Belfast Telegraph

'Winning my third British title was special because it was in memory of my late mum... that one was for her'

Colin Turkington on the importance of family and why tears flowed after his latest triumph

By Sammy Hamill

Colin Turkington was back doing "normal" things this week, like taking his boys Lewis and Adam on the school run. After two weeks on the road, "from Brands Hatch to China and a few other places in between", the new British Touring Car Champion was glad to be home again.

"It has been a hectic couple of weeks. Hectic but rewarding, it was good to get home and do some normal family stuff," said the 36-year-old from Portadown who has joined an elite group as a three-time BTCC champion.

The third one, however, was special, even his helmet failing to mask the tears rolling down his face as the news he was champion again was relayed to him by radio as he crossed the finish line at the Kent circuit.

Turkington was engulfed by his cheering family and team engineers when he climbed from his BMW but there was one person missing - Colin's mum Mavis who had tragically passed away earlier in the summer.

"It was always my dream to win the BTCC championship and I had won it twice before but this time mum wasn't there with my dad Trevor so this one was for her.

"That's what makes this one special. It's in her memory."

Reflecting on a tense, emotional finale to the British series, Turkington revealed a twist that few were aware of.

The title was his, apparently, following the second of three races at the Kent circuit and his West Surrey Racing BMW team told him on the radio, sparking tears and wild celebrations in the pits even though he finished a distance 22nd after a clash with, ironically, the Ulster-owned Norlin team's Honda of Dan Lloyd.

His closest challenger Tom Ingram needed to win, or at least finish in the top three, to keep the championship alive until the last race which he couldn't do, thanks in no small part of Turkington's WSR team-mate Andrew Jordan.

"But then we realised it wasn't quite over. I still had a potential noose around my neck going into that last race," he explained.

"I already had two strikes on my race licence from previous driving standard misdemeanours during the season.

"If I got a third in the last race I could be docked three points and lose the championship.

"I might have wanted to have a charge from the back of the grid and finish in a blaze of glory but I couldn't take the risk.

"So I toured round at the back of the field, staying well clear of trouble and just wishing it was all over."

It was typical of Turkington to envisage every possible scenario. He is professional to the nth degree, his team boss and father-figure at West Surrey, Dick Bennetts, saying: "With Colin, no stone is left unturned. He is meticulous in his preparations and totally focused on the job he has to do."

Those preparations begin with a debrief on a Sunday evening after the last of the three races at each BTCC meeting. His BMW 125i M Sport is then taken back to base and stripped, checked and reassembled.

Colin, meanwhile, heads home to begin his preparations for the next meeting, still a fortnight away.

"Fitness is important and I swim, run and do gym work to stay in the best shape possible because these cars are quite physical to drive and it gets very hot inside them," he said.

"If you tire you can lose concentration and with 32 cars around you, all squabbling for the same bit of track, that can be disastrous.

"I keep my driving sharp by heading up to Nutts Corner and put in as many laps as I can around the track in my kart.

It's fun and relaxing, but it also keeps your reflexes sharp."

Then it is on to the personal race simulator installed in his Portadown home.

"I've been doing the BTCC for about 15/16 years so I know the circuits well but I will still call up the next track we are heading to and drive it over and over again on the simulator just to remind myself of its characteristics.

"We don't get a great deal of track time on race weekends - two 40-minute free practice sessions and then into qualifying which can make or break your weekend. I like to be totally up to speed with the circuit before I even get there."

Turkington arrives at WSR's Sunbury-on Thames base in midweek to begin testing his re-built BMW at a private facility.

"We use data from previous races at the track we are going to give us a base set-up, bed in the brakes and generally check that everything is as it should be. Then we are ready to get down to business as soon as we get to the circuit," he said.

Another little ritual is a pre-race Friday evening track walk to check out the surface and any changes that may have been made to kerbs or track limit sensors.

"It just gives a feel for the place," he added.

Those careful preparations he says are essential in a championship which is so competitive it produced 17 different race winners this season.

Colin said: "With the way the championship is structured, it almost impossible to become a serial race winner these days.

"When you win a race you have to carry maximum ballast of 75 kilos in the next one - like having a passenger in the car.

"If you lead the championship you get 75 kilos for qualifying and the first race at the next meeting.

"These are big handicaps and you have to use every tool at your disposal - physical, psychological and engineering - to overcome them.

"The key this year was being consistent. We never had the fastest car, not with all the extra weight we had to carry for leading the championship, so it was vital to rack up the points consistently. It went pretty much to plan - except for that late scare at Brands Hatch!"

His attention to detail and his professionalism brought Turkington the BTCC title in 2009 and 2014 and carried him to success number three two weeks ago, all under the watchful eye of New Zealander Bennetts.

He has driven for other teams, notably Atomic Kitten MG, Triple Eight Vauxhall and BMR Subaru, as well as successful forays to Scandinavia and the Far East, racking up 46 BTCC victories and 133 podium finishes in a career which started in 2002.

But always he has gravitated back to West Surrey.

"It is like my second home, the best team bar none."

But his team extends beyond Bennetts and WSR. His family owns the prominent Turkington construction company and they have played a huge role in his career, supporting him on his climb to becoming the professional racer he is today.

Playing an important role, too, is Louise, the girl he met at school and is now his wife. They were separated for a time when he went off to Stirling University in Scotland and she opted for Queen's in Belfast.

He said: "But we were still together even when, after graduating, Louise went to work in London doing digital marketing for EMI records and I concentrated on my racing."

They were married in 2014 and Louise became not just his wife and mother to Lewis (9) and Adam (8), but effectively his manager, chief cheerleader, PR adviser and corporate go-between.

"She does an amazing job in making things as smooth as possible for me," he said.

"There are a lot of demands on me as a driver, especially on race weekends, but she handles everything from our corporate guests, media interviews, right down to my nutrition, so I can focus entirely on racing."

Turkington is one of the top touring car drivers in the world as witnessed by his impressive debut in the Chinese championship last weekend where he switched seamlessly from his rear-wheel-drive BMW to a front-wheel-drive Volkswagen, from Dunlop to Kumho tyres and swept to pole position on a Wuhan street circuit he had never seen before.

The World Touring Cars were also in Wuhan and he has had numerous opportunities over the years to join that championship but it would mean too much time away from home, away from Louise and the two boys.

Besides, he is adamant the BTCC is better.

"I genuinely believe it is the best championship of all, well run, well promoted and with fantastic television coverage which is important in securing sponsorship. It also means we can go to almost every race as a family and the boys learn so much from mixing with such a diverse group of people," he said.

"And they love it - just like me!"

They must also love having their champion dad home again to drive them to school.

Belfast Telegraph

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