It's great to be asked to write for you again this year on the Checkered Flag. I had a really good time over the off-season, it's nice to have a break and catch up with friends. It was nice to say lets just relax and chill out for a while, but I knew this year would be crucial to excel in so I have been working really hard on my fitness and reading lots of books on motorsport to try and extend my knowledge about racing.
My fitness programme and diet have been really strict which I think gives me that edge over my competitors, knowing I am fitter than them gives me a great self confidence feeling. I have also been watching a lot of DVDs on the WTCC and watching where the overtaking moves are. On top of that I have been going to iZone to use their simulator. It gives me a rough idea of where the tracks go and gets you into a good rhythm ahead of the race meeting.
I have also been keeping my driving handy by doing a few test days in a Clio Cup car. The testing is so limited in touring cars and with the WTCC deal having been done last minute it made it really difficult to test. At one point it was looking like I was going to have to take a year out – our plans were to carry on with the BTCC but with RML and Chevrolet pulling out it left us stuck with ideas. I had a long chat with my dad about what the possibilities were and the next option was WTCC. From a career point of view it seemed the right way to go with there being more manufacturers in the series and a better chance of becoming a paid professional driver.
The first round of the WTCC was held at Monza in Italy – a track I have great memories of from watching loads of exciting F1 races take place there. I was really ecstatic to be making my debut in the championship at Monza and knew it would suit the Cruze very well. It was a weird feeling to be leaving the country and having to almost represent your country on the worldwide scene.
When we arrived at the track it was straight down to business with a track walk. I had a copy of last year's qualy lap so I could understand what the gears were and where the kerb was to be used. After the track walk, me and my dad decided to go and have a look at the old banking which makes Monza such a historical circuit to visit. It was so steep at the top you had to get on your hands and knees to reach it. It was hard to imagine they used to race on this track with no seat belts or helmets – rather them than me!
I was now all ready to go ahead of qualifying and had worked out a plan to tow Rickard Rydell around for the first lap, then I would let him through and tag onto him for the second lap. The tow was worth so much around Monza that it just had to be done. I only just made it into Q2 but I knew there was a lot more time if I perfected the tow.
In Q2 the team manger from RML said I could tag onto the three works cars if I wanted. I accepted the offer and knew I could learn a lot off them and hopefully get a better tow. It worked out really well and got me eighth on the grid and second out of the Independents. I was happy to have qualified second in the Independents as that's the championship I am really focusing on.
The guys at Bamboo were really happy and we were in a good mood ahead of the races. At the end of the day I bumped into the boss of Chevrolet Motorsport and had a good chat with him – it's nice to know he is watching you and the car I am racing is obviously a Chevrolet so it's an even better chances to impress.
On raceday I could feel the nerves starting to kick in but I knew that was a good thing. In the morning we get a chance to do a warm-up which is something I'm not used to coming from the BTCC. It was nice just to get into a rhythm and dial back into the track. Race one was a rolling start which is also something new to me. I didn't make the best start and dropped a few places. Looking back I think I was too close to the car in front and I couldn't see the lights. I was quick to make the places back up though and was back to eighth position by the seventh lap. It was a relief to get the first race out of the way and know where I stood in terms of my main rivals. I finished second in the independents and got some solid points to kick-start my assault on the championship. The car felt really good, so we didn't make any set up changes.
The second race was a standing start which was my cup of tea, I made a really good start and was third by the first corner. I was running in a strong third and the car felt really good, I was starting to catch the two in front but I struggled to find a way past. It was pointless going for a lunge this early in the championship so I decided to try and force them into a mistake. It maybe wasn't the right way to go because it allowed the others behind me to catch up and with the three factory Chevrolets right on my tail I thought the best idea was to let them pass and not risk battling it out with them. I ended up finishing seventh overall after making a small mistake into Ascari on the final lap which let a couple past.
It wasn't a weekend that stands out to me but a good solid start to the championship which I knew was crucial. There are definitely areas I can analyse and improve on which is something I am always looking at. To be the best you have to go to that extra depth that your competitors wouldn't even look at doing. I am joint leader in the Independents Championship with a three way tie. I know I can win it and that is all I am focused on at the minute. I have the car to do it and I have had a good two years in the BTCC which has brought me on as a touring car driver.
The class of the drivers in the WTCC is a lot higher at the very sharp end and there is a lot less contact. I really feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to shine and let teams know I am one of the younger generation of drivers who can achieve great results with limited experience.
It's now just under three weeks until the next round in Valencia. It will be another new track to me but hopefully my preparation will help me have another good weekend. I hope you will be watching me on Eurosport – thanks for reading!