by Russell Atkins

After one of the hardest-fought campaigns in recent Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship memory, Fabrizio Giovanardi has admitted the best successes are always those you have to really fight for.

The Italian triumphed at the end of a titanic scrap with SEAT's Jason Plato who, he joked, won 'just' six races to his ten. The pair left all behind them quite literally trailing in their wheeltracks over the course of the season, with their intense duel going all the way down to the final meeting at Thruxton. Giovanardi headed into the showdown nine points adrift of his arch-rival, but by the time of race three they were separated by only a single marker in the Briton's favour.

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"It feels great," Giovanardi enthused, speaking to Radio at the Triple Eight headquarters near Silverstone. "It was a really good moment for me. It was a really tough championship and nobody outside of Vauxhall expected the swing [in the final round], but inside the team and inside myself we believed all the way to the end.

"Right from the beginning we had some great battles with Jason. It was always very hard competition, because Jason is a strong guy and he was playing on home soil. I'm a European, so it wasn't easy to come to England and beat an English driver. I don't think they (SEAT) really made any mistakes during the season; we were just faster.

"I never stopped believing. If you think about not being able to catch up, you won't win. You have to believe in yourself, your team and your car."

That self-belief would prove pivotal to a challenge that after a disastrous round in the rain at Donington Park in July - when he qualified a lowly 15th and could only notch up 13 points to Plato's 36 over the three encounters - saw Giovanardi languishing 25 points in arrears. Indeed, it could have been a good many more but for his legendary car control, as the Vauxhall ace famously recovered from sideways moments at Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Thruxton that would have seen the majority of the opposition in the barriers.

"There are no secrets," the 40-year-old stressed, when asked how he did it. "You simply have to be open-minded when you're driving and watch everywhere - the front, the back and the middle. You have to always be ready to react, and that comes from experience. You have to be prepared for contact when you're fighting for the championship, and if you're expecting something it's not a problem to control the car."

As to the reception towards his success in his home country - where he has already clinched two tin-top titles in 1998 and 1999 - Giovanardi admitted his eighth touring car crown had helped in some small way to deflect the Italian sporting focus away from its two greatest passions - football and Ferrari.

"I don't care about where you win championships," he underlined. "This was special because we didn't win it until right at the end. There was very high pressure on me, and when you win the championship after such a big effort you feel very proud. I've won a lot in the past, but sometimes I won too easily and I don't like winning easily. England is different, and in the past we've seen many European drivers coming here to try to win. It's great to put on the CV.

"I think there was more attention on me [in Italy] because I was the Italian outsider fighting for a British championship. I received more attention in the newspapers and on the TV. It's good, because it shows they are also interested in a different type of sport, rather than just Formula 1 or football!"

After insisting he could tell the Vectra was a championship-winner in-waiting the first time he tried it out back at the beginning of the year, 'Gio' has now turned his attentions firmly towards 2008, when he will carry the coveted #1 plate on his car and will be partnered by new team-mate - and fellow multiple title-winner - Matt Neal. He acknowledged, however, that bettering his 2007 tally of ten victories would take some doing.

"We won a lot," he agreed, "but because I was close to winning more than ten during the season I can expect to be perfect next year! No, I'm joking. I will just try to do my best and we will see how many races we can win.

"We are still discovering [next year's] car. We have to give good feedback and make the engineers understand where they have to go in terms of design. It's very important to understand where you have to develop the car during the winter because you can hardly test once the season begins. The engineers need to design all the different parts, so that in January and February we can see if they work or not.

"I don't expect a big jump, because from the beginning the Vectra was quite close to being perfect. What we have to do is fully understand all the potential of the car and its different set-ups at different circuits.

"I think Matt is a good choice. He's 40, a good, experienced guy with many years of racing behind him and he's a winner. He knows when it's time to push and when it's time to wait, and at the end of the day it's not important to win races; it's important to win the championship."