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Why Turkington's desire for a record fifth BTCC crown can't be questioned

Colin Turkington has gone four seasons without a British Touring Car Championship title. But the series’ elder statesman is fired up to set that right in 2024 and has been busy preparing himself for his 20th season in the series which he hopes to mark by surpassing the tallies of Andy Rouse and Ash Sutton

Colin Turkington, Team BMW

Photo by: JEP

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Seven stars from the 2024 British Touring Car Championship turned up a couple of weeks ago to do battle at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting, but one of its most celebrated didn’t, even though he’s a regular at the Sussex circuit’s retro extravaganzas. For four-time champion Colin Turkington, Goodwood was one event too many in what has been an intense warm-up around the UK’s humble clubbie scene.

No public-school-type house points this time for the down-to-earth Northern Irishman; instead it’s been a diet of Mazda MX-5 Supercup at Silverstone, Classic Sports Car Club BMW action at Donington, a Mini Se7en outing also at Donington, and back in the MX-5s at Snetterton.

Goodwood was wedged in between BTCC official tests at Croft and Donington Park, and the 42-year-old Northern Irishman also has the junior autograss career of older son Lewis – following in the wheeltracks of Dad for his fledgling steps in racing – to attend to.

“I didn’t want to completely disown my family, so I opted out of Goodwood this time around!” he laughs.

Even so, the opening round of the BTCC this weekend, where Turkington remains once again with West Surrey Racing and its squad of winter-developed BMW 330e M Sports, will be his fifth race event of the season. The preceding four have hardly been a success, not helped by mechanical problems at the CSCC weekend that forced him mid-meeting into another car, or a duff choice of rain tyres on a drying track in the Mini. But results weren’t the important thing.

“I’ve made a conscious effort to get myself race-ready because as you know testing’s one thing, driving around by yourself, trying to improve the car and setting lap times etc,” he explains. “But when the lights go out for a race, you’re in a completely different mindset and a different headspace, so I just wanted to get back in the groove and normalise as much as possible that race environment.

Turkington has been keeping himself race-sharp with a programme of club racing over the spring

Turkington has been keeping himself race-sharp with a programme of club racing over the spring

Photo by: JEP

“You spend six months over the winter not in race mode. I’m just trying to be as ready as possible, as prepared as I can be.”

Turkington has already said that the new-for-2024 BMW powerplant, an evolution of the existing B48 unit developed by Neil Brown Engineering, “is probably what excites me the most” for 2024 after recent seasons in which he and his team-mates have wanted for straightline speed, especially when running in the pack. Alongside a facelift on the 3 Series’ bodywork, WSR team boss Dick Bennetts has also spoken of “chassis work, development dampers – a lot’s gone on under the skin of the car”.

And Turkington is optimistic. Lest we forget amid the excitement over 2023 dominator Ash Sutton and his quest for a record-breaking fifth BTCC crown, the reigning champion is not the only driver in the field with that target…

"That instant power delivery from the hybrid deployment is what I had imagined in my head it was going to be at the beginning of 2022. You can really feel the step up in grunt"
Colin Turkington

“We’re very confident that we’ve moved our package on with the new engine and made a step forward on that side, but any gain that we have made – or potentially made – will all be relative to what level the competition has moved onto as well,” ponders Turkington.

“So in all honesty we won’t probably know until the first race, when everything is at flat-chat, when you’re pushing to 100%. Through winter testing you tend to be more focused on chassis work and development, and handling. And even the first race weekend… It tends to be the first three weekends, I find, before you see a proper, true pattern of the pecking order. The first race weekend can sometimes be an anomaly.

“Unfortunately as well, it would have been great to do a complete back-to-back, to have one car sitting in 2023 spec with last year’s engine, last year’s bodywork, last year’s weight distribution etc. Obviously there are new tyres for this year as well. That would have been the dream scenario, but we’re not able to do that, so at the moment we’re just going off feeling really.”

