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Phil Bennett - The Interview
For those of you who are not familiar with the name "Phil Bennett", we suggest you take a moment to commit it to memory, as you are sure to hear it regularly throughout the forthcoming BTCC season. Phil will be driving an Astra Coupe for Team Egg Sport, in the Touring class of the championship, and will be partnered by James Thomspon. This will clearly be the biggest challenge of his career, but also a great chance to prove himself.

Continuing our series of interviews, we bring you the chance to get to know another of the 2001 BTCC drivers. Read on to see what Vauxhall's new racer had to say for himself!

A brief outline of Phil's career:
2001 - BTCC Touring class. Team Egg Sport.
2000 - National Saloon Car Cup - a one off race with Mardis Gras.
1999 - TOCA Renault Spider Cup - 3rd overall.
1998 - BRSCC Super Coupe Cup - 2nd Rover 216 Gti with 5 wins from 12 Rounds and Mintex Driver of the Year Award.
BRSCC Tomcat/Vento challenge - 1 win from 1 round plus lap record at Donington Park.
1995 - KMCC All Rounders Champion.
1994 - AWMMC Rally Championship in Gp N Vauxhall Nova GTE.
1993 - TKM Karting
1991 - AWMMC Rally Championship in Gp N Vauxhall Astra GTE
Who or what led you into racing? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Always wanted to be one after watching old BTCC races with Frank Sytner v James Weaver. No one in the family has ever raced so it has been even harder to achieve.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Getting the phone call from my management to say I'll be in the BTCC!!
How did you feel when you knew the deal with 888 was in the bag?
Like a 5 year old on Christmas morning!
Did you approach 888 or did they approach you?
No initially I went to see 888 back in August 2000.
The announcement of the deal has bought a lot of media attention with it. How will you cope with the attention you will receive in such a high profile series?
Well it isn't a problem because I don't put on an act with anyone so I just continue just being me - so the only real pressure is on my time.
Do you see the move to the BTCC as a big step for you?
For sure - but then the principles are the same just that the drivers make fewer mistakes and the teams have more resources which means that everything is being developed - so they need you to give them good feedback and keep focused so that you maximise their efforts. It will be hard but this is what I've wanted to do for all of my adult life - so I'm not complaining. At the end of 2001 I'll know if I'm good enough to continue as a professional or not.
You are part of what's being called the Vauxhall "satellite" team this year. What exactly does that mean? What works assistance will you receive?
Err - good question. I'm not too sure what people mean by works assistance - but basically as I understand it James and I will get exactly the same kit as Jason and Yvan.
Will you be expected to give way to Yvan and Jason in the other Astras or will you be allowed to race against them?
No team orders - fact.

If it comes to the end of the year and I'm not in a good championship position and Yvan or Jason are then I don't have a problem in helping them. That's your job as a professional member of a team. If we come to race 12 and I haven't got the job done by then, and Jason or Yvan have, how can you complain?

All teams have been instructed to use the same supplier for parts etc. Do you think this will make the racing closer?
No I don't think it will make the racing closer - as I think most teams use similar suppliers before i.e. AP brakes, Xtrac Gearbox, etc, etc - but it will make it cheaper!!
How do you feel about your teammate James Thompson?
I only really know him to say hello to as we have seen each other around a few times. On a professional level you have to say that the guy is probably the strongest driver in the championship, and has done very good things in the BTCC to date - so it will be good to be benchmarked against someone already at this level.
Many people have commented that drivers racing these days are there purely because they pay for the drive rather than being there on talent. What are your thoughts on this?
It's a very good question. However these people who say this don't really understand racing. It costs so much money to race in anything i.e. Formula Ford will cost 100K with a top team. So the point is that nobody is going to pay for you to go racing, even in the lower formulae, unless you have a proven background. So EVERYBODY pays to start with, Schumacher, Senna, Hakkinen are no different. If you look at our team this year in BTCC - OK so a sponsor is paying which isn't a motor manufacturer - but so what? If our sponsor was called Vauxhall they may take a more experienced driver instead of me BUT that driver is only more experienced than me because he had more money spent on his career early on! It's all very well saying what about, say, Marc Hynes, British F3 champion, etc, etc - well that's cool but then I never did F3 because I didn't have the 300K per year budget to do it. So is Hynes better than me or did he just spend more money? Time will tell.
Realistically, what are your hopes and expectations for the coming season?
Hopes are that I do a good job, give the team and sponsor some good performances and they retain my services for 2002 when I'll be more experienced and can go for the title.
If you were a betting man, who would you put your money on to win the championship this year? (Apart from yourself of course!)
James Thompson, no question in my mind.
There have been many sporting events cancelled because of the recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth. If some of the BTCC races have to be cancelled, what effect do you think this will have on the series?
Hopefully all the races will just be rescheduled and it won't really have a big impact - mind you I hope the season finishes before the snow comes otherwise I think Yvan may have the advantage!
Annie Templeton is the only female entrant this year. What do you think about women in motorsport?
There aren't enough of them. I think women get a very rough deal in motorsport mainly because most of the sport and all the teams are run by men. So they either have to put up with people trying to get in their knickers ever 5 minutes or they just don't get taken seriously enough. I think the only way a women will achieve great things in motorsport is if her dad or a big organisation (like say McLaren) has enough money to take her to at least F3 level (like Paula Cook). Once you're at F3 level with a good team then it is clear if you are good enough or not.
Where are you most looking forward to racing? What's your favourite circuit and why?
I'm doing the Nurburgring 24 hours race - so I'm looking forward to that because the Nordschlife is a proper race track.
Who is your favourite driver? Who do you admire the most?
Nigel Mansell - simply because he got to F1 through sheer hard work and determination and I can relate to that.
If you could swap places with any other racing driver who would it be and why?
Nobody - because at the moment nobody knows how good I can be and I'd like to find out and it will be an exciting time.
There have been many questions raised about safety in motorsport recently. What do you think could be done to make racing and spectating safer for all concerned?
Have pedal cars and no spectators. You know the safety question in motorsport is a big joke. It is always a reaction to something. Take the World rally championship - I believe that unless these cars are slowed down then someone is going to have a huge shunt soon. However it will take this huge shunt before anyone does something. OK it is sad for the marshall killed in F1 but it was a freak accident - just like that train crash in the UK. Sometimes there is nothing to do but accept that accidents happen and motorsport is dangerous.
What would you like to be doing in a couple of years time?
Preparing for another season of BTCC, DTM or sportscars.
What advice would you give to up and coming racing drivers?
Stay focused, believe in yourself and set yourself realistic goals.
And now for some slightly more 'casual' questions...
What road car do you drive?
Vauxhall Astra Coupe.
What CD or tape do you have in your car at the moment?
White Zombie
What do you do when you are not racing? What are your other interests?
In the gym - I go everyday I'm not testing or racing.
If you won the lottery, what would you spend your money on?
My family first then I'd like to enter all my mates in something like the Clio cup just for the crack.
What's your favourite alcoholic drink? (Just so we know what to buy you when you win!)
I don't drink!!!
Tell us a joke! (Make it a clean one!)
Tough one - give me some time!! The clean thing stumped me!!
Describe yourself in three words.
Very, very sideways.
And finally, a message for your fans?
If in doubt, flat out!
We'd like to thank Phil Bennett for taking time out to speak to us, and wish him the best of luck in the BTCC this season. Phil has a new version of his website under development at www.philbennett.com, and you can be sure we'll be tracking his progress here on BTCCPages!
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