Currently reading: Team spirit: BTCC stars Colin Turkington and Tom Oliphant
The two 330i M Sport drivers have claimed several race wins this year. We caught them both to get their thoughts on the season so far
Autocar
News
6 mins read
31 July 2021

They occupy the seats everybody else covets, but that doesn’t mean Team BMW’s Colin Turkington and Tom Oliphant have it easy in the British Touring Car Championship. Quite the opposite.

In the third season for the current 330i M Sport, the pair are among six race winners from the nine rounds run at the three meetings held so far, with a single victory apiece.

Turkington, 39, has been racing in the BTCC since 2002 and shares the record for most BTCC titles with Andy Rouse – four – while Oliphant is in his fourth season, has two races wins and hopes to challenge for his first title this year. Turkington is currently fourth in the standings, 39 points down on leader Ash Sutton, while Oliphant is sixth, just five points behind his team-mate.

We caught up with the pair at the Goodwood Festival of Speed to discuss life in the BTCC ahead of the next round at Oulton Park on July 31/August 1.

What’s your summary of the season so far? You’ve both had a win, but it’s not been easy.

Colin Turkington: I don’t think we expected it to be when you look at how competitive the BTCC is. Every year it gets more condensed and there are no slow cars on the grid any longer. It’s harder to win and have strong weekends. I’ve had a positive start, but there’s been no hassle-free weekends, like at Brands Hatch last time out. But normally when we get into the summer it’s our territory with great tracks coming up like Oulton Park and Knockhill. Good rear-wheel drive circuits. We’re never guaranteed success, but we should be quicker.

Tom Oliphant: For this year there were a lot of new cars and drivers swapping teams, and there’s a decent driver in every car. After Thruxton, Snetterton and Brands Indy, I expect my season to kick off now. So I’m pleased to have picked up good points and scored a first win of the season, which is always important. The car has been really quick, but I had two races in the first two rounds where I had terrible luck and got taken out. It’s how it goes.

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The West Surrey Racing works BMW programme is high profile. Does that add pressure?

CT: It adds expectation. You think of the great teams and drivers that have gone before you in the BTCC, particularly in the early 1990s. I grew up watching Steve Soper and Jo Winkelhock, so you are honoured to take the baton. Ask any driver on the grid and they’d want to be in our seats. But that makes you hungry to give your best performance.

What’s the dynamic between you both? You are rivals, but you have to work together too.

TO: It is a very difficult dynamic. When I chose to join WSR and Team BMW in 2019 the first question I had was ‘is Colin staying?’ I was joining was not only to get the best car and opportunity, it was to learn and partner one of the most successful BTCC. Off the track, we get on really well and that’s important, and we work well as an engineering team. We can both drive consistently so we can try different set-ups. But ultimately there will always be times on track where we don’t treat each other as fairly as we should! Every racing driver, as soon as you put on that helmet, has to be a selfish person.

This car is in its third year now. Is there more to find from the 330i M Sport?

CT: With these cars it’s a lot easier to make them slower than faster. Back in 2019 the car came off the production line a winner and won its second race. But of course there’s always performance to find, that’s why we go testing and develop during the winter to find gains in the chassis. But there’s probably more to come from the driver, just being in the car. The modern-day BTCC car is not easy to drive, it’s a black art and that’s why the guys who have been doing it a long time generally do well. They understand the car and tyre. Plus the championship organisers want to keep it close and the whole ethos is unpredictability. Whenever you think you are up the road and have a march on the other teams it’s nullified.

TO: The way to get speed in a championship is to have a car that works well with weight [success ballast] and without. We go up to 75kg which is a large amount so we have to adapt to minimise that loss. That’s where you find the most gain, rather than chasing pace.

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Who has impressed you this year?

OT: Go on Colin, say me!

CT: There’s always someone there to surprise you. There are a fair few who have switched teams and Tom Ingram has been really quick in the Excelr8 Hyundai. They’ve been fast from the start, but I wouldn’t like to bet on who will win it, or even finish in the top three.

Next year the BTCC will run hybrid technology for the first time. How are you feeling about that?

CT: I have no experience with hybrid and electric cars. It’s the BTCC moving with the times and keeping up to speed with the manufacturers. It’s going to change the racing because we’ll no longer have success ballast: each driver will have 15 seconds per lap of extra boost of 40bhp. It will be a push to pass system, to pull away or defend. We’ll have more or less boost per lap depending on our success.

TO: The exciting thing from a drivers’ perspective is the series and cars have been similar for a long time, and now just driving a qualifying lap we’ll have a boost option. How and where do you use that? We don’t know when or how we can use the boost, whether they will put a limit on using it just in third gear and above to avoid a traction boost or whether it will be used freely. But it should make the racing more exciting. Sadly it will take away the challenge of making a car run well with weight, so the chassis dynamics won’t change over a weekend now. We’re losing something there.

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How about the future? Colin, you’ve been around for a while now…

CT: What are you trying to say?

TO: I can see the grey hairs coming…

CT: I’ve been in the series a long time, 2002 was my first year. But it’s always changing and I’ve been through three or four regulation evolutions in that time. What helps is that you realise the grass isn’t always greener. The BTCC is where it’s all happening, where the excitement is. As a Team BMW driver I couldn’t ask for more, and the TV package is second to none for the sponsors. As long as I’m still competitive, there’s no reason to look elsewhere. But it’s definitely getting harder.

TO: For any driver on the grid or in the support series, their first choice in the BTCC would be to try and join BMW. It was hard enough for me getting in, so I won’t be letting it go any time soon. As Colin says, the BTCC offers so much from a commercial and racing standpoint. I want close battles, for it to be wheel to wheel and difficult. I’ve raced in other series and honestly some of them were boring. You want racing to put a smile on your face, and the BTCC does that. And I want to beat the man next to me, either this year or in the future.

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