“It’s definitely going to be a bit of a weekend,” Gordon Shedden smiled, “but at the end of it, the objective remains the same: score championship points and win races.”
For Shedden – who returns to Brands Hatch in Kent for the first time since clinching his second British Touring Car Championship in the final few corners of the season’s dramatic final race six months ago – the weekend is of double significance.
Not only does he start the defence of the BTCC title for the second time – he first won it in 2012 – but the weekend marks ten years since he helped forge one of the strongest partnerships in tintop racing.
The 37-year-old from Auchterarder, who will again drive a Honda Civic Type R, has been with Team Dynamics since 2006. The team has run the works Honda programme since 2010 under the watchful eyes of Steve Neal.
And it is with Neal’s son, triple BTCC champ Matt, that Shedden established a formidable double act which has dominated touring cars over the past few years.
Since 2010, Honda has won all but one manufacturers’ title. Since 2011, Shedden and Neal have won three of the five drivers’ titles.
And such has been the Scot’s consistency that only once has he finished outside the top four in the ultra-competitive championship when he has contested a full season with the team.
“I’ve only had one year when I haven’t been at Dynamics,” Shedden explained yesterday, “and we’re still a family team. Sure, we run the manufacturer programme for Honda, but we’re a family team with family values. I talk to them every day and I guess, from my point, of view I’m more involved than just being a driver. I enjoy that as well.”
After winning the Scottish Ford Fiesta Championship, Shedden made his BTCC debut at Knockhill in a Ford Focus in 2001. Even then he was a winner, taking the Production Class win in the day’s second race. Since 2006, only once has he spent a season not fully under the Dynamics umbrella, in 2009.
Having begun the season, again at Brands Hatch, completing the opening three races for the team, he was replaced by returning champion James Thompson. Shedden signed for Clyde Valley Racing, competing at Snetterton and Knockhill and finishing second at his home circuit.
Reunited with Team Dynamics in 2010, the partnership has helped ensure Shedden has become the most successful Scottish touring car driver in history, with two titles and 41 wins from 287 starts.
But Shedden is taking nothing for granted this season. “I know when I won the title for the first time in 2012 that the following season was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “But I’m that little bit older and wiser now, so I head into the opening weekend at Brands Hatch definitely better prepared.
“It’s hard to believe that ten years ago I made the jump into the BTCC with Team Halfords. At the time I was the young Scottish guy coming out of Fiestas and Matt was defending his first championship.
“Back then I knew nothing but since then we’ve continued to go from strength to strength. I don’t think there are many pairings who have enjoyed the success we’ve had. That’s going to be crucial this year because we’ll need every ounce of ammunition to beat the others on the grid.”
With a raft of new technical rules and standardised chassis components introduced this season, all 32 cars on the grid will take a step into the relative unknown in this afternoon’s qualifying.
And Shedden is only too aware someone may find an early-season advantage.
“Everybody up and down the pit lane has access to exactly the same box of bits as we do,” he said, “and that means the competition will come thick and fast. At the moment it’s impossible to single out anybody. I genuinely think this will be one of the most open BTCC seasons for many years.”