THE BIG INTERVIEW: Colin Turkington’s ‘happy place’ and how bad days win titles
No driver in British touring cars history has managed to navigate with greater success the demands of distilling hours of groundwork into seconds of glory than Portadown’s Colin Turkington.
May will mark the green light towards standing alone in the record books beyond a shared four-time trophy haul when, at 39 years old, he embarks on another demanding season.
It offers some insight into his particular marriage of ambition and excellence that Turkington considers comfortable, thanks to confidence from collaboration, what others may view an isolating endurance test.
“In the car is my happy place and I’m that combination of relaxed - thanks to the foundations in place - and in the zone where everything else falls by the wayside,” said Turkington. “That’s why it remains my passion and not just a job.
“There is still no feeling that can match the emotion when you win a championship.
“You’re on top of the world...even if only for a short time.
“I feel blessed to have been able to turn what I love into a career and still love it just as much.
“There are so many aspects to a touring car weekend - from pushing to the limit in qualifying to then seeking peak performance over three races inside a day.
“You want to get that great start off the line, survive the first lap when the field sits in a bunch then use that racer’s instinct to attack.
“We can all have those moments when confidence is fragile but, again, it’s about recognising you’ve probably also been there before.
“There is a fair bit of expectation and responsibility but I’m a big believer in the motto of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
“It suits my nature, I’m the type of person who loves setting goals and taking on challenges.
“Competitive racing demands huge sacrifices at this level but, also, a strong work ethic is a big part of my personality and I relish the hard graft.
“I think it’s good for me, I need that discipline and that mindset covers every aspect of my life.
“I put everything I can into it all but want that sense of satisfaction once the season ends...the knowledge nothing has been left out.
“Then, no matter what happens, I can accept the outcome.
“Sport gives you so much and I really enjoy and embrace seeking out every possible advantage.
“In a world of fine margins, I’m always searching for an edge and really focus on rest, sleep, nutrition and fitness.
“I do my homework - from looking back over old notes or watching video footage to walking the track and drawing everything possible from the advance work.
“I’m also keen on learning whatever is possible from elite sportspeople or researching into extra information...anything that can help.”
Having first stepped into the British touring cars spotlight in 2002, Turkington’s constant drive for forward momentum is now motivated, in part, by reflection and past rewards.
“I never want to rest on my laurels or fall into the trap of allowing standards to fall short because of previous achievements,” said Turkington. “I turn 39 next month and am no longer the up-and-coming driver on the grid.
“But, also, I can bring to the job the benefit of those years of experience from the highs and lows.
“I’m so lucky to have that network of support - from growing up within such a great family to having my own wife and children and then everyone at West Surrey Racing.
“My job may come down to one man behind the wheel but the people around me ensure I can embrace that challenge and not feel out on my own.
“It helps with the pressure and gives me the sense of confidence to push the boundaries and give everything over to that commitment.
“We deal in margins measured by degrees of seconds but I still feel as sharp as ever.
“Experience counts for a lot as our job is about constantly evaluating, dissecting and adjusting.
“We have to assess so many situations and navigate decisions each time out on the track...but also aware everything happens within a long season.
“Personally, when every decision can lead to a point that could prove vital, I try as much as possible to keep a control on emotions and focus on the bigger picture.
“It’s all about getting to the end of each race and clocking up as many points as you can, especially in a championship that so often comes down to small differences between a title or not.
“So much can happen in a race but I try to control those emotions and not get caught up in incidents with other drivers or react.
“My job is to put those points on the board and any decision which detracts from that is a waste, it should never be about what happened but what happens next.
“It’s not about letting the red mist come down, instead I draw on the preparations, knowledge and experience to approach racing with a clear mind.
“After so many years in British touring cars I can bring a database of knowledge to these tight, twisting and technically challenging circuits.
“Titles get won on the bad days not the good.
“When you need to dig deep and salvage a situation you know could be crucial at the end of the season...that’s when I use everything.”
Competitive motorsport demands singular focus but Turkington cites teamwork as the cornerstone of his career’s consistency.
“Growing up in Portadown, that world was always a part of things for me and my brothers given my Dad was so heavily involved in racing,” said Turkington. “I guess I was absorbing information and lessons without ever aware of everything.
“Backing from family and friends has been so important across my career and it’s so special to have such wonderful memories across the decades in this world.
“My wife Louise has previous experience working in digital marketing with the EMI record label in London before coming on board with the team, handling a variety of roles from PR and marketing to social media.
“Ultimately, she’s that first line of defence on race weekends so I can focus completely on conserving and directing energy to my job behind the wheel.
“There can be so many plates to spin over a race weekend and we try to bring 100 per cent to every aspect, so it’s amazing working so closely with my wife.
“Our boys, Lewis and Adam, have been coming to race meetings from an early age.
“It’s been wonderful and I think they learn so much from being around something like the whole British touring cars experience.
“Although, of course, we need to find the right balance between work and personal life, it’s also great that we can spend so much time as a family unit and share in everything together.
“The decision a few years ago to move to England was massive in terms of cutting down on so much draining flight time and maximising on family time around work.
“There’s also the team unit within West Surrey Racing, with close to two decades really as part of what has certainly become another family.
“The professionalism, attention-to-detail and focus on board from top to bottom at WSR is in sync with my ideals as strong now after four British championships together as the early days.
“Growing up in WSR, I’ve certainly been shaped by working and developing around that team culture.”
Turkington started last season’s coronavirus-disrupted campaign as defending champion and closed it overall runner-up.
Another behind-closed-doors schedule has been mapped out for 2021 by championship officials and Turkington is gearing up for another title drive.
“We are in pre-season mode at the moment, with the weather restricting our testing opportunities until March ahead of a race calendar running from May,” he said. “But now is a key time away from the track in terms of the business side and that chance to focus on the commercial commitments.
“We are delighted to have, once again, the green light from BMW.
“Back at the team base there’s also a lot of work going on with the car in terms of improvements ahead of the next stage of preparations.
“On a personal level, I’m working at home in the simulator and building up my fitness work ahead of a race season which always basically has me broken at the end.
“The coronavirus pandemic has obviously had a significant impact, with every race last season a behind-closed-doors meeting so that impacts on everything.
“Each race weekend becomes drastically different to the normal, not least the reduction in your commitments away from racing.
“Normally our race weekend features a lot of external elements in terms of connecting with the commercial partners, question-and-answer sessions and autograph events for fans - just chances to give back to BMW and the race supporters.
“Although we have been able to adapt to a degree by fulfilling some of our responsibilities over Zoom or social media, last season really put the focus on racing.
“It’s almost a throwback to my junior days starting out in the sport.
“Racing without fans is certainly strange as although you cannot notice when behind the wheel, once on the podium it’s certainly a completely different atmosphere.
“You obviously notice a drop from 30,000 or 40,000 fans down to zero.
“You also cannot celebrate the same way with your team - in the past it was about hugs and sharing the moment together and now it’s down to elbow bumps.
“But sticking so meticulously to the regulations is obviously everyone’s responsibility as one of the few motorsport programmes still able to compete.
“Hopefully, with a start in May, it presents a greater chance for some fans to come back eventually this season, certainly the circuits would welcome the boost in gate receipts.
“Ultimately, we are just grateful for the opportunity to race.”
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