Airwaves BMW pilot Mat Jackson is one of the fans’ favourites in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. The Checkered Flag took some time to chat with the 2008 Championship runner up after qualifying ahead of rounds four, five and six at the Rockingham Motor Speedway.
Jackson first got into motorsport through his Dad, who competed in a few Formula Ford races and speaking about his Dad's career in Formula Ford, he said that his claim to fame was “he started his first race in reverse gear,” and when asked on who Dad Tony raced against: “Tiff Needell.”
The career was ended early due to funding: “he didn't really have the full support and couldn't do the job he wanted to do,” explains Jackson.
The Henley-in-Arden based star started off his own career in karts before moving up into the Formula 600 single seater category, and he goes on to explain what F1600 is: “they use a Jedi Chassis with a CBR 600 Motorbike engine. It's a great little car to learn in.”
After a year in Formula 600, Jackson moved into the BTCC supporting Elf Renault Clio Cup: “we had moderate success finishing fourth in the Championship.” The following season he graduated into the Production Class of the BTCC at the wheel of a GR Asia Ford Focus.
Win number one in his single season of Clio Cup action came at Oulton Park, the same location where the twenty eight year old took his first BTCC victory in 2007. It's a circuit he enjoys; “I always like going back there, I enjoy the place very much” and then went on to add on the subject of his best race in his career: “we had good fun in the [SEAT] Cupras; all the races are fun in different ways. We've had good results in all forms and always have good races.” Jackson finished the subject of his best race and where he would love to race by saying he'd love to race at the Nordscleife, Germany, but wouldn't mind visiting Macau either: “Macau would be good, it's not a track I've ever been to but it looks good on the television.”
When asked about the WTCC, Jackson said he isn't following it as much this year and he fancies the Chevrolet Cruze of Yvan Muller to end the campaign victorious: “Yvan Muller in the Cruze, Chevrolet stands a very good chance, he's a great guy and they've got the car well sorted.”
Looking back to the 2010 BTCC campaign, who does Jackson feel are the main contenders?
“Half the grid I think! It's a tough Championship and we've got a number of drivers who are capable of winning. You've got Jason [Plato], Matt [Neal]. Sure it's not easy, it's going be hard.”
2009 saw Jackson join the RML run Racing Silverline team, having spent the previous two years racing a BMW 320si for the family run outfit, Jackson's MSport which became BMW Dealer Team UK. 2010 sees him return to a BMW and when asked how easy it is to adapt your driving style to suit, he said: “It depends on the driver. For me, I enjoy both. I have no preference, I enjoy front wheel drive and rear wheel drive is the natural choice. It doesn't matter which one it is as long as the car is capable of winning.”
Jackson is hoping that Airwaves BMW can carry him to his first BTCC crown in 2010, having left Thruxton with a double podium and third in the points. Jackson said: “That's the plan, my aim is no different. The team have a lot of knowledge; you just have to look at the Thruxton results to see. We've come away from there third in the Championship. It's a long Championship. Every race is different.”
The new Turbo era will make things interesting according to the Airwaves BMW pilot: “it's going to be interesting with the new turbo era; for sure it's not going to favour us.”
During the off season, TOCA announced that all the BMW's would have to run a longer first gear in an attempt to nullify their standing start advantage. “For sure it's hurt us,” explains the eleven times winner, “unfortunately it's not gone in our favour, the rules haven't fallen in our favour but we've got what we've got. We're at Rockingham and things aren't going to be changed.”
Instead of the longer first gear, what would Jackson have done?
“There is nothing you can do; it's a rear wheel drive car. The fundamentals of a rear wheel drive car mean that it will always be quicker due to the dynamics and the way it puts the power down quicker,” he said. “There will be areas where front wheel drive will be quicker and areas where rear wheel drive will be quicker. In the damp, if we're going to equal up the rear wheel drive start then lets equal up the running on a damp circuit. This is what makes the Championship interesting.”
2011 will see a new set of regulations introduced into the BTCC, with the NGTC rules coming into force. The turbo engine is part of these regulations and has been introduced a year early. Jackson reckons that if it’s turbo engine versus turbo engine, it'll be fine. The problems will arise when you get turbo power versus normally aspirated cars. Jackson said: “if everyone has got a turbo then no problems. If you're racing turbos versus normally aspirated engines you'll always have advantages and disadvantages like with front wheel drive and rear wheel drive.”
On the subject of manufacturers in the BTCC and motorsport in general, Jackson doesn't feel manufacturers are needed for the racing to be competitive: “I don't think you need manufacturers to make the racing competitive,” he claims. “We're competitive as we are. For sure we'll always welcome more manufacturers. It's great to have the names and input in the BTCC. Maybe next year it will be different, as it stands it's the sign of the times.”
And what about big name drivers? “You need a certain degree of drivers with the calibre. It's a difficult one, we're all getting older, the household names are getting older, and how long are they going to be around? There is only so long you can go with bringing someone out of retirement to drive a car.” explains Jackson, before adding “it’s difficult without the manufacturers it makes it very hard for any young driver to sustain the level of funding required to make a name for themselves.”
Jackson's ultimate aim in Motorsport: “to win the BTCC is one; it's a Championship I haven't won yet. So who knows, there are a lot of good Championships out there. Who knows what is around the corner. Aussie V8's, DTM – they're all good touring car series. You never know what may come up.”
And will British fans have another Brit to cheer on at Brands when the WTCC arrives in July? Jackson's reaction: “We'll see; never say never.”
So how did Jackson get on at Rockingham? Race one saw him rocket up six places off the line as the wet tyres on the BMW gave him an advantage but soon dropped back and switched to slicks, and came home outside the points in twelfth.
Race two saw one of Jackson's trademark recovery drives as he recovered to fourth at the end, the BMW's advantage of wearing the tyres out more evenly meaning he could fight his way up the grid.
The third and final race was a short one for Jackson as he saw his race end half way round lap one. Having started fifth from the grid reversal, Jackson was fighting for fourth when Tom Chilton spun him out and caused damage to the front and rear of the car.
So a weekend of promise yielded just eight points, and means that Jackson has dropped out the top five and into sixth place ahead of this weekend's three rounds at Brands Hatch GP, where in 2009 Jackson had a nightmare weekend scoring no points and losing fourth in the standings.