Silverstone: Series interview with Johnny Herbert

FORMER F1 STAR HERBERT TARGETING VICTORY ON BTCC DEBUT AFTER SUCCESSFUL FINAL TEST Three times Formula 1 Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert says he hopes to achieve podium finishes and maybe even a race victory on his debut in the HiQ MSA...

FORMER F1 STAR HERBERT TARGETING VICTORY ON BTCC DEBUT AFTER SUCCESSFUL FINAL TEST

Three times Formula 1 Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert says he hopes to achieve podium finishes and maybe even a race victory on his debut in the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship at the Silverstone circuit this Sunday (30 August).

Herbert spent yesterday (Monday) testing the Team Dynamics squad's Honda Civic that he will drive in Sunday's three BTCC races. And he believes having a final run before the weekend has enabled him to get on top of the Honda's behaviour - very different to cars he's raced in the past in F1 and sports cars - and that he can be in a position to attack at Silverstone.

Herbert from Romford, Essex is synonymous with the world-famous Northamptonshire circuit for it was there in 1995 that he won the British GP - the first of his three very popular wins in F1 in the Nineties.

Official BTCC website www.btcc.net caught up with Herbert after his test yesterday to ask him about this coming weekend when he'll become the latest former F1 star - others have included Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and David Coulthard - to sample the fender-bending action that makes the BTCC the UK's most popular motor racing championship.

Q1. How has the test gone (at Pembrey circuit in Wales)?

Johnny Herbert: "Very good, very positive. It gave me a chance to change the car which I didn't get a chance to do at Rockingham when I first tested it last month after James Thompson had driven it in the morning. Then the car felt nervous at the front and the aim of the test was to calm it down. There's still a lot of work still to be done - I'm still learning it - but at end of the day the test has given me the chance to really start finding out about it."

Q2. What else have you learnt from the test?

JH: "The main thing is learning how the car reacts so it benefits you as a driver. We tried things that didn't work and things that did work. The main thing was trying to find changes with the set-up of the car so it will suit my style and I think we've managed that."

Q3. Do you feel this has now got you fully in-tune with the car in readiness for Silverstone?

JH: "It's a step in the right direction, but I'm very aware that the chaps I'm up against are very experienced in touring cars. They are world class and have done most of their careers in touring cars and know exactly everything about the set-up of their cars. I'm still learning. But I think now I'm in a much better position to get near the edge of the car's limits which is what is required to be up there. I've also still got to learn the short Silverstone National circuit we'll be racing on this Sunday - the last time I raced on it was in British Formula 3 in 1987 and it's not quite the same configuration as it was back then."

Q4. What do you think will be the toughest thing about your BTCC debut?

JH: "The driving manner of the other drivers! There's obviously a lot of contact week after week which makes the racing very exciting. I've not really been used to contact in the categories I've raced in and it's not something I was very good at when I was in karting. So I need to be very aware of where other drivers are and aren't on the track. You go into it like every other weekend and want to be competitive or you wouldn't bother, but you need to be very aware of what is happening and try to get yourself in a position where you're not going to fall victim to others around you."

Q5. The BTCC is all about making the drivers accessible to the fans - not always the case in F1! Is this something you're looking forward to?

JH: "I've never had a problem or hidden away from the public even in F1. I've always tried to make myself available and to have a chat with the fans. The BTCC has autograph sessions with the public and I think that's great, particularly as the BTCC has a very loyal and enthusiastic fan base. Yes there'll be times when I need to go off and do what I have to do, but I'll be very approachable."

Q6. James Thompson (who Herbert is replacing for the season's final three rounds) previously raved about Team Dynamics' attitude and work ethic - what are your impressions?

JH: "Very good and very at one with each other. I've gained a good understanding of what (team principal) Steve Neal is trying to achieve with his team. When you start with a new team you've got to ensure you slot in and get on with everyone and hopefully enjoy the race weekend together. They are a very close knit bunch of people with a strong desire to win. That can only help results."

Q7. What's the minimum you'll be satisfied with when you leave Silverstone on Sunday evening?

JH: "A win is the only thing! My main thing is I want to be competitive. I don't want to be near the back end. I know how competitive the BTCC has always been from when Nigel (Mansell) did it a few years ago. I'm also very aware of how tight the grid will be, particularly on the National circuit where it's a short lap time, but think and hope after what we did today in the test I can have a better car and be competitive throughout the weekend. I'd love to win. That would be my goal and if I did that it would be brilliant and probably surprise a lot of people, myself included. If not, then a podium would still be a massive achievement."

Q8. You're used to the pinnacle of technology in F1 and sports cars - how does a BTCC-spec car, based on those driven by families and people on their way to work, compare?

JH: "Whether it's a kart, a Formula Ford, a touring car or F1... to get the ultimate out of the car you've got to be at one with it and find the right changes. F1 is very different with all the aerodynamics and how the car reacts but you then also have to do the mechanics. A BTCC car has much less - almost zero - aerodynamics, although on saying that we did a change at the back during the test and I could instantly feel the difference. But there are still roll bars, dampers, a rear axle... discovering how they all work on this particular type of car is what I've been trying to figure out in the test. The team of course is very experienced, but a lot of it is still me understanding it and working with the engineers and Steve so I can put across to them what I want from the car. It doesn't matter what the category is, there has to be that essential understanding between driver and engineer, just the same as in F1. I've got to learn how these cars work and, believe me, they do work in their own way. I'm kind of going back to a car like I had in my Formula Ford days - a relatively simple configuration but you still need to learn and know how to wring all the little tweaks out of it. Plus of course it's got a bodyshell on top of it!"

-credit: btcc.net

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Series BTCC