Rob Collard said that he needs one of his strongest qualifying performances of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season if he is to snatch a maiden title at Brands Hatch GP.
The former Independent champion closed the deficit to West Surrey Racing team-mate Sam Tordoff at Silverstone, now lying fourth and just 17 points adrift with three races left to play out at Brands Hatch.
A stalwart of the BTCC for almost 17 years now, Collard remains one of eight drivers in contention to lift the Drivers’ Championship trophy in Kent on 2 October, after recovering from 24th in qualifying to results of third and a brace of seventh place finishes at Silverstone.
“This was a really, really tough weekend”, Collard told The Checkered Flag afterwards. “We knew it would be a tough weekend too because we struggled with straight-line speed.
“After [Saturday], you just think ‘the championship is slipping away’. Race one was one of my best races to claw that back, then in race two we just seemed to struggle with the soft tyre in a race where I felt we really cold have taken it to them.
“In the reverse grid, that one was a bit slow in the initial couple of laps. At the end I was all over [Mat] Jackson but, with Jason [Plato] all over my bumper, I couldn’t really attack too much. I had to think about points.”
The final race of the day was initially lead by the fast-starting BMW 125i, but it was Gordon Shedden who came out on top following a bold move under braking at Becketts early on.
Asked if he was expecting the Scot’s lunge, Collard admitted: “I wasn’t. He asked me ‘was there a problem with your engine?’ but that was all I’d got! He got a run on me and drove around the outside. Nothing I could do.”
With over 400 BTCC races now to his name, 2016 remains Collard’s best opportunity to become champion of the sport he has stayed loyal to since 2000, one of which he admitted to feeling proud to be in contention for honours.
“To close on the title fight is brilliant. This is the most competitive year I’ve ever known in touring cars and I’m pleased to be a part of it. Last year incidents dropped us away; this year, we’ve maintained that fight so let’s get to Brands Hatch and have a good one.”
Brands Hatch is also a venue that holds fond memories for Collard, four of his 13 top-class BTCC wins coming at the Kent circuit. The WSR driver insists however that, for him to overhaul his rivals, a strong qualifying is a must.
“I think the BMW is very strong at Brands”, said Collard. “The boost equalisation is up for review in the final round, so hopefully we can gain a bit and it could be game on.
“I’ve got to really focus on my qualifying. Qualifying 20th is going to be no good at Brands Hatch GP. We have to get in the top 10 so, if I can qualify eighth or something like that, I know I’ve got a very good car for the rest of the weekend.”