When the British Touring Car Championship's 2009 entry list was revealed last week, one driver's absence was arguably more marked and more of a shock than any other – Mat Jackson. The man who was expected to give reigning double champion Fabrizio Giovanardi a real run for his money this year, however, insists he has not given up hope just yet.
Off the back of title glory in the SEAT Cupra Cup UK, Jackson graduated to the BTCC in 2007 with his independent Jacksons Motorsport outfit behind him and an ex-Andy Priaulx World Touring Car Championship-winning BMW 320i at his disposal. What's more, a brace of victories during his maiden campaign in the hotly-fought tin-top series was the prelude to a superb showing in 2008, taking in no fewer than five wins en route
to the runner-up laurels at the close.
With just the support of his small, family-run team and up against big-budget manufacturers like Vauxhall and SEAT, it was a magnificent achievement – and all was set for a full-on tilt at the crown in season three. And then, shortly before Christmas and in response to the current global credit crunch, title sponsor Accident Exchange suddenly pulled the plug...
“The situation we're in really is that we're not in the BTCC at this present time, basically due to losing the sponsor,” Jackson told Crash.net Radio
. “Obviously the BTCC is a proper top-line championship, and we can only go one way which is forwards. That's where we wanted to head, and my full intention this year was to go back and try and go for that championship.”
Admitting that the current economic climate is hardly conducive to attracting new backers when all concerned are increasingly tightening their belts, the Warwickshire ace did disclose that 'things are moving forwards' and there are 'options' and 'plans' in the pipeline. The only question is how long those plans will take to come to fruition.
“I think it's bad for everybody at the moment with sponsorship and what-not,” he conceded. “It's not the best time to be looking for it, and nobody is particularly forthcoming. We're working on it; it's just that things are slow with the way everything is.
“Things are moving forwards, though, and we're looking at various options that we can do this season. There are a lot of options around, but nothing's decided or set in concrete. Hopefully over the next month we can firm up some plans that we've got in the pipeline at the moment.”
The BTCC's supporters will certainly be hoping that is the case, after voting Jackson their favourite driver of 2008 in an official poll. Though remaining cagey about just what his various options are, it is clear that the 27-year-old is quietly confident of a return to the starting grid – even if he finds himself forced to abandon the BMW that has brought him so much success over the last two years.
“The BMW has been a fantastic car to us,” he acknowledged. “Obviously it's a fast car and a strong car – and I'd like to stay with rear wheel-drive – but it depends on what sort of options are on the grid, and I certainly wouldn't rule out any front wheel-drive car either.
“We've got to come back and put a package together that's capable of beating the likes of Vauxhall, which isn't easy – obviously you need some serious backing behind you to go and do that. It's two things – we need to come back and challenge for the championship, but it's Catch 22 because we need to get the right package behind us in order to do that. At this present time we're unfortunately not able to commit to that.
“The fans last season were fantastic; it was great to see that we'd got their support, and it is a shame that we can't come back this year and challenge for the championship, which I thought we were going to be able to do. They're a great bunch of fans, though, and hopefully we can get a programme sorted soon.”
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