RETURN OF THE KING? THE HISTORY OF COLIN AND WSR
Northern Irishman rejoins BMW British Touring Car Championship team. By Matt James
It is appropriate that Colin Turkington announced he was rejoining the WSR team for the 2017 British Touring Car Championship season on Tuesday. Valentine’s Day was the perfect backdrop for Turkington to realign himself with the team that he has had an on-off love affair with since he first stepped into the tin-top arena back in 2002.
But he is back. After a successful two seasons with Team BMR – first in the front-wheel-drive VW CC and then with the nascent Subaru Levorg – the Northern Irishman is returning to his spiritual home.
In truth, WSR team principal Dick Bennetts was reluctant to let the two-time champion go after both of his title successes, but there were factors outside his influence.
“Back at the end of 2009, we won the championship but lost our main sponsor, RAC. That meant it was impossible to put together a package to keep Colin on board,” reflects Bennetts. “Then, in 2014 we won it again and what do you know? ebay Motors decided to withdraw, and we were in exactly the same position again. There was not a lot we could do to keep Colin on board again.”
Turkington’s divorce from Team BMR was unexpected, but not for the driver himself. The 34-year-old said that he had started to feel uneasy within the four-car line up – which included two-time title winner Jason Plato too – before the end of the 2016 campaign. Despite taking five wins and finishing fourth in the points, it was time to go.
“I had a good relationship with the team and I still get on with team boss Warren Scott,” says Turkington. “I just felt that my immediate future wasn’t with the team as it stood. That’s all there was to it.”
From the moment Turkington announced his decision to leave Team BMR at the Autosport International Show in the middle of January, the smart money was on a return to WSR. Punters probably wouldn’t have got odds on such a switch if they had found a bookies. For Bennetts, the chance to work again with his protege was one to be grabbed.
“With Colin, it is about the natural talent, and also his intelligence,” says Bennetts. “You can tell when you listen to him talk about the car. It was the same with Ayrton Senna: he could recall certain changes we made to the car and certain attitudes of the car even days after we had run.
“In the days before data, Senna’s feedback was what made the difference. It is the same with Colin: OK, we have more access to more data now, but he has an incredible ability to store information. It is interesting when you look at the drivers I have worked with recently: Sam Tordoff is a university graduate and Colin is too, and it is the way their brains work that helps them to retain the important data.”
And it is that ability that means Bennetts enjoys working with Turkington so much. “I remember when we went to Mondello Park and Colin was bang on the pace straight away,” says Bennetts. “People were saying ‘ah, well, he is Irish so he will have grown up here’. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised that he hadn’t raced there before – he is Northern Irish, so he had done his racing at Kirkistown.
“It was the same in the World Touring Car Championship, when we ran him in 2007 and 2010. He would go to tracks he had never been to before: it is all about picking up the information quickly.”
The driver himself says that his upbringing in the BTCC is what has made him the driver that he is today.
“They say if you work with someone long enough, then you become like them, and I guess a bit of that is true about Dick at WSR,” laughs Turkington. “He has a meticulous attention to detail and I have been in that environment since I joined the BTCC when I was 19.”
There is another trait that Bennetts sees in Turkington that he can compare to all of the top drivers who have gone before: testing.
“I think Colin only ever pushes to about 90 per cent in testing or even in the practice sessions. And that is all you need,” says Bennetts. “You can learn as much as you need to know at that speed and get the car set up perfect. When you are on the ragged edge in qualifying or in a race, you can’t learn as much about what the car is doing because you are on the limit all the time. You will often hear people say ‘where did that lap time come from?’ when they see Colin bang one in after qualifying, and that is the reason why.”
Turkington formed a strong alliance with his engineer Kevin Berry during his second stint at WSR, when the pair helped turn the brand new BMW 125i M Sport into a race winner and a title threat in its maiden season.
Berry followed Turkington to BMR but, like the driver, has now left the team. His future is currently uncertain, but he could be tempted to rejoin the operation.
But Bennetts says that the driver himself has bags of knowledge: “Colin is like having our own little engineer behind the wheel too. He keeps copious notes on every track that we visit and he refers back to them. He is almost like his own engineer. I keep notes too and occasionally he makes a small mistake that makes me go back and check my own data! But that is how we operate – everything is worked out to the nth degree.”
Turkington says that the effort he puts in away from the track is a reflection of the dedication of the team: “When you are away from the track, you know that the team is working 24/7 to get the most from the cars. There is an obligation on my part to do the same – be that in terms of fitness, studying the data and making notes or just pushing the programme forwards.
“When you see the margins that exist in this championship, you realise that you really can’t leave anything to chance.”
That kind of input will be valuable this season, with new, bigger tyres to become familiar with and there has also been further work on the machine, too.
“We have some aero work to do, and we have also spent two days on a four-poster rig, whereas we normally only spend one,” says Bennetts. “We have already done that stuff.
“Nothing stands still in the British Touring Car Championship, and we think these are changes that are going to help us at the front.
“There is plenty more in the pipeline
too, and we will leave no stone unturned: you can’t if you want to keep winning at this level.”
And WSR will have a strong shout of lifting the championship in 2017 with Turkington paired up with another champion, the 2013 title winner Andrew Jordan, and a yet-tobe announced third driver.
It is a double-edged sword for Jordan, who is swapping to the WSR crew in an effort to kick-start his winning ways.
“Andrew is very relaxed about Colin returning,” explains Bennetts. “AJ says, rightly, that he will be up against one of the best in the business, and if he can beat him then it will be great for his reputation. If he can’t to start with, then he is in the best place to learn: there are no secrets in this team.”
The only secret is the one of success, and that is one that Bennetts and Turkington know only too well.