In Rob Collard's latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2013, the eBay Motors driver reflects on his season to date in the new NGTC-spec BMW 125i M-Sport…
Sorry it's been a while, but as I'm sure you know, it's been a pretty hectic first half of the season for me and the eBay Motors team as we've been coming to grips with our new NGTC-spec BMW.
The last time I spoke to you was after Donington Park, which seems like a long time ago now! We were just getting ready to head to Thruxton for my home event, where I was hoping to be able to challenge towards the front of the field.
Sadly, it turned out to be a really tough weekend for me, Colin and Nick – probably more difficult that we expected it to be.
To be fair, Thruxton has never been a circuit where the BMW has been the fastest over a single lap, but it has always benefitted from good race pace. This time however, we struggled to get the right balance in the car and also struggled with the set-up on the harder compound tyre that we have to use because the circuit is so abrasive.
A turbo issue on my car put me on the back-foot through qualifying and left me with work to do on race day, and although I scored points in each of the three races, it wasn't the kind of weekend I'd been hoping for. A large part of it was just down to time with the car, and I have no doubt that if we headed back to Thruxton next week to do it all again, we'd put in a much stronger performance with the extra knowledge we now have.
Oulton Park was next, and again I had a bit of work to do after qualifying 16th. The first race went pretty well and I finished tenth, but race two was most definitely one to forget.
Usually I'm one of the best starters on the grid, but this time around, I think I had my worst start for about five years and got swamped by the field. I was making up places and managed to get back ahead of Nick when he missed his braking into the hairpin and we collided.
I had to pit with damage to my car which was a massive blow, but I don't hold anything against Nick for what happened; it was just one of those things. He made a mistake and unfortunately, I was in the wrong place.
Nick and I aren't just team-mates, we are also friends away from the circuit and travel to and from the races together. That could have made the drive home awkward, but by the time we got in the car to leave the circuit, it was all forgotten. He was genuinely sorry for what happened and you could tell he wasn't simply giving an empty apology because he felt he had to.
When there is an incident like that between team-mates, it's important to sort it out quickly and not let anything linger, which is exactly what we did. The fact he picked up the bill when we stopped for a coffee and a muffin also helped…
The other downside to what happened in race two is that I obviously had to start the final race at Oulton Park from the back of the grid, but I had a pretty good run to come through to eleventh place.
While it was ultimately a tough weekend for me in terms of results, I think we turned a corner at Oulton Park with the car, as was shown by the fact that Colin picked up two podium finishes. I just needed a bit of luck on my side when we headed for Croft.
Croft is a circuit that has always been good for the BMW in the past so we were confident about our chances, and it was easily my strongest weekend so far – even if you might not think it simply from looking at the results sheets afterwards.
P6 on the grid was a good position to be starting the opening race, although it's a shame I wasn't higher as I made a mistake on my fast lap that prevented me from being on the second row at least.
When we headed out to the grid for that first race, I felt really confident as we'd all elected to run the Soft compound tyre that we have to use in one race on Sunday. We'd looked at the weather forecast before making the decision on Saturday and decided that the opening race was the best time to run it because of the chance of rain later in the day. We also knew that the front-wheel drive cars were unlikely to follow suit, as they suffer more drop-off than we do and were more likely to gamble on being able to run the soft tyre in race three.
As soon as the lights went out, I was off like a rocket and decided to go round the outside into turn one. I then looked for a gap to cut back in for turn two but there wasn't one and I took the decision to go round the outside again. I was alongside Jason Plato but sadly there was contact, which meant I suffered a spin and dropped to the rear of the field.
In hindsight, I should have just slotted in behind Jason because the car was really strong on the soft tyre and even though I had to come from the back of the field, I still managed to finish in the top ten.
Even when we then had to run the regular tyre in race two in really tricky conditions, I had another solid race and picked up my best result of the year in sixth place. Before the race, there had been a shower of rain, but I was surprised to see that the MGs had put wet tyres on. I think I actually benefitted from the fact that I'd stayed out on track when it was wet in the second practice session the day before. I knew that the dry tyre would work for us and was the right way to go, and it proved to be correct.
Race three should have been a good one and even though the weather conditions were awful, I felt confident. However, my car developed a misfire early on, although I was able to drive around it and didn't lose too many places. The issue resolved itself but sadly, frustration got the better of me and as I was trying to find away ahead of Aron Smith, I hit some standing water and spun, which meant I finished down in 14th.
There's no doubt that it's been a frustrating first half of the season for me, but I started the season confident about what was to come and that view hasn't changed.
It was always going to be difficult with a brand new car and only limited running before the opening rounds, but we have made massive progress since Brands Hatch.
That was shown in the two-day test we've just done at Snetterton. My car ran faultlessly and we did some good work on set-up ahead of the second half of the year. I was quickest of the rear-wheel drive cars and fourth fastest on the second day despite being on the regular tyre, which is really encouraging.
With our previous tests either being held when it was wet or when it was freezing cold, the session at Snetterton was a real opportunity for us to do some development work away from a race weekend and I feel its put us in a strong position for the second half of the year.
The balance of the car is much better than it was at the start of the year, and I feel confident of being able to join Colin in fighting for wins when the season resumes next month.
Away from my own racing, the boys have also been busy in action with their karting.
Jordan continues to have a good year in Minimax and has won three finals in a row to lead his championship and Ricky has also showed his speed out in Europe, although sadly he seems to be sharing my bad luck as he's had his fair share of problems that have prevented him from getting some stronger results.
I've no doubt however that the rest of the year will be a good one for all of the Collard clan.
Until next timeRob
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