC regulations. The level of competition is probably higher than I’ve ever known it because everyone’s basically got the same components: the same suspension, the same brakes, the same gearbox. We’re all on a level playing field so it’s not easy to be competitive, but I think we’ve done a good job.”

Here Turkington reveals a penchant for self-effacing understatement. Having been out of the series for a few years, driving a new car for this year under new regulations, he’s won five races and sits third in the standings with two rounds to go. The Turkington/1 Series combo is also frequently the only one capable of staying with the leading Honda trio – Andy Jordan, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal – in all conditions and without driving anyone off the circuit. “The driving standards are OK, there’s only really been one bad race. At Snetterton after a six-week break people came back and got a little bit excited, but generally it’s been quite good.” Turkington lost a lot of points that weekend, getting turfed out of the lead of two races when both Jordan and Shedden went for gaps that were never really there. “With a rear-wheel-drive car you’re more vulnerable to being spun off and you have to try and avoid putting yourself in that position. It’s tough this time of year, the stakes are high and everybody wants to win.

“What I need to do is stay in contention for as long as possible. If I can go to Brands Hatch on the last day still in with a shout, then we have a real chance, but it’s not easy. We’re bringing the car to the circuits for the first time and there are only two 40-minute practice sessions so there’s not a lot of time to make it fast.”

For all the team’s struggles with its new car, Turkington’s made it look easy all season long. But even if he wins his second title things aren’t set in stone: there’s no contract for next year just yet. “I’m taking the future one step at a time. I’m only signed up for one year but I really want to continue next season. When this one’s finished we’ll sit down and see if we can come to an agreement again, the car has loads of potential so it’d be great to come back and put up a good fight.” It’s not just single-seaters that suffer from a crippling sponsorship problem.

After our chat Turkington started 10th in race two in his uncompetitive BMW, chased down the cars in front and finished sixth. Although you very quickly get the sense he’d never admit it, he’s become one of the top touring car drivers out there and it’d be a travesty if he were left to drift between series again. The last two rounds of the 2013 BTCC will decide the title, but more than that, they may be instrumental for Turkington’s future.

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