He might not have a deal in-place as yet, but Johnny Herbert has made it clear that he hopes to compete full-time in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 2010 – and as he prepares for some good-humoured 'crashing and bashing' along the way, he insists that this time, he will be giving every bit as good as he gets.
Herbert joined the BTCC three rounds before the end of the campaign in 2009, competing alongside Dave Pinkney at Team Dynamics – and whilst he soon managed to get the better of his veteran team-mate, the former F1 star admits that it took him rather longer to get to grips with the famously fraught and frantic, doorhandle-to-doorhandle nature of BTCC competition, almost anathema to the far cleaner styles of racing he has been used to for the majority of his hugely successful career in single-seaters and sportscars.
After being 'welcomed' into the series in no uncertain fashion by former champion Jason Plato at Silverstone, Herbert went on to break his points duck in only his second race at the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing' with an impressive eighth place, and he looked even more comfortable in his new surroundings as he swapped paint with title protagonists Fabrizio Giovanardi and Colin Turkington at Rockingham next time out – earning a post-race tongue-lashing from the irate Italian into the bargain!
Whilst he confesses that it was certainly a baptism of fire, in the final standings Herbert wound up a scant two points adrift of Pinkney, who by contrast had completed a full season rather than just nine races out of 30. Having begun by the end to dish it out as well as he receives it, the 45-year-old now hopes to be able to put all that he has learned to good use in 2010.
“I knew [what it was like] before I joined and I went in open-minded,” the former British, Italian and European Grand Prix-winner told Crash.net Radio
. “I think it's one of those series' where if you accept it, then you can go into it and if it's dished to you, you can dish it back to them. I think that's how the show works, you know; it looks really good on TV, all this knocking and sideways action. With front wheel-drive, you get the power on and it goes right almost to point where the back overtakes the front and then it comes back again.
“Some of the races have been absolutely awesome, so you just have to accept it. It's not my type of racing and it's not the way I'd want to win it, but I understand that's how they do it and I'm willing to maybe sacrifice that knock and bang. It's got to be dealt out if it gets dealt to me, and it did. The first one I got had to be from Jason, didn't it, but that's part of it and I enjoyed it.
“Hopefully we can do a bit of crashing and bashing this year, and it would be nice to do it in a manner where you do proper testing and a proper build-up and proper preparation for it. I'm glad I did those three races in the Honda Civic for Team Dynamics, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – even if we probably weren't the most competitive at that point.
“Rockingham was obviously the best race I had, and it was good to mingle it for that little time with Fabrizio Giovanardi, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato and our little door-rubbing. You had the top three who were going for the championship, so it was great to be involved with those guys and I did enjoy it. There were people passing and knocking and then nipping through, and that's what's nice – I haven't done that kind of racing for a long, long, long time to be honest. It would be nice if we can get something together which would give me a chance to compete again this year.”
Conventional wisdom goes that if Herbert is to remain a part of the BTCC in 2010, it will be with Team Dynamics once more, quite likely alongside two-time former champion Matt Neal, whose father Steve runs the operation. He does not deny that he would be keen to continue his involvement with the team.
“With Matt not being with Vauxhall because they're pulling out, obviously there is that possibility,” mused the popular Romford-born ace, “but as we all know in motorsport, you've got to get the right budgets together to get the whole thing going. I enjoyed the whole experience with Team Dynamics but I understand that they've got to get the budget, and if you take me out of the equation they've still got to find the budget to run the team anyway. Hopefully, with my name we can get something together, because I think it's a very good package.
“The whole BTCC works in a very good manner from a show point-of-view; it's got nice TV coverage on ITV and the entertainment's good. You know, there were 30,000-plus at Brands Hatch for the last race, so it does appeal to British race fans. From a brand point-of-view in this day and age that we live in I think it is nice, competitive and worthwhile to get involved with, so we'll see.
“I enjoyed it with Dave Pinkney. Dave's been around for a long, long time and he's quite a character, but it would be nice to be with Matt; it'd be nice to get someone in like that. He's a very, very experienced trooper in touring cars – I didn't realise how many years he's being doing it – and I think it would be a good little package.” TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE