Well, how competitive is the BTCC this year… Last year at Knockhill we had 15 cars within a second; this year we had 23! I had quite a lot of pressure on me at Knockhill. We feel this year like we are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs and the Audi A4 as a base car can no longer be competitive with so many people doing such a good job. But having been on the front row for the last two visits, Knockhill is the one place where our big old barge can be fast and after such a tough year the team and I really need a result. I still wasn’t sure if the Audi would be good enough, though. Obviously I couldn't tell that to anyone around me before the weekend because they needed to keep motivated, so internally I was feeling quite pressured and worried.
So when we ended Saturday’s running in P6 I was very relieved. We had no answer to the BMWs around there, no one could challenge the Ford in a straight line and I can handle being out-qualified by Gorden Shedden in a works car at his home circuit. So overall I think we did ourselves proud. The car was as good as it could have possibly been and I was happy with my lap, even if it did take me a long time to do it.
Race one we were very unlucky I think. I hung back from Gordon to go for a qualifying effort for race 2 and I can say with pride that I nailed the lap! Our data proves that we did the pole lap for race 2... well, all but the last ten metres. The safety car flags appeared as I approached the finish line so I had to lift! Then the three times I had opportunities to pass Gorden were ruined. Initially I got along side and had a lot of momentum on him (I think he missed a gear), but there was a back marker crawling along at the side of the circuit so I had to lift. The next two times I had him on the run the yellow flags came out... I wonder if he radioed head for them LOL!
If we had been released from behind Gordon, that race could have gone very differently, but I have to say I enjoyed the challenge and he drove very well.
I did muck up on the slow down lap though. I think I crossed the line one tenth behind Matt Neal and started talking to the team and changing settings in the cockpit to cool everything down and looked down for a split second. When I looked up I was in the back of Matt. Needless to say the Honda team handled it with maturity and understanding. So I have my first strike of the year and three points to go with it. But as I said at Croft, this is what needs to happen for the good of our championship. I mucked up and it doesn't matter that it was unintentional. I damaged his car and should be penalised. So I applaud Alan Gow’s decision to give me points and it gives me hope that this will be consistent with other incidents in the future.
For race two, the car was working brilliantly. If we had started from pole, I felt I could have just got my head down and gone. Instead I found myself stuck behind Mat Jackson who was in full defensive mode and driving very well, as you would expect from Mat. The problem, though, was that he was so bloody fast in a straight line I couldn’t get near him to consider outbraking him at the hairpin and every time I got alongside out of the hairpin he just out-dragged me up the hill and was ahead again by the first corner. My only option was to carry more through the chicane and carry that momentum up the inside in to Clarke Curve. Unfortunately in an attempt to do just that I made a mistake, ran wide and that was the end of our podium.
Race 3… I had no luck with the reverse grid draw and ended up stuck behind Plato with Priaulx behind (pretty good company to be in I thought)! After a couple of failed attempts to pass Jason, Andy took advantage and passed me. He was clearly feeling pretty aggressive, though, by the looks of it and did not mess about at all with Jason. He moved him far enough out of the way that we could both get by him.
Then I was caught by Tordoff. Now I'm not sure what happened here; I have a lot of respect for Sam and he was clearly on a storming drive from the back of the grid. So when he went up the inside I thought there was no point in fighting it – let him go and try to stay with him. So I let him have it, went really deep and turned in very late. I couldn’t see him in my blind spot but I knew he was there somewhere so I just left him all the room in the world. Next thing I know he’s in to the side of me and pushing us both straight towards the gravel. I survived but he didn’t. I assume he either out-braked himself or picked up a puncture. Either way, although I was happy to retain my position, it was a disappointing way to keep it.
The final battle came with Aiden on the final lap of the race. We did most of a lap side by side but he got himself in to a better position for the chicane and I decided enough was enough and let him have it. He drove really well and I was very happy to see him get his first podium (eventually).
So all in all a good solid weekend… No damage, good results and points, but still there is that frustration of what could have been and I believe we had enough pace to justify better results.