Julian Hamilton speaks to British Touring Car Champion Colin Turkington
For many folk when your first car is a Mini the natural progression to a BMW may seem like an attainable goal. Climbing the car ownership ladder shares similarities with getting a promotion and passing an exam or test; that wonderful feeling that you have worked hard for something and have then gone on to get your goal.
Colin Turkington can relate to both of these scenarios. The difference is that the BMW he piloted in the British Touring Car Championship last year, is a 1 series M Sport capable of 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and over 200 brake horsepower. It was this powerhouse that took the Portadown native to his second BTCC title win in 2014 following on from his first success in 2009.
While Turkington should be basking in the glory of his title win looking forward to defending his crown in 2015, he is instead faced with the prospect of leaving the West Surrey Racing Team that he has shared so much glory with in order to continue in the series. This is due to the teams title sponsor for three years ebay motors ending their sponsorship deal last December, cutting off a vital funding supply. It is an unbelievable and undeserving situation for the champion to find himself in but one that he approaches with a great deal of calm and collectiveness despite the circumstances.
“Had Ebay motors continued with us then naturally I would have been back in the BMW next season. As it is my situation is still a bit unclear, but as a professional driver the most important thing for me is to be in a car that I think I can win in again. I know that I have got a few big decisions to make about my future.”
He has amazingly been in a similar situation before back in 2009 when after being crowned champion he found himself without a race seat for 2010. This saw Colin having to take a three-year hiatus from the BTCC and race abroad, something that he is keen to avoid this time given his huge admiration for the British series. “I have always had a passion for the BTCC and that is what I always wanted to do. To win one championship is amazing but to now be a double champion is something really special. The profile of the BTCC is high enough and it’s easy to drop off the radar if you leave.”
Growing up in Northern Ireland surrounded by the motorbike road racing scene Turkington idolised his countrymen Joey Dunlop and fellow son of Portadown Phillip McCallen. With both his mother and father heavily involved in motorsport it wasn’t long before he made his early embryonic mark in the local motorsport scene. The assumption that the Autograss series was a lawnmower racing event sponsored by a well known car windscreen company was quickly put to bed by Colin. “It’s off road oval racing! After go –karts I always wanted to be in a tin top car and Autograss was great for me to begin my career. There is a big passion for motorsport in Northern Ireland mainly in motorbikes and rallying, and it is growing in other forms too.”
Turkington made his bow in the BTCC back in 2002 for the powerfully named “Atomic Kitten” (remember them) MG Team. It was an experience that he will never forget. “My first race was at Oulton Park, it was an incredible feeling. I qualified alongside David Leslie and Tim Harvey (Touring Car Legends) was in front. I remember being so excited but then being brought back down to earth by Tim Harvey when he had me off at the Knickerbrook chicane.” And of the girls, the kittens? “They sponsored the team and is was to attract a wider audience to the BTCC. It raised my profile being a new driver for the team being aligned with a popular girl band.”
So … did they enjoy it and become regulars in the paddock? Turkington modestly adds, “They saw me twice, I think that was enough!”
They missed out in the long run though as Turkington joined the West Surrey Racing Team driving a factory backed MG ZS. He scored his first win in the series at Brands Hatch in 2003 which he calls his most important victory. In 2004 Turkington was able to achieve one of the more personal glories that can be attained in motorsport, the ‘home’ win. The Mondello Park circuit in Caragh, County Clare was the scene for an emotional day.
“Mondello is a circuit that I hadn’t grown up on, I didn’t have any experience of racing on that circuit. The BTCC went there for the first time in 2001 which was the season before I started, so I was aware of it. I had a fantastic race and as I crossed the line I could hear the crowd in the grandstand roaring. I’ve never had that feeling anywhere else. The support I get from back home is great and that win really helped me and the profile of the series get bigger in Ireland. The local press cover and give the BTCC a lot of support and I see loads of Ulster and Irish flags at the races.”
Turkington would race an MG ZS for one more season in 2006 before he switched to a BMW 320 si. It was the build up to his triumphant season in 2009 where he took the lead of the championship at the midway point in the season, and took the title thrillingly in the last race of the season after a three way battle with Jason Plato and Fabrizio Giovanardi at Brands Hatch.
Speaking to Turkington at the Autosport International Show that kicks off the motorsport season at Birmingham’s NEC, it’s clear that he thrives amongst fans and sponsors alike and always keen to meet and greet fans. “This show is great; it is very similar to the open paddock feel of the British Touring Car scene.”
Turkington has a lot of time in particular for his youngest and biggest fan Mitch whom he takes questions from on the Dunlop stand. He is even relaxed enough to joke about how much his championship winning BMW would fetch if he were to put it up for sale on a familiar auction website. “I think it would raise a lot of money. I think some of the rival teams would want to buy it to try and dissect it to find out the winning formula.”
It would be more than likely that the winning bidder would also be looking for a driver who knows how to win in a BMW too. Ladies and Gentlemen please form a queue…
By Julian Hamilton