Today is the day where I get officially unveiled as a BTCC driver. Although I signed with Team HARD nearly four months ago and have already tested my new #19 VW Passat twice and did a bunch of interviews on the stage at the Autosport Show in January it seems more real today, like I have officially arrived on the BTCC grid.
I’m in a hotel room in Derby and slept pretty well considering. My dad is here with me and I definitely slept better than him. I’ve got some nerves but not as many as him and I just want to see my car as the lads were still putting the graphic wraps on it last night. I can’t forget to take my racesuit with me.
Arrive at Donington and I head straight to the garage to see the team and my manager Darren. The boys only finished wrapping the car at around 2am and IT LOOKS MINT!! I’m definitely very happy with it and so is my dad as he has invited a lot of my sponsors today and they will all want to see their logos looking correct and in the right place. Now I’m even more excited for the official unveiling as I know the car looks good and I can’t wait for my fans to see it.
We head to the official Media Briefing where all 32 drivers this year will be unveiled and interviewed. My teammates Mike Bushell, Jake Hill and Michael Caine and I all sit together. Jason Plato comes and sits down behind me and then it really hits me that this is the big time. I look out and see all the journalists and photographers and for the first time I feel a bit nervous but Cainey is always laughing a joking and generally bullying me and so you can’t stay nervous for long.
The interviews on stage start with Alan Gow, Jonathan Palmer, the TV team from ITV and other special guests. Every driver will get a few words with the host Alan Hyde and they will obviously start with last years’ champion Ash Sutton and his teammates so I know I have a little while to wait. Lots of thoughts are going through my mind; Does my suit look ok? Is my hair still in place? Do I need a wee? Is my dad crying yet? The bacon rolls they are giving to the press smell good, what are the chances of me getting a bacon roll?
Alan Hyde announces the Team HARD drivers, here we go. Cainey instantly tucks me up by handing me the first chair and the microphone so it is my turn to speak first. That’s not a problem as I’ve done plenty of interviews with Alan over the years and like I said, you can’t stay nervous for long with Cainey around.
All the interviews are over and so it is back to the garage. It’s raining so I grab a lift with Jake Hill’s dad Simon as I have heard there are bacon rolls in the garage. That’s the first part of the day done. I felt comfortable. My dad had a few tears. No surprise there.
The Team HARD bacon rolls are as good as ever I am pleased to report. We put the garage shutters down as each team will now unveil their cars one by one. As I stand in the dark garage next to the car waiting to hear my name called out over the speakers I am absolutely buzzing with excitement and I’m just proud of what I have been able to achieve so far. I know how proud my dad is and nobody has worked harder to find the money for me to go racing. Then I hear the words ‘Team HARD’ and the garage doors go up and we roll the #19 out into the pitlane. There seems like there are a thousand cameras flashing and voices calling for me to look this way and then that way but you can’t take the smile off my face wherever I have to look. My dad had a few tears. No surprise there.
Now we have to get the cars lined up on the grid for the official photo shoot. The weather isn’t great but it feels so good to drive down the pitlane and then do a lap and line up on the grid. I am right at the back but that it fine with me as this is Media Day. I won’t be at the back when the practice session starts that is for sure. Then we have to do a few formation laps behind a camera car for the TV coverage. I do my best to get as close as I can to the front to try and get into the shot so I’m sorry If I accidentally cut anyone up a bit but I’ve got to get my sponsors as much air time as possible. As the cars al leave the grid, I’m told my dad had a few tears. No surprise there.
During the lunch break the guys have to do some work on the tracking and front wheel alignment before the practice session begins and I have to do a photo shoot for one of my sponsors. It takes a little bit of time to get everything sorted as we have to make the car look as if it is sitting on top of hundreds of cans of Rio and we miss the first few minutes of testing while we get all the photos that we need. This is something I like doing because without them I wouldn’t be here and it makes me realise that I am going to have very little free time out of the car during a race weekend.
Photo shoot done. Car Ready. Time to get testing. We have a few pre-planned system checks to get through and the track is still wet so for the first hour or so I am back and forth to the pits quite a lot while we work through these. But by the time we have done most of those the track is drying out and we can get down to business. The plan is not to do anything silly or run underweight just to grab a headline or two and with each change the team makes the car feels better and I get more comfortable. It’s a weird feeling not trying to give it 100 per cent every lap but today isn’t about that. We have a long season ahead and rushing things now isn’t going to help us in the long run.
The chequered flag is out and that is Media Day over with. I’ve been in the top 20 all afternoon and I’m pleased to finish the day less than one second off top spot and inside the top 15 overall. Job Done as my dad would say. I have to debrief with my engineer and mechanics and give them as much feedback as possible as we are out again at Brands Hatch in a few days’ time and then it is the first round of the championship where we can really show everyone what we have as an overall package.
Time to head home. I’m feeling very relaxed and I definitely think my dad has had the lion’s share of the family nerves today. The BTCC is non-stop on and off the track and I am going to love every minute of it.