SEAT Leon-driving British racer James Nash, 30, heads into this weekend’s TCR International Series season-ending event in Macau 17 points ahead of his nearest challenger Stefano Comini, who is in a VW Golf. Representing Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil — which was a merger between Hong Kong’s Craft Racing and Bamboo Engineering, from the UK — Nash is in his first season in the series and also has his team-mate, the Spaniard Pepe Oriola, snapping at his heels in third place. He spoke to Kenny Hodgart ahead of the weekend’s racing.
How confident do you feel about wrapping up the championship this weekend?
I’m really confident about my abilities around the track and just have to focus on myself, but it’s a bit of a lottery with the slight rule changes this season in our category. There is a reverse grid for the top 10 in race two, which makes it easier than normal for other contenders to get two wins. The 17-point lead I have obviously looks very comfortable, but the possibility of other drivers getting two wins means that can be eaten away very quickly.
There are a few things in this series that level the playing field. Does that make it more interesting?
Well, besides the reverse grid, there are balance of performance (BOP) measures that the tour organizers take care of, which are designed to set the cars up so they’re equal. For example the VW Golf is running 30 kilos lighter than our SEAT. As a driver those measures are out of my hands. Then there’s what’s called “success ballast,” which I think is a great idea. It means that if the drivers in front have an off week then it brings the other drivers closer together. It does make things very close, which is why there are quite a few cars heading into this event who can win the championship.
What’s the Craft-Bamboo team strategy for this race?
When we started, my team-mate Pepe said he was going to help me out — but I think he’s coming with a slightly different mentality this weekend because he knows that he can win. I don’t expect any help from anybody. We rounded up the team championship at the last event, which is the most important event, so I think the team are allowing us to go out and do what we want to do. The only time team strategy will come into play is if Pepe can’t win the championship and I need his support to go and win it.
You’ve had a varied career in motor racing to date, switching between series. What would it mean for you to win this championship?
I’ve never won a championship so for me it would be huge. I’ve been runner-up on a few occasions but winning one means quite a lot more. I’m all out to win. The only reason I moved away from touring cars initially, incidentally, was rule changes. I was in British Touring Cars, but they introduced the Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) regulations. I didn’t like the look of it so I went in to World Touring Cars, then they also introduced more regulations on the cars. It was all up in the air; I wasn’t interested in that so I wanted to have a go at GTs (Grand Touring), and that opportunity presented itself this year. I was watching the TCR International Series in its first year in 2015. I didn’t want to join right away but I thought year two was the perfect time to start.
You’ve had more podium finishes than anyone else in the series. How do you explain your consistency?
It’s about taking the risks at the right time. I think my age helps, and my experience in World Touring Cars and British Touring Cars; I know how to play championships. Consistency is always key. You might not win the championship with five wins but you will win it with 10 second places. It’s about getting the right combination. Pepe is the perfect example — in a previous event, he was running in a fifth or a fourth position, and he went for another move when he didn’t need to and he ended up dropping back to outside the top 10, which meant he dropped a lot of points. It’s about having the knowledge of where you are and what the other cars are doing, reading the situation.
Sometimes you have to get lucky. I had a crash in Thailand. We were lucky that it was in free practice. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, there was a slight failure of the tire and it caused a big issue, but that just shows how it’s not just my efforts in a race by race basis that count: it’s the team’s efforts behind the scenes to get the car turned around and allow me to get back out. In the end I won race two that weekend. That’s sometimes what makes championships — your recovery from a difficult situation.
The most important thing for me as a driver is to have the car to myself and pitch myself against the best drivers but it doesn’t take away from the guys working behind the scenes, not just at the events but building up to the events, all the organization. The seat, the positioning, everything in the car is built exactly the way I need so I can focus on the driving.
I guess you must be pretty happy with the car you have …
The SEAT sport division have done an amazing job with it. They don’t just do the SEAT; they’ve also done the VW Golf and they’ve just built the Audi RS3 LMS. They have a lot of knowledge and engineering kudos around them. I think SEAT was an important factor for me, knowing that they knew a lot of the cars building the majority of the grid. Craft-Bamboo knew the cars from the previous year too so the two came together very nicely. The car has been fantastic, bar that one event in Thailand.
How do you enjoy driving on the Macau track? I’ve heard it described as “dangerous”.
The track here is a big challenge and you do get very close to the barriers. In Singapore it’s a different street circuit. The comparison is night and day. The Singapore circuit feels like a normal racetrack, actually. This feels more like a track you can hurt yourself at, but that adds to the excitement and the difficulty of it and that’s what drivers like.
Have you been surprised by the level of enthusiasm for motor racing in this part of the world?
The enthusiasm is much greater than it is in Europe. We get bigger crowds and it’s really great to see. The whole knowledge of motor sport in Asia is growing quickly and people are hungry to learn and see more of it; I think it’s where Europe or the UK was 20 years ago. That’s really why we’re spending more and more time out here; it’s the biggest market there is.