Whilst joking about being one of the elder statesmen in the British Touring Car Championship, Fabrizio Giovanardi insists he is drawing immense motivation ahead of the 2009 campaign from the prospect of becoming the series' first-ever back-to-back triple champion in the two-litre era.

Having come over to the UK to race at the start of 2006, the Italian went on to claim the crown in both 2007 and 2008 behind the wheel of his VX Racing-run Vauxhall Vectra, seeing off the challenge of SEAT and Jason Plato in both years and gaining an army of British supporters with his stunning car control on-track and affable, mischievous demeanour away from it.

However, no driver in the modern two-litre era (from 1991 to the present day) has pulled off the feat of three consecutive championship successes, with only three competitors having done so in the half century history of the leading tin-top series - Bill McGovern in 1970, 1971 and 1972; Win Percy in 1980, 1981 and 1982; and Andy Rouse in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

Five other drivers - including Giovanardi's current team-mate Matt Neal - have lifted the laurels on two occasions back-to-back, but the man from Sassuolo makes it clear that he is not content merely to accept what he has already achieved.

"I'm really relaxed," he told Crash.net Radio, looking ahead to a campaign which will get into gear at Brands Hatch on 4-5 April. "In February we will start testing. It's a new season and a new challenge, and there is always pressure.

"I have to try to win a third title because no one has done it in the past [in the two-litre formula]. I have to find a challenge in my mind to keep going and keep flat-out, because when you get old - as I am, at 42 - you have to find the motivation. This is my motivation."

Asked about who he expects to provide him with the stiffest opposition, meanwhile, Giovanardi refused to name any one driver, suggesting his team-mates Neal and new young gun Andrew Jordan will both keep him firmly on his toes, predicting another strong challenge from 2008 runner-up Mat Jackson and BMW - and not ruling out the return of his habitual rival Plato between now and season's start.

"We have to wait until the beginning of the championship," the multiple tin-top king urged, "because we don't yet know how many drivers will be there, how many cars will be there or which teams will be there. There will be no SEAT, but as you know, BMW finished second [in 2008], so we have to be careful because different teams and private teams can be strong too.

"Obviously I'll miss Jason, but I'm not sure he won't be there. He might yet pull a rabbit out of the hat. For sure Mat Jackson will be one of the protagonists, as will my team-mates, but I don't know about the others.

"Andrew is a young driver, he did well last year, he's going to push us a lot and I think he can be good for the team, if he understands the importance of doing a good job for the team. The first target for Vauxhall is obviously the manufacturers' title, and then if can fight for the drivers' championship too we will see, but at the beginning we all have to work for the team."

"I think when they start the new season everyone is confident," he laughed in conclusion, "even the privateers, but yeah, we are confident of winning again."

by Russell Atkins