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.
There are always of hurdles that can be put in front of you at different times in your career and the reality is that you have to accept what you have. This has been a challenging time for the team and they have been working very hard to get the cars ready for the new season. As a driver, I have to make the most of the situation we are in and our focus is fully on getting the car up to speed as quickly as possible to take the challenge to our rivals.
When you look at the BMW, you look at the team and look at the staff that there are, everything is there that you need to make a race-winning car. You only need to look at the likes of Honda and MG in the past to see that if lady luck is on our side, there is no reason why we can't have a good weekend at Brands Hatch despite the car being so new, and if we can do that, it would set us up well for the rest of the year.
I'm not the only member of the Collard family who races, and both my boys are competing in karting again this year. Jordan is in Mini Max and has a KF3 campaign in the British Championship and Ricky is racing in KF2 in the European and the FIA World Championship, so it is a busy time for us.
The hard bit of it all actually comes in the build-up to a race weekend when we have to work out the logistics to make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. We've also got to make sure that things like hotels are booked and that chaperones are there for the boys if I'm not there myself because I'm racing.
When it comes those weekends where we are all competing, they are experienced enough and mature enough to go off and race without dad being there!
The fact that three of us race means there is a level of competitiveness in the family, although the boys are competitive enough between themselves without involving me. They just call me the old man who gets in the way at times. They are having fun and living the dream and I'm just glad that we all have our health, as that is what is important.
I think it could well be a good year for all of us and hopefully mine will start well when we get to Brands Hatch this weekend; I can't wait.
Until next time,Rob
To keep up to speed with Rob and the eBay Motors team during the 2013 season, visit the eBay Motors Hub at www.ebaymotorshub.co.uk