After a two year absence, Mat Jackson will make his BTCC comeback in a Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra in 2020, and his return is a popular one among fans of the series, myself included. Jackson’s BTCC record speaks for itself, with a previous 11-year run in the series stretching from 2007 to 2017 bringing podiums and race wins but never that elusive title which many would argue he deserved.
The Warwickshire-born driver will be chomping at the bit to prove himself in the series once again. In a works Vauxhall Astra which won the final race of the 2019 season, he’s found himself in great equipment and a strong team, a team now strong enough to support him in a title fight. I’ve taken a look into Jackson’s BTCC career to date and given my thoughts on what to expect in 2020.
Jackson’s BTCC career is often associated with starting in that brilliant maiden 2007 season with the BMW 320si, but a first series appearance came six years previous in 2001. After finishing 4th in the 2000 Renault Clio Cup, Jackson appeared in the BTCC’s production class in 2001 in a GR Motorsport Ford Focus. He took a class victory at Donington Park that season along with seven other podium finishes finishing 4th in class overall. But without the necessary funding was unable to continue into the following season.
After three seasons out of the spotlight, a move into the SEAT Cupra Championship for 2005 would prove a catalyst for his return to the BTCC. When he finished as runner up in 2005, he went on to test Jason Plato’s BTCC-spec SEAT Sport UK Toledo Cupra at Rockingham as a reward. Whilst a move to the BTCC didn’t materialise for 2006, Jackson returned to the Cupra Championship and built on his 2005 form by dominantly winning the overall title.
Entering the BTCC in 2007 with a family-run BMW 320si, Jackson’s ability in BTCC machinery was immediately evident as he finished the opening round of the season at Donington Park with a 3rd place to his name. More silverware, including 1sts at Oulton Park and Thruxton in the final race of the season followed as Jackson finished the year 7th overall in the standings.
More success would come in 2008, as now although still an independent outfit Jackson’s team was rebranded to BMW Dealer Team UK. Still running the BMW 320si, Jackson won five times on his way to 2nd place in the overall championship standings and independent driver’s standings. Missing out to Fabrizio Giovanardi and Colin Turkington respectively. Despite missing out on the titles, Jackson’s speed was a revelation to fans, and he quickly became a fan-favourite.
Funding difficulties hit again in 2009, as without the necessary finances, Jackson and his team were left off the entry list. He missed the first round of the campaign but returned in a one-off appearance in the second round at Thruxton in an RML Chevrolet Lacetti. He took victory in the third race of the day at Thruxton and was subsequently signed to the team for the rest of the year as a teammate to Jason Plato. A run of seven consecutive podiums including three race wins lifted him to 5th overall at the end of the season despite him not starting or featuring in a total of six races.
2010 would be the year that Jackson made the switch to Motorbase Performance, then racing as Airwaves BMW with his former car of choice the BMW 320si. He finished 7th that year before Motorbase made the switch to the Ford Focus model for 2011. For 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Jackson was a regular podium finisher, finishing 4th, 8th, 7th and 4th overall in the driver’s championships.
In 2015 Jackson’s, and Motorbase’s BTCC future was put into jeopardy as the loss of a major sponsor meant that Motorbase were unable to field Jackson and James Cole as planned for the full 30-race season. After sitting out the opening half of the campaign, Jackson and Motorbase returned as a single-car outfit for the final 15 races of the year in an exceptionally fast Ford Focus ST. In the final half of the season alone Jackson won four races and finished on the podium a further four times.
2016 would see Jackson finish 3rd overall in the championship which he followed up with 8th in 2017, both times still in a Motorbase Performance Ford Focus. He was announced as a Motorbase driver for 2018 at the Autosport International Show in January but on February 16th 2018 a press release was issued by Motorbase declaring that Jackson and the team had parted ways.
The release included a message from Team Principal David Bartrum which read “Mat Jackson has been a fantastic driver for Motorbase and I’ve enjoyed all of the years that we have worked together. We’ve had some great times, but like all things in life, things move on.
Mat has been a big part of that history, however, drivers come and go and good teams carry on racing. I wish Mat all the best in everything he does in the future. It’s been great working with him and we shall all miss him.”
The timing of the announcement left Jackson little time to find a replacement drive for 2017, and he was resigned to spending the season watching from the sidelines.
The reasons for the split are still unknown, but it’s speculated that Gordon Shedden departing Team Dynamics, and the drive becoming available played a part. After several seasons with Motorbase, perhaps Jackson was interested in negotiating with Team Dynamics for the vacant drive which was eventually taken by Dan Cammish.
Jackson’s BTCC return was announced on February 5th 2020, almost two years after his Motorbase departure. Clearly a talent, Jackson’s services will no doubt have been in demand in both 2018 and 2019, something alluded to by Jackson himself when he spoke about his new drive.
“I have received several offers during the last two years, but Adam [Weaver] has worked tirelessly to make my return possible with Power Maxed Racing.“
Jackson’s aim for 2020 is the title, but it was important that he could rejoin a team which was capable of challenging for one right from the outset.
“I may have been away from the series temporarily, but thoughts of winning the BTCC were never far away. I have unfinished business and I needed to return with a top team, capable of mounting a consistent title challenge.
The team [Power Maxed Racing] continues to grow in stature, and I do not doubt that they are the team I need to be with. When the opportunity came to join them and partner with JP [Jason Plato] again, I was not going to miss out.”
Now at aged 38 with 12 seasons of BTCC competition under his belt, Jackson has proved himself to be a serious talent. Since 2007 in the BMW the Warwickshire-born racer has consistently competed at the sharp end of the BTCC, winning races in every season he’s taken part in since 2007 bar one, that was 2013.
In Jackson and teammate Plato the pair have a combined 34 years of BTCC experience, and they also have a car which can win, evidenced by Plato’s victory in the final race of the season at Brands Hatch GP last year. The Vauxhall Astra is fast over a single lap, too. Jason Plato was the 5th fastest qualifier on average in 2019, meaning that PMR won’t be struggling to match rivals on Saturday afternoons.
Both times he’s joined the BTCC, in 2007 and midway through 2015 he’s been competitive right from the start. It took him just three races in 2007 to reach the podium and in 2015 it took him just four. All the signs point to the fact that it won’t take Jackson long to readjust to the BTCC, even after two years away.
Will he challenge for the title? That’s certainly to difficult to say. The level of competition is so high, and you have the likes of West Surrey Racing, Team Dynamics, BTC Racing, Toyota and more looking to all make ground over the winter break. However, Power Maxed Racing will have made progress over the winter break too, and with Plato now with a season in the Astra under his belt, you can be sure that it’ll be a faster car when it lines up for the opening race at Donington Park, a circuit where the car has always run well at.
I can’t wait to see how Jackson fares in 2020. His return to the BTCC makes the series a stronger one, and even without an overall title, he’d make my personal list of the top drivers in the series over the last two decades. There’ll be a lot of eyes on him when he cuts his first public laps in the car at the Silverstone test and then at the season opener at Donington Park. However, all the evidence we’ve got shows that if the stars align, Jackson could be a significant factor in the championship this coming season.