Published: 06:00, 12 November 2020
Jake Hill says he has put himself in a strong position for next season after enjoying his best-ever year in the British Touring Car Championship.
The Goudhurst ace, 26, has starred aboard an older-spec Honda Civic Type R at the behind-closed-doors events, picking up five podiums and 16 top-10 finishes.
Engine troubles and two punctures meant he failed to finish five of the opening six races, but he has featured at the sharp end ever since, scoring points in all but one of the last 18 thrashes.
The former Ginetta frontrunner says he plans to stay with the AmD Tuning-run MB Motorsport squad for 2021, taking his relationship with the Essex-based squad into a third year.
"I definitely see it as a season that has massively boosted me as a driver and potentially what I am worth to teams and sponsors, which is fantastic," Hill said.
"Things are only going to be moving forward – we are in a strong position for next year now and I am excited about the future.
"I don't see myself going anywhere else. We all obviously have dreams of being in a factory BMW at some point, but I imagine the feeling is mutual up and down the grid as that would be the dream seat."
Hill has a good relationship with AmD boss Shaun Hollamby, who ran the driver coach in British GT in 2015.
"I absolutely love Shaun to bits – as both a person and a team manager," Hill added.
"He has been so good to me – he saved my career in 2015 and even though I then went to Team Hard in touring cars, he has always been helping me in one way or another.
"Being under his wing for the last two years, it's made me enjoy going touring car racing again which has been a massive lift.
"So, from my side, I don't see myself going anywhere else for the moment and it's just a case of continuing to grow the relationship with Shaun and MB Motorsport."
Hill raced an Audi S3 for the squad in 2019, but switched to the Team Dynamics-built Civic over the winter.
Despite its age – the chassis surpassed 200 races during the last round at Snetterton – he has shown great speed in the Japanese hatchback, qualifying on the front row three times.
But engine issues at the first two events meant the former Angley School pupil was only 20th in the points after the opening six races.
"It was so frustrating," Hill said.
"The season promised so much and yet the engine side of things massively under-delivered.
"It was a constant problem after problem until we got to Oulton Park for round three where it started to change.
"We're not sure whether we will keep the car or move on to something else"
"It was an utter heartache because the package has always been there – we haven't qualified outside the top 10 yet which has been fantastic.
"In terms of qualifying, it has been my best-ever year when you look at the stats, which has been a massive improvement.
"But it's just horrible when you can't turn that into podiums or wins due to an engine issue."
Putting the early-season issues behind him, Hill has hauled himself up the standings and currently sits eighth in the championship, just two points off Mercedes pilot Adam Morgan.
He now enters the final three races at Brands Hatch this weekend targeting third place in the independent drivers' championship.
"I don't go into the weekend hoping I will be in the top five or so because I know I will be – pace has never been a problem with this car," Hill said.
"It's just about how we can make it last the race distance through tyre life and then fingers crossed we will be on the podium at the end of it.
"In the last three or four rounds we have been in a position to win, but it's just never quite happened."
If Hill does claim his first win of 2020 on home turf this weekend, it could be a fitting end for his ageing FK2 Civic – which is the oldest car on the grid and may be retired at the end of this season.
"The Honda is a strong old girl, that's for sure," he said.
"We don't know yet, but there could be a chance Brands may be its last round.
"We're not sure whether we will keep the car or move on to something else, but if it is its last round, it will be terribly sad.
"It's been a pleasure to drive one this year and know what an FK2 is like – I just wish I had been in one two years earlier because I think we could have won the championship with it."
While Hill is out of title contention this weekend, his frontrunning pace means he could affect the outcome of the fight for the crown between Colin Turkington, Ash Sutton, Dan Cammish and Tom Ingram.
"I feel like the puppeteer – if I am at the front, I will have the strings to it all," Hill said.
"It will be interesting because do I help anyone or do I stay put and just focus on myself?
"I think my theory is to do everything I can on Saturday to get as high as possible and then, for race one and two on Sunday, I just try to do my best.
"If I am then in a position in race three to change the title fight one way or another, maybe I would think about it, depending on who it was.
"But I definitely feel like I am holding the strings to this one."
Hill, who has been busy testing historic cars between touring car events, says he has enjoyed battling at the front this season "with good people who are not stupid".
"When you go to the back of the grid, they're just animals and it's hard work to get through," he said.
"But when you're in the top 10 or 12, you're not fighting with stupid people and, especially at the end of the year, they aren't going to be making stupid lunges because they will have a championship to lose if they do.
"I have been on the podium five times now in what, for me, has been a seven-round season given what has happened.
"I have enjoyed it, but it's just been frustrating as it is a case of what could have been."
A race winner at Knockhill in 2019, Hill is yet to stand on the top step of the podium this year, but could put that right at his home track this weekend.
He said: "I think part of the problem is that, with the exception of Croft, we have always started on the front row against a rear-wheel-drive car which just makes your life so much harder come the start of the race.
"It's frustrating having a rear-wheel-drive car start on the front two rows with you, but I definitely feel like we are in a place to win.
"It would be lovely to win at home and out of all the guys who are going to be at the front, if I am up there again, I definitely have the least to lose."
Meanwhile, Broadstairs-based Jack Sears Trophy leader Michael Crees is 17th in the overall standings entering the final weekend in his BTC Racing-run Honda Civic FK8.
And in the teams' contest, Wrotham's Motorbase Performance has enjoyed a strong year with its all-new Ford Focus ST.
Ollie Jackson has picked up two victories, including the most recent race at Snetterton, while Scotsman Rory Butcher is fifth in the championship.
David Bartrum's squad is fourth in the teams' competition, 19 points behind Laser Tools Racing.