BTCC.NET CATCHES UP WITH STEPHEN JELLEY: PART 1 – BACK TO THE BTCC
Having first joined the British Touring Car Championship back in 2008, Stephen Jelley has accumulated four podium finishes and a further three race wins in the five campaigns he has contested so far. But, following his initial two-season stint in the series, the Leicester-born driver took a seven-year break from the championship, before returning in 2017 with Team Parker Racing.
The official BTCC website caught up with Jelley following the announcement of the revised provisional 2020 calendar; see part one of the interview below, where Jelley discusses the challenges he faced on his return to Britain’s premier motorsport series, as well as his motorsport endeavours during his time away.
“I never wanted to leave the BTCC. I’d come from single-seaters and the change was tricky. I felt I had a lot more progression to make but the financial crash was like a brick wall. However, from my time in the BTCC, I’d built a reputation, worked really hard with a couple of great friends to find some money and some great sponsors, such as Metclad and Stressline, who are still with me today.
“At that point motorsport was my everything and not racing was not an option.”
“In March 2010, I knew the BTCC was off the table and met with Stuart Parker. We raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup in a car that still had some mileage left in it. We had half the budget to start with and served our sponsors wine from a cool box hidden under the table in Porsche hospitality. It worked great; by the end of the year, we had found some more sponsors. I had won two races and finished third in the championship from Tim Harvey and Michael Caine. It was hugely satisfying.
“I raced the following year again in the Carrera Cup and won five races but still finished third overall. At that point, GT racing was gaining more popularity and I’d been invited to do a few races for various teams and had been successful. So, from 2012-2014, I raced in European GT categories, mostly in Pro-Am classes as the Pro driver (I also got married).
“I found the Pro-Am format irritating as my teammate was effectively on holiday and I was giving everything I had to squeeze the last tenth out of myself – that last tenth doesn’t matter if your teammate is four seconds off the pace. During that time, I probably became a good driving coach, but lost some pace myself, which I think I’ve only just found again.
“In 2014 I drove for Motorbase in an Aston Martin which was fun, my first daughter Alice was born, which without a doubt affects the way you drive.
“David Bartrum did let me test his NGTC Ford Focus twice, and I crashed it, twice!”
“I was used to tyre warmers, ABS, and traction control, a front-wheel drive Focus in the freezing cold felt like an alien!
“By 2015 Team Parker had started running one of the Focus’ in the BTCC and I’d had enough with Pro-Am motorsport so went back to the Carrera Cup with them for 2015-16. We didn’t have quite the same success. I think I’d lost my edge due to the cars I’d been driving, and I was up against some competitive young drivers. I also found becoming a new parent challenging!
“For 2017 the opportunity to drive Team Parker Racing’s touring car came about. I was told at the Autosport show that the car was the least successful next-generation British touring car in history. I’d previously driven it twice for Motorbase and crashed it twice, in the previous two seasons it had scored only three points.
“Like a proper fool, I jumped at it.”
“2017 was pretty horrendous, but I knew my only opportunity to drive in the BTCC again was to help build the package up into something – if we all thought we were getting better and our sponsors were happy, we’d carry on.
“For 2018 through our friendship with the guys at WSR we bought the 1 series, Andy Millar also started engineering the car. Andy didn’t really engineer the car very much but did a lot of work on the driver and we started to improve.”
Jelley’s third year with Team Parker Racing saw his most points-scoring finishes since his initial stint in the series, alongside a podium finish and a win. The 38-year-old will certainly be hoping to build on these developments as he approaches his third campaign in the BMW 125i M Sport.
Check back here at www.btcc.net for the second part of our exclusive chat with Stephen over the coming days…