Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
At Snetterton on the 12th of August something will happen in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship that hasn’t happened since 1975. That will be when an American will take to the grid; the first in 37 years. Robb Holland will drive the ex-Gordon Shedden Honda Civic; which took Shedden to 5 series victories in 2011. The Civic that will now be in the hands of the American is prepared by Team HARD, and so far has been competitively raced by team boss Tony Gilham this season, where took one outright podium for third in round 6 at Donington.
Holland is an unknown to many in the UK but last year he was one of the top contenders in the Pirelli World Challenge series as one the drivers for the K-PAX Volvo team. Holland ended the 2011 season taking third in the Touring Car championship points.
As he prepares for his maiden race weekend in Britain’s leading saloon car championship, Holland took time out to speak to Motorsport.com about how the series continues to grow in the States, what drew him to the series, and his expectations for his debut in the series.
Q: First of all many thanks for taking time out to speak to Motorsport.com, and welcome to the BTCC.
A: Thanks for having me Pat.
Q: Have you been able to follow the Championship much in the States over the years?
A: A fair amount but you have to track it down. Coverage on the SPEED channel is pretty good right now but it’s delayed by several months. Basically our coverage consists of your recap show; 3 races fit into an hour program. There is definitely a following for the series here in the States, a lot of it is fond memories of the Super Touring Car days but there are a fair amount of knowledgeable fans.
Q: You are the first American since 1975 to compete in the series; do you think this could attract more people to the series in the States or even attract more drivers across the pond to compete?
A: Absolutely. I’ve already gotten messages from several US drivers wanting me to keep them updated on what it’s like to compete in the series, with the thought of maybe competing in it down the road. The tough thing is getting U.S. sponsors that can take advantage of the exposure of a U.S. driver competing over in the U.K. Right now I’ve got Honda Performance Development (HPD), Oakley and Optima Batteries supporting me and a few more still to sign on.
Q: What drew you to the series and how did the deal come about?
A: I’ve been a fan of the series since before I started racing. In fact the BTCC was one of the main reasons I got into racing in the first place. So I’ve been drawn to it for a long time now. I still think that the BTCC is the strongest Touring Car series in the world right, with the best drivers, cars, tracks ....... and of course fans. As far as the deal goes, I had driven for the factory Volvo team in the Pirelli World Challenge series last year. Unfortunately that program ended late in the year and the market for seats is as tight in the US as it is in the UK and I found myself without a ride. I managed to land a one off ride at the season opener in St. Petersburg, FL in a Honda with last season’s championship winners, Compass360. After that I bounced around a few teams at the start of the season but after running for a factory team, racing the rest of the season in an uncompetitive car really didn't interest me. So I started looking around for other opportunities.
A: I was spending a lot of time in Germany at the Nurburgring working on some arrive and drive programs for Americans in the VLN and thought I'd also start looking at some of the international series. BTCC was top on my list so I made a call to the series and they introduced me to a couple of teams to talk to about potentially running them this year. One of the teams I talked to was Team HARD. Tony and I really hit it off and the rest is history
Q: Can you tell me more about the deal? Provisionally it’s only for the two meetings but is there a chance of further meetings this year and do you see this as a long term opportunity?
A: Yes, right now it's only for the next two events but we're definitely talking about running out the rest of the season in the car. It's really tough for Tony to see another driver in his car so we'll see how he takes to that as I would hate to have to wrestle him for the seat (laughs), but I’d like to try to get as much experience as I can this season as I am looking at this as a long-term opportunity and plan on being back in the series in 2013 full time.
Q: How did your recent test go at Snetterton? Did you manage to get any dry running and how did you find driving on the other side of the car?
A: It went reasonably well all things considered. Things like your typical British summer weather. We didn't get as much running as we would've liked as the track had a substantial amount of standing water that need to be cleared before we could go out so I think I only got 15 or 20 laps in throughout the day, but we managed some competitive times later in that day on a dampish track. The right hand drive thing didn’t really bother me as much as I thought it would. In fact after about two or three corners I forgot all about it and just got down to business.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about joining the series (we take it the weather is not one of them!) and are there any drivers in particular that you are looking forward to mixing with?
A: Getting back into a proper race car is definitely high on my list. The cars in World Challenge are much closer to production cars and aren’t anywhere near as much fun to drive as these. But the big thing I’m looking forward to is the racing in BTCC. As a pro driver watching the series on TV from afar, I can appreciate the depth of talent in the field and quality of racing. Running with top drivers like Plato, Neal, and Shedden who are all at the top of their game will prove to be massively challenging but I’m up for it.
Q: Finally what are your expectations heading into your debut weekend at Snetterton and what would mark a successful weekend?
A: It’s tough because my motto has always been “If you’re not here to win, then why bother to show up?” But like I said earlier, my main goal is to get experience in the series with the thought of being competitive in an NGTC car next season. The S2000 Honda Civic is obviously a top shelf car but the NGTC cars look to have substantially increased their pace over the season to the point where I think it would be difficult to see an S2000 car challenge for a win, even on a reverse grid. So I think a realistic goal is top 10s and trying to fight with the other top S2000s in the field like Collard and Jackson. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all shakes out when I get there.
Once again many thanks for taking time out to speak to Motorsport.com. We look forward to your debut at Snetterton and wish you all the best for the weekend.