Early-2000s girl group Atomic Kitten haven’t exactly left a lasting musical legacy – but they can reflect on playing a small role in helping set the path for British Touring Car Championship greatness.
In 2002, for bizarre reasons that still defy explanation, the pop princesses sponsored a BTCC squad. Team Atomic Kitten was a satellite operation run by then works MG ZS squad West Surrey Racing (WSR), and its young driver pairing included a 20-year-old Colin Turkington, fresh from winning the one-make Ford Fiesta Zetec series.
“It was a massive step moving from a 1.4-litre Fiesta into a touring car,” recalls Turkington. “I was racing against guys I’d looked up to. I remember being on the grid for my first race at Oulton Park and around me on the grid were David Leslie, Tim Harvey and Matt Neal, guys I grew up watching on television in the 1990s. That was 18 years ago, but to me it only feels a blink.”
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Now 38, Portadown racer Turkington has packed a lot into those 18 years: 422 BTCC races, 51 wins, 141 podiums and four championships – tying the record set by Andy Rouse. That CV alone makes him a worthy winner of Autocar’s Motorsport Hero award, but what’s really worth celebrating is how Turkington has achieved his success. In a series with a reputation for bumping and banging, Turkington is known for his clean racing style and unusually has the respect of virtually all his peers.
Turkington worked hard to forge that reputation from his inauspicious start in his gaudy Atomic Kitten MG ZS. “I was 20 years old and I felt I had to prove myself,” he says. “You have to prove yourself in terms of speed and capability and I felt it was important to earn the respect of the established BTCC drivers. The start of your career is always when you make the most mistakes, so I’ve always tried to go about my racing in a fair manner, to race hard but fair. If I’m going to win something, I want to win it in the right way, whether it’s a race or a game of five-a-side. It’s more rewarding to pull off a great overtake than nudge somebody off the road.”
When the delayed 2020 season finally begins, Turkington will again be among the favourites. A fifth title would establish a new BTCC record and further cement a career that can already fill a greatest hits compilation – unlike the band who eased him into touring cars…
How to drive a Touring Car
The British Touring Car Championship is ridiculously tough to succeed in. So what is the secret to driving a touring car fast? According to Colin Turkington, the trick is to not take it easy.
“You have to really get out of your comfort zone,” he says. “If you’re feeling relaxed behind the wheel, you’re not going fast enough. The BTCC is so competitive that every thousandth of a second counts, and you have to find the absolute limit in every department.
“The big challenge in touring cars is that there are so many variables. You have different tyre compounds and success ballast constantly being added or taken away, so the car is never in a steady state. It’s always an evolving picture, but you’ve got to be on the limit all the time.”