I’ll admit the blood did drain out of my face little about 300 yards into the first race on the Brands Hatch GP circuit – and that had nothing to do with the impact I experienced as Sherman went ploughing into the back of Gordon Shedden’s spinning Honda.
It took only a split second to realise it was bad but then to see my team-mate Hunter and his car Panzer in the wars with the other Honda of Matt Neal… as he came to a standstill on the outside of Paddock Hill Bend I toured past him with Sherman’s right rear wheel hanging off and the front-end all smashed in. Even more gutting was I’d gone into that race strongly believing Hunter and I were both on for top ten results. Just as we’d done in qualifying at Silverstone which is a bit of another bogey circuit for us we’d got the car working massively better than in 2013 which again shows how much we’re improving on our weaker circuits.
Instead, though, two Audis, two Hondas. Bang! Gone! It had to be the Hondas! That was the whole Pershore Trading Estate representatives gone in a moment. I’m not sure what happened up front to cause it but there was literally nowhere for me to go. I've been playing it back in my mind and I can't see what I could have done… Dave Newsham dived right and bang there was a Honda stationery in the road.
Then came the trudge back to the pits thinking ‘how are we going to get out of this one?’ Sherman and eventually Panzer were returned on the back of low-loaders and what a mess. Initially I thought that was it for Sherman’s season but we might have a chance of getting Panzer back out. But looks can be deceiving and the reality was that underneath the skin Sherman was in fact in better condition than Panzer.
All it takes with my boys is a whiff of the chance of getting back out for the next race and they are onto it. To see them effectively rebuild Sherman inside 90 minutes took me right back to Croft when they spent the whole day there performing miracles too. Heading out of pit lane with seconds to spare before it closed to drive round to the grid for race 2 made me feel so proud of what they had just done and to see all the marshals and fans cheering as I finally came round after everyone else was already on the grid was a very special feeling…
That’s all I needed, motivated again and determined not to let everyone down off we went in search of a top 10. The set up was still a bit wonky as we hadn’t had time to get it on the patch but once I got used to it we started to show pretty good pace considering. I could see the battle for tenth place up ahead and was starting to close in on them. I was going for it – there was a chance of getting in among them and being in the mix for the reversed grid draw for race 3.
Then suddenly another blow… The power steering failed, possibly a legacy of the race 1 shunt, and I was helpless from that moment on. It’s impossible to describe just how heavy the steering on these cars are when this happens – they are designed to run with power steering so without it are incredibly heavy to steer – plus the motor had shorted and melted so as I turn the steering I’m also turning the charred remains of my power steering motor. You cannot push anywhere near the limit. So all the cars I’d overtaken started to come back past me. A possible top 10 and a chance of starting race 3 from right near the front was gone and instead I’d be starting midfield. The visibility in race 3 with all the spray was atrocious and after the day we’d had I guess I didn’t want to risk too much and go into the winter with too big a repair bill. The boys had had enough of that in 2014.
On behalf of everyone at Rob Austin Racing, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Colin Turkington and WSR/eBay Motors on winning the title. They have done by far the best job as a team and thoroughly deserve the title. I sincerely hope this ludicrous FWD/RWD debate hasn’t tainted it for them. I think Colin would have been even further up the road if his car was FWD.
The stats speak for themselves too. 30 races, 10 won by RWD cars, 20 by front-wheel-drive machinery. TOCA have got the balance of performance spot on which means the action remains exciting and unpredictable for ITV Sport and their viewers, while FWD vs RWD also means plenty of variety for the public – another of the BTCC’s great selling points.
Again on behalf of the whole team I’d also like to thank everyone at TOCA plus all the marshals who’ve braved all sorts of weather to enable the BTCC to race in 2014. And of course a huge thank to our legions of fans, many of whom have joined our Owners Club gang in 2014 – the get-togethers we’ve had at a number of race events this season have been unforgettable as well as both highly enjoyable and humbling. Here’s to seeing more of you all and plenty more group selfies in 2015!
Anyway right now I’ve got to finish packing my bags as Lucy and I are heading off for a week in Venice for our fifth wedding anniversary. After that we’ll be looking to begin our winter development programme – increased support from our title sponsor Exocet for 2015 gives us the continuity and confidence to get on track this side of Christmas and we have got so many things to try on the car before the circus rolls back into town (Brands Hatch Indy) for rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the new season early next April.