Testing began well with a dry private day at Snetterton, before the official sessions at Brands Hatch, Croft and Donington featured mixed weather, about 50-50 wet-dry. As a result of this, last week the BMWs were loaded up in the paddock at the East Midlands circuit and, instead of heading south back to WSR HQ in Sunbury, went west to Pembrey, where… it rained on the first day, but at least it was fine on the second.

For the first time since his last title win in 2019, Turkington has Dan Millard as his engineer

For the first time since his last title win in 2019, Turkington has Dan Millard as his engineer

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

It’s not only been about fettling the cars, because Turkington has been reacclimatising to returning engineer Dan Millard, with whom he worked in his most recent title-winning season in 2019. Since 2020, it had been John Waterman – part of the WSR technical team that conceived the NGTC version of the 3 Series and who has led development in recent seasons – on his car.

“I guess the thinking was just a refresh really, sort of a new voice in my ears again, a different brain overseeing my campaign and what I’m doing,” reasons Turkington, whose four seasons with Waterman yielded two runner-up championship finishes and two fourth places. “I had good success with John – we just missed out there on a few occasions.

“That was a super-strong relationship, but I just thought that for me to try and progress and try and find another level, that it was worth a switch-up; somebody as well bringing different ideas and thoughts to the table.

“When Dan left us he then worked on the Infiniti, and he was at Speedworks last year with the Toyota [engineering George Gamble]. So Dan’s fully up to the speed. He’s not new to the team, but when you bring somebody in who hasn’t been there for four years or so, he comes back in with knowledge from within the paddock, and that can be useful.”

All the teams have had to trial the tweaks to the boost regulations, effectively doubling the circa 30bhp surge from the hybrid via the addition of a turbo boost facility. Although this was not installed on the BMWs for the initial tests, it was on board in time for the second official run-out at Croft.

“It was a really nice surprise,” enthuses Turkington. “That instant power delivery from the hybrid deployment is what I had imagined in my head it was going to be at the beginning of 2022 [when hybrid was introduced]. You can really feel the step up in grunt, and then, when you come off the button, it’s almost like pulling out of the slipstream and hitting a brick wall!

“Definitely it’s going to aid overtaking, it’s going to be a big advantage in terms of lap time. If you have a lot of seconds or a lot of laps it’s going to help you make progress, but still you’ve got to pass the car that’s in front of you. Always with touring car racing, track position is key. And we’ve also seen in recent years that if you’re starting near the front of the pack, you’re up and away.

A new engine has Turkington enthused for the season ahead

A new engine has Turkington enthused for the season ahead

Photo by: JEP

“A lot of times we would lose out, and this is any car, cars in general, you lose out in the pack. Just when you lose that bit of front downforce it costs you lap time, it costs you grip, and then you’re sort of using your hybrid to make up for that. Certainly it’s a big step in the right direction, so I’m excited to see how it plays out.”

Whatever happens, he’s likely to find himself in the vicinity of team-mate Jake Hill, as he has been so often since the hard-charging Kentishman joined WSR for 2022 – and beat the elder statesman to third in the championship in both their seasons together. Nice, unassuming guy that Turkington is off the track, the metaphorical horns have been in evidence on occasion when they’ve been doing battle. But presumably, regardless of this, there’s a cooperation off the track for the team’s common good?

“Yeah, in honesty there is,” reflects Turkington. “When you go into a race weekend, depending on the time of the year and what’s at stake etc, you’re working hard to beat each other, and the end goal is to beat everybody else.

"Maybe in the beginning Jake saw me as the direct enemy, but I think now we both understand that we all need to work together"
Colin Turkington

“We’re very much aware that the manufacturers’ championship is something we really want to get a hold of again this year, so that requires us both to be up there consistently scoring big points and outscoring the likes of NAPA, Hyundai and Toyota.

