Sunday, July 20, 2008


On the whole I’d say I’m a fairly conventional petrolhead. I like the usual things - rumbling V8s, perfect driving roads and absolutely anything that’s red and Italian. There is, however, one respect in which I differ from the stereotype… I’ve never been especially excited by Formula One. The last race I can really recall was Suzuka in 1996, when Damon Hill won the driver’s championship. Since then, the only thing about F1 that’s really entertained me has been Max Mosley’s fancy dress shenanigans.

I must admit I’d started to tar all motor sport with the same brush. I enjoy any chance to compete in it, but I’ve never been hugely inclined to watch twenty overpaid professionals mince around the track in a procession. I couldn’t really see its appeal as a spectator sport. Then, over the weekend, I caught my first British Touring Car Race in about ten years and it seems there have been a few changes.

Gone are John Cleland’s Vauxhall Cavalier and Rickard Rydell’s Volvo 850. What’s more, the dominant team this season have been running – wait for it – a diesel engine. There’s no doubt things have moved on from the late 90’s, however one thing remains; it’s still great fun.

I switched on during the first of the three televised races from Snetterton, right at the moment that privateer Seat driver Adam Jones overtook the BMW of Rob Collard through a borderline-existent gap on the entry to the Russell Bend chicane. At this point in F1 the drivers would have eased off and paused to conduct a brief risk assessment. Not in the BTCC however, as Collard retook the Seat with an equally bold move at the next corner and a further three cars streamed through. This wasn’t the end of it either – Jones came back to recover three of the lost places in a series of bumper-to-bumper clashes.

The next race played out in equally dramatic fashion. First I watched five cars streaming under the bridge side-by-side at The Esses, all vying for position as Tom Chiltern nudged Fabrizio Giovanardi off the track. Two laps later and it’s Tom Onslow-Cole and Andy Jordan’s turn as they piled into Sears three abreast with Adam Jones’ Seat. The scraps continued throughout the field. On the last lap, Giovanardi and Colin Turkington were still trading paint as the chequered flag fell. Jason Plato may have romped off with the win up front, but the director concentrated on the battle behind and the entire population of my living room were on the edge of their seats.

The top eight finishers from race two started in reverse order for the final showdown, with the all-conquering Plato in eighth place. He was slow off the line and dropped several places as lights went out, which would made for an interesting drive, had engine problems not put him out of the running shortly after. Up ahead, Tom Onslow-Cole was locked in battle with Stephen Jelley. After swapping places four times in one lap, Onslow-Cole came out on top and proceeded to have a go at Turkington in 5th place, overtaking him at the beginning of lap 12. Meanwhile, further down the field, Adam Jones and Rob Collard were at it again as Mat Jackson took the chequered flag ahead.

It was an hour of my life thoroughly well spent and far more entertaining the average F1 race. Yet some things, it seems, never change. As he answered the first question of his post-race interview, Jackson began with racing driver’s favourite coverall phrase: “For sure…” I’m not entirely clear what, if anything, they’re always sure about but it seems to be a standard opener to any racing answer. Maybe it’s some sort of involuntary response? A delay-tactic perhaps? Either way, I’m sure about one thing – real racing is more fun than Max Mosley in a gimp suit.

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