By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
While all eyes have been at the front of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship towards the tail end of the field there has been one driver who has had the difficult task of trying to adapt to the series during one of the most competitive BTCC season’s in history, following his huge step up from Mini Racing.
That man is Chris James, driving the number 78 Chevrolet Lacetti run by ES Racing. After a chaotic start to the season, with three meetings in quick succession there is now a small gap to the next event at Oulton. James has taken time out of his preparations to speak to Motorsport.com about his start of the season, his step up to Britain’s premiere saloon Car Championship and the most controversial issue currently within the series: the Turbo, Normally Aspirated engine debate.
Hello Chris first of all welcome to the BTCC. After the first three BTCC meetings of the year have you shown the pace you would have hoped, and is there more to come?
“We set ourselves, what may seem to some, an unambitious goal of finishing every race, keeping the car straight & not finishing last. Until Thruxton where we had a couple of technical issues we had done this perfectly, including finishing 12th at Donington.
“For sure there is a lot more to learn about the car, and more to come from me. But due to budgets we have, even after 9 races, probably had less time in the car than anyone else has, and the rest probably did more testing time than we have had time in the car full stop!”
How have you found the huge step up from Mini Racing to the BTCC both on and off the track?
“More so off the track. The logistical side has been huge. Tools that you’d never thought you would need, grid girls, race lorries, advertising boards etc etc, the list just rolls on.
“Of course I am not going to say for one second that there isn’t an improvement in driving ability too, but I am a firm believer that we are all human & can all do anything. Whilst it is an amazing machine, that is no doubt very technical, at the end of the day it is still just a car with 4 wheels.”
How do you feel about mixing it with some of the best Touring Car drivers/teams in the business and have you been able to receive any information off of any of them, or learnt any tricks of the trade?
“I have been quite surprised how friendly the paddock is. I have had a few good chats with Paul O’Neill & Rob Collard, and all drivers seem to have time for me.
“Obviously I still have to pinch myself that I am on the same grid as legends such as Jason Plato & Matt Neal, with multi billion pound corporations such as Chevrolet & Honda, and it is an honour to be there. But I am not there just to make the numbers up, we can’t run before we can walk, but soon we’ll be looking to jog.”
We can’t run before we can walk, but soon we’ll be looking to jog
One of the most controversial issue’s in the BTCC at the moment is the speed difference between the Normally Aspirated engines and the Turbo powered cars. We have heard much complaining about the speed difference from the Normally Aspirated drivers, most notably from Jason Plato. Running a Normally Aspirated engine yourself, where do you stand on this debate?
“I don’t want to say anything that will upset anyone, especially TOCA, but the plain fact, is the Turbos kill the S2000 cars. Data shows this, results show this – it is a fact.”
Would you consider switching to a Turbo engine yourself?
“If I had the budget 100% yes. That said, I want to say that the RML lump I am currently running is a 100% quality item, from an amazing organisation, backed up with highly qualified personnel. It is not their fault the turbo is quicker. We all want to be quicker, so if it has to be turbo, then eventually when funds become available then this is what we will do.”
Finally what are your expectations heading towards Oulton Park and for the rest of the season?
“As I have said already our goals are to finish races, not finish last & keep the car straight. We are looking to build a fan base & to embrace sponsors. To finish first, first you have to finish.
“We are not there to make up the numbers & are looking to improve. We are walking now, will soon be jogging & then running.
“I think with our tiny budget, which will hopefully grow (we estimate the next smallest budget is probably 4 to 6 times larger than ours) to score a genuine championship point would be an amazing feat. If we can do this, which is our aim, with that off of our backs we will look to improve further again.
“Whilst it seems a long way off it is not impossible to get a front row, if we get a top 10 in a race 2, then a kind reverse grid. That would be truly amazing!
“Support THE GREAT BRITISH UNDERDOG! People can follow me on Facebook and Twitter - @ChrisJamesBTCC and the team on both @TeamESracing”