North­ern Ir­ish­man re­joins BMW Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship team. By Matt James

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

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.

Turkington first joined WSR back in 2002 WSR and Turkington took the ti­tle in 2014

Subaru was a big suc­cess

The North­ern Ir­ish­man is a se­rial winner in the BTCC

Ben­netts is a Turkington fan

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