Mat Jackson began the 2008 British Touring Car Championship campaign as the main challenger to eventual back-to-back title-winner Fabrizio Giovanardi - and, at the end of a season fit for a rollercoaster ride, he wound up in the same position too.

The BMW Dealer Team UK star has, by his own admission, encountered qualifying difficulties year-long, and indeed only five times in ten meetings did he line up inside the top ten on the starting grid - hampering his efforts to take the fight to VX Racing's leading man. Whilst two of those top ten starts were on the front row, it is, he recognises, an area in which there is considerable room for improvement.

"We struggled pretty much all year with getting a decent qualifying lap out of the car," Jackson admitted, speaking exclusively to Crash.net. "At certain times we hit it right, but if you look at our results it hasn't been our strongest point, that's for sure."

Indeed, only supreme wet-weather skills enabled the Henley-in-Arden ace to convert a lowly seventh row starting slot into second place at the chequered flag in the opening encounter of the penultimate round at Silverstone, followed by a brilliant victory from 13th on the grid in race three, what he acknowledged was 'a fantastic achievement by everybody in the team'. And then came the Brands Hatch finale...

"We went into Brands with a 22-point deficit to Colin Turkington in the independents' trophy," Jackson related. "It was really going to be a question of him losing the championship rather than us winning it. We couldn't really do anything about it, because he was always just going to sit behind us at worst and pick up the points he needed to keep his championship on-track.

"Sitting fourth in the main championship, it was always going to be difficult to catch Jason [Plato] too, and you wouldn't really have put a bet on that the SEATs weren't going to score there. That was unfortunate for Jason but fortunate for us. We realised after race two that we could be on for second place in the championship, and we knew what we had to do."

Confessing that it had been 'a surprise' to steal the runner-up position right at the close - courtesy of substantially the finest weekend of his fledgling BTCC career to-date - the 27-year-old added that to do so with the might of just his small, family-run Jacksons Motorsport outfit behind him made his success all-the-sweeter.

"Obviously we're still just a very small family team, which made things very, very difficult," he explained. "Even in the independents' championship there are the likes of Team RAC, who have obviously been around for a very long time and have designed, built and run works cars before.

"That made both championships very, very tough, because we're still very much the minnows in the sport. That makes it a lot harder, but a lot more satisfying when we do well too.

"For sure it would have been the icing on the cake if we could have wrapped up the independents' as well, but at the end of the day to come away with second in the main championship was I think a great achievement by everyone in the team.

"We came away from [Brands Hatch] with just over 40 points, which I think was pretty impressive really. If only we could have done that at a few more meetings over the season it would have been a different story, but then I'm sure everybody has their own story to tell don't they..."

Far from looking back, though, Jackson is now very much focussed on 2009, when there are rumours of increased BMW works support to bolster his challenge for glory - and when SEAT, the manufacturer that helped to propel him into the BTCC in the first place in the guise of the SEAT Cupra Cup UK, will no longer be on the starting grid in an official capacity.

"SEAT's withdrawal is obviously a shame for the BTCC," the seven-time race-winner mused. "I'm sure there will be some other manufacturers looking to come into touring cars, but for me for sure we had some good times with SEAT. We were both runner-up and champion in the SEAT Cupra Cup UK, and without the likes of that championship we wouldn't be where we are today.

"They offered the largest prize in British motorsport to the champion, and we were fortunate enough to win that championship which really gave us the boost to move on. It was a shock to everybody, I think, when they decided they were going to leave, but I'm sure they've got their reasons and they're moving on to different things.

"It's obviously the time of year now when you hear a lot of interesting rumours flying around, but we're hopefully going to come back again next year and we can only go one better. We've just got to focus at this point in the year to improve everything and come back even stronger, hit the ground running and come out fighting for the main championship in 2009. This is where the hard work starts..."

To read Jackson's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, click here

by Russell Atkins

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