“Obviously we’re at different stages of our careers, Jake and me, and Jake does remind me of myself from 10 or 15 years ago, whatever the age gap is [it’s 12 – ed]! I can see exactly where he’s at in his career, and he’s super-hungry. We have a good relationship.

“Obviously it’s spiked up a few times out on track, but I think that’s quite normal, whether it’s from go-karting to Formula 1. It’s a good sign, because any time we’ve clashed or whatever, we’ve been at the front of the pack, we’ve been fighting each other for wins, and that’s exactly again where we need to be this year.

“I think we’ve learned over the first two seasons together – I feel that maybe Jake has learned a bit more – that we do need to work together, particularly in the early stages of the season. A championship’s never won on those first few race weekends. It’s just about understanding the bigger picture and not taking unnecessary risks with each other.

“I think we’re in a better position to do that now. Maybe in the beginning Jake saw me as the direct enemy, but I think now we both understand that we all need to work together.”

Turkington and Hill have come to blows on a few occasions since the latter joined WSR for 2022, but the Northern Irishman believes they're well placed to work together

Turkington and Hill have come to blows on a few occasions since the latter joined WSR for 2022, but the Northern Irishman believes they're well placed to work together

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

It’s worth pointing out here that Hill had rarely been part of a big team.

“That’s completely true,” agrees Turkington. “He’d always just been fighting for himself, and that’s the mindset that you’re completely locked in. He’s been very fast these past two seasons, so no doubt that will continue.”

The contribution of Adam Morgan, who joined the WSR fold for 2023 after his family Ciceley Motorsport team pulled out of the BTCC after running BMWs in 2021-22, should not be underestimated either, especially since he brought Bennetts’ fellow Antipodean, engineer Steve Farrell, with him.

“Adam and Steve were a big asset straight away when they moved from Ciceley, and immediately I can think of two fairly major set-up items that they had on their car at Ciceley that we then explored and saw good potential in,” reveals Turkington. “Adam’s one of the top-drawer drivers in BTCC, so of course they’re adding massive value.

“Steve’s quite experimental. He’s not afraid to think outside the box and do something a bit different, and that’s great for us all, because if we all just spend time fine-tuning the car, then we sort of make baby steps forward, but if people are looking at avenues that we haven’t been before, there could be big potential. That’s what we need to do to get to the next level.”

How to be an ace engineer: Steve Farrell

You can tell the desire is there. For this year, Turkington has abandoned his usual habit of using the tradition from the 1990s Super Touring days – when he fell in love with the BTCC as a youngster – of carrying a car number to reflect his championship position of the year before.

This year he runs as #20, because “it’s my 20th season in the BTCC. I started in 2002 but I missed a few in the middle doing other things. For me it was just a nice way to tip my hat to BTCC and say thanks for 20 years of a career, and good memories, good times.” He also quips that 20 is “the years I want to be, it’s my mental age!”

Turkington (left at Croft in 2002 with James Thompson and the late David Leslie) is marking his 20th BTCC season by carrying #20

Turkington (left at Croft in 2002 with James Thompson and the late David Leslie) is marking his 20th BTCC season by carrying #20

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that this means he’s cruising into retirement: “If I do a Matt Neal and get to 30 I’ll be massively – and pleasantly – surprised! I’m still as determined, and the will to win is just as much as it ever was. Unfortunately, when you win it, it makes you crave it even more, as the other guys can verify.

“I wouldn’t be signing up for it again if I didn’t think I was capable, or had a car that wasn’t capable of doing it. My sights are fully set on doing the best I can. I think it’s very difficult to say you’re going to win it – everybody wants to win it – but my target this year is just to give it my all and do the best I can. That’s stood by me in previous campaigns, so yeah, I’ll give it my best shot.”

Don’t be too surprised if he’s carrying #1 again next year. After warming up for 2025 at some freezing cold club events, of course.

Can Turkington follow up his title successes from 2009, 2014, 2018 and 2019?

Can Turkington follow up his title successes from 2009, 2014, 2018 and 2019?

Photo by: JEP

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