After two seasons acting as 'super-sub' for Team Halfords, Gareth Howell is off to pastures new for 2007 after agreeing a deal to lead Motorbase Performance into its second season in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Howell will drive one of the two ex-works SEAT Toledos purchased by Dave Bartrums team towards the end of 2006 as he embarks on a full season in the BTCC and will aim to use the proven S2000 machine to try and fight for the title currently held by his now former team-mate Matt Neal.
took the chance to speak to Gareth at last weekends Autosport International
show ahead of the official confirmation of the deal, and can now reveal exactly what he had to say…
Gareth, exciting news for the season ahead, just bring us up to speed with the plans…
Basically a deal has been done with Motorbase Performance and Dave Bartrum to drive one of the SEAT Toledos that ran in 2005 and were sat in Spain last year. They have very little mileage on them and haven't had any big accidents or anything – I won't be using the one that James Pickford had a big off in at Knockhill! It's a done deal and is amazing to be standing here so early in the year and know at the Autosport
show what I'm going to be doing. I've been coming here for 15 years and I'd have to go back to my Karting days to remember a time when I knew what I was doing in January.
It must be really nice as for the last few years with Halfords you've been ready and raring to go and had to wait until the end of the year to get a drive, so just how good does it feel to know you have a full season ahead of you?
It's unbelievable, it's every drivers dream to be able to get properly focused. The fact I'm not a budgeted driver left me in the arms of the gods really with the guys at Dynamics. I wouldn't have been asked by Dave to take this drive if they hadn't put me where I am so I owe a hell of a lot to Steve Neal and the guys there. But it was a case of waiting until the budget was there to run a third car and nine times out of ten, that wouldn't be at the start of the year - it's always going to be when they see how the year goes, how much damage they picked up etcetera, and they claw a bit in to run at the end of the year.
I was just looking at doing that again really and it's horrible as I've said to you to before. It's a horrible, horrible feeling just knowing that the first round is getting closer and you have nothing sorted. Now I can focus, we are raring to get the car on the tarmac and it should happen before February - hopefully we will have done a shakedown by the end of the month. Its just brilliant for me, I'm so happy that I can focus in the gym and focus mentally and know that I will be out there for the full year.
So after a few years with Halfords, how did the deal with Motorbase come about?
Dave approached me at the Autosport
Awards after a few jars of ale – and I think that applies to both him and me! I obviously knew he had the cars and I asked how it was looking for next year, all perfectly innocently as at that point I was punting for the Dynamics seat, and he said 'Actually mate, you're top of my list'. I thought it was the beer talking more than anything and took it with a pinch of salt. But he was on the phone to me that week and told me that he was serious and wanted to put a deal together where he could have enough team budget to select as least the lead driver. He confirmed deals between then and now so there is the team funding in place to run the lead car.
Its almost a case of mission accomplished really because in the last few years, while you've wanted to get in with Team Halfords, the limited programme has given you the chance to show other teams in the paddock what you can achieve..