If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else . .
When Michael Crees took to the track at Oulton Park on a cold, wet Saturday morning back in April 2017, few people had ever heard his name. Twenty minutes later, he was celebrating a debut pole position in Ginetta’s GRDC+, recording a lap time almost 7/10ths quicker than that of the 2016 GRDC pace-setter, Phil Ingram, in P2.
It was the start of a remarkable series of results that would see the man of Kent crowned champion at British GT’s Donington Decider. Heading swiftly into 2018, he sped to the Am-class title in Ginetta’s BTCC-supporting GT4 Supercup. A man on a mission, and only a month after the Brands Hatch finale, he signed to Team Hard, completing the squad’s 2019 touring car line-up.
So what do you do when you switch from rear wheel drive to the front, with way more horsepower than you’ve ever tasted – and nobody expects anything more than a jaunt somewhere near the back? Well in Creesy’s case, he did what he does best; the smile was fixed and he let his racing do the talking.
Scoring points in the opening round immediately catapulted the newcomer into the hearts of fans, a place normally reserved for stalwarts, winners and legends. Admittedly there was only one more points score that year (P9 at Silverstone), but even this was enough to see him finish the season above former star of F1 and Champ Car, Mark Blundell.
Just to recap . . a bloke in his thirties, who’d only ever done a bit of arrive and drive karting at Buckmore Park, takes pole position in his first race, wins the championship in his first season, then jumps a few steps up and again wins his championship class before arriving in the pinnacle of British motor sport (draw breath) where he scores points on his debut and beats a formidable racer who earned three podiums in Formula One . . Surely all that’s needed now is for Vin Diesel to be cast in the lead role of a Holywood biopic and it’s job done?
Oh no: Michael Crees is a man who wants more. He’s tasted the elixir of the BTCC and he likes it; he likes it a lot. He worked hard last year, building rapport with the fans and relationships with commercial partners; and now, having made the switch to BTC Racing and the FK8 Civic Type R, he’s ready to up the effort in his bid to secure the much coveted Jack Sears Trophy (a sub-competition for drivers who have never scored an outright podium in previous seasons).
We spoke earlier in the week: –
MC: “The Jack Sears’ was always our ambition. Year One in touring cars was learning the ropes and finding our way. This year had to be about making solid progress with a team that knows how to win. I still can’t believe that I’m now a member of BTC Racing. They’re the perfect fit.”
2020 started well. Signing to BTC was an unexpected but key move. Bert Taylor & Steve Dudman’s squad retained race winner Josh Cook and tempted Tom Chilton away from Motorbase. Both bring very different skill sets and work incredibly well with the engineers in refining set-up. Creesy was the wild-card, a relative novice, yet he’s already added his own special brand to the team’s dynamic.
MC: “I have a plan, I’ve always had a plan, ever since I first raced the Ginetta, but I never thought that after such a short period of time, I’d be teammate to two exceptional race winners, and in a car that is clearly championship-class. I know that people see me as a joker, and why wouldn’t they, it’s who I am at heart, but when I set out to achieve something, a very different Michael Crees emerges; I’ll push myself harder and harder, giving my best and looking for the best in return.”
You see this from the intensity of the pace in the garage. All three engineers work seamlessly with data and feedback to push the Civic to the front of the pack. It’s no surprise that BTC Racing are just one podium (so far) short of matching the results from the works Honda squad and drivers Matt Neal & Dan Cammish. Still, for Creesy, the goal is measured, his target, right now, remaining solely on the Jack Sears Trophy.
MC: “We started well, really well. Seven wins from the first fourteen races, but then we had problems with the car and I went from podium after podium to dnf after dnf.”
Three retirements (from three races) at Silverstone and two from Croft sent him plummeting from first to fourth in the standings.
MC: “But Bert (Taylor) has kept me focused. The guys have done a remarkable job to get the car back into shape and I’m ready to take the fight back to Bobby (Thompson).”
We spoke prior to the announcement that Thompson would be unable to race this weekend at Snetterton due to injuries received last time out in Yorkshire: We spoke again after the news broke.
MC: “I’m gutted for him. I know it presents me with an even better chance of regaining lost points and places but I want to do this by racing and winning, not by default. I want to beat Bobby, and Carl (Boardley), and Sam (Osborne) on the track, not off it “
Many drivers, especially those hardened by years of intense competition, might welcome the loss of a rival from a race (or three) but Crees isn’t like most others. Maybe it’s because he still sometimes has to pinch himself to know that he really is racing in one of the greatest motor racing shows on Earth, but there’s heart and soul on display here (as well as that trademark grin).
MC: “Do you know what? I used to queue to get in to watch some of these guys. And I’d stand on the banking and just love every minute of it, and now I’m here, and I still can’t believe it, but I know that I’m only going to stay here if I do well. It was OK to simply have a laugh and joke last year, there were no expectations of me or the car, but now it’s different, two of the three of us are right-up there and I can’t afford to be the odd one out
I took the conversation back a few rounds to Thruxton. He’d had six point-scoring results prior to arriving in Hampshire but this was the weekend that stood out for me. It’s the fastest, most demanding circuit on the calendar; a BTCC car is on full throttle for 75% of the lap and never really in a straight line. You’re turning pretty much for 95% of it, so the effort required by both driver and car is immense. And this is where he shone. P9 in qualifying, only 1/10th behind teammate Chilton, less than 1/10th behind four-time champion Colin Turkington and ahead of his driver coach and mentor, Josh Cook, meant that he was no longer racing for fun, he was going to be right in the heart and heat of the action. And what an exceptional series of races we saw. It wasn’t just two top-ten finishes that made everyone take notice, it was who and how he was racing that mattered most.
MC: “Yeah, that was something special. As I said, I used to come and watch these guys and suddenly, there I was, racing bumper to bumper with Matt (Neal) and Colin (Turkington). They’ve got seven titles between them and I’m shouting ‘go-on son’ through my helmet as we’re hardly ever more than a few inches apart. It was unreal. I had calls from both of them afterwards, congratulating me on the drives, it means a lot.”
This is what the BTCC is all about. Close, exceptional racing, and respect. You can’t just be quick, you need to earn the trust of those around you. Thruxton was the turning point for Creesy. Yes, he’d already been in the points, but they were very much midfield battles. Now he was taking on the titans, and he earned his star. The rest, they say, will be history.
But the final words need to be left for the fans. The fans are what the BTCC is all about, and it’s what Michael Crees is all about too. He was one, he is one, and the impact of COVID-19, resulting in no spectator attendance is a loss he really feels.
MC: “It’s not just the racing that I love, it’s the whole package. From hospitality with guests to meeting fans, knowing how long they’ve been stood in that queue just to say ‘hello’ and grab a selfie. On a Saturday night, if there’s time, I like to go into the campsite and smell the barbecues and hear the banter. It takes me back to where it all started. It’s what pushes me on.