In the latest VXR column, Turkish Touring Car champion Erkut Kizilirmak talks about the reasons behind his arrival in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft.
I started competing in 1993 – it was a late start for me – as a rally driver and I did a couple of seasons until 1998/99 and then I had to quit because of my business. I had a break for a few years and then returned in circuit racing as it takes up less of my time than rallying does.
I did some cup racing and then decided last year to move into touring cars. I bought Yvan Muller's old Astra Coupe and I won the title in Turkey. This year I decided to take part in more international races and here I am. This was my first race in the BTCC and I am planning more, and so far everything has been good. People have been very friendly and helpful and the other drivers have all been teaching me something.
It's very competitive – very, very competitive and its good because I need that kind of practice. This is my second season in touring cars and I have a long way still to go. Coming over to the BTCC and taking part in these races helps me and allows me to learn a lot, I'm learning all the time.
I came to the BTCC because of the competition that there is. In the WTCC, where I did a one-off race last season, the drivers are professional and are great but they can't learn the circuits like the drivers in the BTCC. They know these circuits inch-by-inch and know every little detail, so if I want to have a career in the WTCC or elsewhere, I need to use the BTCC as a learning ground to build up my experience. I believe it is the highest level of competition in the world in any national championship.
The VX Racing team are very strong which is good for me as I don't have any spare time to waste learning technical things, so I need to be working with a professional team. All the teams are professional but there are two or three teams above them. One of those is Triple Eight and that is why I chose them. I arrived on Saturday morning and did only 20 laps on a circuit I didn't know but the drivers were teaching me and telling me what I needed to do – just giving me a little clue about certain things – which is helpful, and the team is full of professionals. I mean wow! They are really
professional. The car is fantastic and I am very happy with the Vauxhall so there are no complaints about the team or about the car – the only thing left is for me to learn the circuits and everything else and that is why I feel I made the right decision.
It's hard to compare the BTCC to back home because there isn't the competition in Turkey that there is here. When I see fights in the races here, I realise I have never had a battle on track on before! You need to take care of the left, right, back and front as something can happen anywhere and you always have to be alert. Back in Turkey we have five-ten cars maximum and the level of competition isn't that high. I have the lap record at all the circuits but here I am trying to just get into the top 15 or top ten and I feel that I will get there in the future.
Coming to the BTCC has really opened my eyes and I have learnt so many things. I believe it will change my style and how I drive. There isn't a slow driver in this championship, I can't say that about anyone on the grid and that is why I believe the competition is so high. I will improve as a driver 100 per cent for coming over here and my whole mentality has changed.
The first race for me at Croft, I was a bit conservative as I wanted to get to the finish and stay out of trouble. I started 17th and finished 15th but in the second race I had some contact at the first corner that made me spin and drop to last but I started to climb and passed two or three cars before I made a mistake and I went off, the throttle stuck and I had to retire. In race three I finished 15th again so it was a solid weekend.
The reason I am here is to learn and I can't do that in one race meeting so I must do as much as possible. I think this year I could do two or three races and then maybe next year – if I can arrange all my programme – I could do a full season, or maybe the year after that. The simple thing is I need to race in the BTCC as you can't learn in this world without being here.