In his latest exclusive column for Crash.net, British Touring Car Championship runner-up Mat Jackson takes us on a rollercoaster ride over the second half of his 2008 season in the leading tin-top series - and explains how it felt to nick second place in the title chase right at the close...

Snetterton was a difficult weekend. Qualifying didn't really go our way; we struggled pretty much all year with getting a decent qualifying lap out of the car, and Snetterton was no different. 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.

That always makes race one very tough, and we got battered from pillar-to-post at Snetterton and finished down in 15th place. That meant we started race two well down again, but we at least came through the field and picked up a reasonable result. We then started off the front row in race three with Steven Kane alongside us, and again we didn't really have the pace so we knew it was going to be tough. We managed to just about drag the win out over the 17-lap race and come away with it.

Race one at Oulton Park was a bit annoying because we got pushed wide. Again we had a poor qualifying, so we struggled early on in the race when you've got cars all around you and it's not the best place to be. We got pushed wide at Knickerbrook chicane which lost us a lot of time, because the rules say that you have to come to a complete standstill and re-start. That put us a way down the field. To pull the results out in races two and three, though, was good for championship points, and it kept us in the hunt for the title.

Knockhill was always going to be tough, and we knew qualifying was going to be the key. It's very tight and almost like a kart racing circuit, so it's very difficult to overtake. To pull seventh out of qualifying was a reasonable result, and obviously being rear wheel-drive the BMW is a great car off the start-line, so we can always rely on making up a few places there.

I think all-in-all the Knockhill circuit didn't really favour the BMWs - it plays more to the front wheel-drive cars - so to pull the kind of results that we did out of the weekend made for a reasonably happy trip home. It was quite a strange one actually, because we wouldn't have said that Knockhill was going to suit us in the BMW, but to come away with three solid points-scoring finishes was a great boost.

Obviously qualifying 14th at Silverstone didn't leave me with many good thoughts, but equally we knew we'd got nothing to lose at that point and that the next day's racing was going to have to be very tough racing if we were going to maintain our push in both the independents' and main championship and stay focussed on the third place that we could see at that time. Luckily for us the heavens opened and the rain came down; that really saved us, to come from a pretty poor qualifying position to a pretty impressive race one result.

In certain ways the rain favours the BMW, but in other ways it doesn't. With a rear wheel-drive car, if you're on slicks and it starts raining and it goes slightly damp, it's always going to hurt you compared to the front wheel-drive stuff. That was the situation that we saw at both Donington Park and Brands Hatch. If, however, it goes full wet and all-of-a-sudden we can race on the wet tyres as happened at Silverstone, that does help us.

We had been working all day and chipping away to get a good set-up on the car, which is what we achieved, and I think we made good use of that at Silverstone to come away with some good results. We knew that the rain was going to be more of a strength for us, but even so to get second really was a great result, and something we probably wouldn't have bet on at the start; we had looked at it and said if we could get into the top five, then we'd be happy. With the slippery conditions and the rain, though, you never know what can happen. Obviously a lot of contact can occur and you can get through, but again, coming from 14th on the grid, it's a lot easier to find an accident waiting to happen and go and get yourself involved in that. It's always a very tricky situation to be in.

I think we had the pace over Jason, but obviously he needed the points so it was really a bit of thinking more outside of the box and looking at race two and saying 'we've come from 14th to second, is it really worth mounting a challenge on Jason with obviously the risk that we get taken out and score no points at all?' It was kind of like a damage limitation exercise really, and to come from 14th to second gave us a good haul of points and put us in a good position for race two.

Starting from the front, Jason and I led off at a pretty good pace in race two, but then we both seemed to start dropping back through the field. We received a pretty hefty hit on the right rear wheel from Fabrizio Giovanardi which seriously knocked all the geometry out, and that upset the balance of the car which didn't really help the situation. We dropped back from leading it to about fifth, and then we got turned around by Adam Jones as we came out of Luffield and unfortunately got collected by the Halfords car of Tom Chilton. That was a pretty hefty hit, which took the front chassis leg straight out of the car which wasn't ideal, and left it handling pretty poorly. I knew that if we could salvage a few positions from it then it would put us a bit further up the grid for race three, which it did. We also knew we had a quick car in the rain, but still to come through the field like we did was a fantastic achievement by everybody in the team and boosted our challenge back into the top three in the championship.

I think both championships were still there at that point, but the only one we could really look at was the main championship because we went into Brands with a 22-point deficit to Colin Turkington in the independents' trophy. 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.

We knew going into Brands the BMW was a very fast and strong car around there, but obviously that also worked against us because it meant it was going to be quick for Colin and the Motorbase cars too, which they proved. We looked at it and said 'we need to get a good qualifying', which we did; unfortunately we got pipped by the second RAC car to pole, but starting off second place on the grid was a good achievement for qualifying and set us up for a good race one.

We came away from that round 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...

Going into Brands sitting fourth in the championship, it was always going to be difficult to catch Jason, 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, and it boosted us for second, which was a surprise. We realised after race two that we could be on for second place in the championship, and we knew what we had to do. Jason had to finish in the top ten and we had to finish no lower than fifth, so it was always going to be a tough old race with Andrew Jordan and Rob Collard up there. We were running sixth with Jason just outside the points in eleventh, so I knew we had to get past the guys in front to make sure. It was quite an interesting last few laps really.

Obviously we're still just a very small family team, which made things very, very difficult, even in the independents' championship with the likes of Team RAC there, 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.

It's a funny championship - we finished as the highest independent in the main championship but just second in the independents', which was a little bit strange. That's just the way the points system works, 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. For sure it would have been the icing on the cake if we could have wrapped up the independents' too.

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.

SEAT's withdrawal is obviously a shame for the BTCC. 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.

Catch you later,

Mat

To keep up-to-date with all Mat's latest career news and results, please visit: http://www.matjackson.co.uk

 

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