But has it changed my life? Not really. It’s an honour, and something I’ll always be proud of, but I’m still exactly the same person. The team still has me loading the truck up before a test and getting my hands dirty, and my will to win again is just as strong as last year – I’ve won one title, but now I want to win more.
Of course, I probably have changed a bit. I enjoyed the off-season, and especially the Awards ceremonies and the Autosport International show that bit more, simply because everyone was so pleased for me, and wanted to talk about my success. I’ve been able to put a bit less pressure on myself, because I’ve got a bit more confidence.
But the moment we loaded the truck for our first day of testing I could feel the switch inside me clicking over. All of a sudden those tell-tale signs were back; I was becoming obsessed with the racing again, thinking about nothing else, picking over every last detail. Last year is now last year - and I enjoyed winning the title, so now I’m obsessing about doing it again.
That doesn’t mean I have to focus on racing at the expense of everything else - I can go out and enjoy life - but for drivers at this level you have to accept that you aren’t going racing for fun, but to win. That requires a very different perspective.
What I’ve noticed from testing so far is that the improvements we can make with our Honda Civic are getting harder to come by. That’s inevitable, because they’re well sorted cars and we’re getting more familiar with how they react to set-up changes. But as we plug away, it’s helpful to know that the improvements are still coming - both from the car and me.
I don’t use a driving coach, because I’ve always had my dad, Mike, as a mentor. He’s done plenty of racing himself at a very high level, and he runs the team and works with me now. It’s a good combination. Plus, experience is teaching me what works and what doesn’t. I’m entering my seventh season in the BTCC now, so I like to think I can feel what is and isn’t working from inside the car. Then there’s the data engineers, who can look at pretty much everything and tell me what’s right and wrong!
Finally, there’s the other drivers on the grid to learn from; I’m still pretty inexperienced compared to the likes of Matt Neal and Jason Plato, and I don’t mind watching and learning occasionally. I don’t mind admitting I can still get better - and I’m looking forward to doing just that over the course of the year.
My intention is to blog before every round of the championship, but I’m eager to avoid reciting what happened in each race. I’d rather give some insight into the many aspects of the sport that interest and fascinate me, and I hope you’ll agree. But, in the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to read or know about, just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer.