In Rob Collard's first exclusive column on Crash.net for 2013, the eBay Motors driver looks ahead to the start of the new BTCC season at Brands Hatch and the debut for his new NGTC-spec BMW 125i M-Sport...
Welcome to my new column here on Crash.net
, where I'll be keeping you up to speed with my season racing in the British Touring Car Championship with the eBay Motors team.
I'm really looking forward to the start of new season in so many ways.
For me, it is fantastic to have another season confirmed in the BTCC, and to stay with eBay Motors and WSR. It is a fantastic opportunity for me to get behind the wheel of a new NGTC-spec car this season and so far, it's proven to be a challenge to drive, although I only sampled it properly for the first time at the Media Day last week.
There are some strange things with the new BMW 125i M-Sport at the moment, which you'd expect from such a new machine, but the ingredients are there for it to be very competitive and it should be a race winner during the season ahead.
Going to NGTC is good for me and the team as last year – when we were still running the S2000 BMW - there were a lot of different scenarios when it came to different boosts and people going faster at certain circuits during the year. I think this year it will be a lot more controlled when most of the teams are running Next Generation cars, and it is important that we make the most of what we have now we have an NGTC car of our own.
We've only been able to do limited testing with the new car and the team has been working hard to make sure all three are ready for the opening race of the season. However, we can already see that we have all of the ingredients in the box, and just need to work to put them all together.
One of the first impressions from the testing we have done is how the NGTC BMW handles differently to the S2000 car. The NGTC car is heavier for a start and it runs on wishbone suspension, which gives you a different feeling when you are behind the wheel. There are also bigger brakes, and the car runs on a larger 18 inch Dunlop tyre, which is different to the one we have used on the S2000 car in the last few years.
Because of that, I think I'm going to have to adapt my driving style a little to get used to the new car. If I'm being honest, I was a bit surprised where we were on the times at the Media Day as the car felt quick, but the ultimate lap time wasn't quite there. However, that could well have been down to the fact that it was so cold and it was difficult to get heat into the tyres to make them work properly. There was also the fact that a number of teams used the new softer compound tyre that has been introduced this year, whereas we didn't. We really have to wait for qualifying at Brands Hatch to get a true indication of where we stand.
Our preparations for the new season haven't been helped by the poor weather that has affected our testing, while the team has also faced some delays that has put us on the back foot a bit going into the new season.