GIVEN that he is a racing driver, it should be no surprise that Max Coates has his preferred route for the next few years mapped out.

And given that he is one of the brightest prospects in the country, it should also be no surprise that the North Yorkshire driver wants to put his foot down.

This winter’s switch to Renault UK Clio Cup outfit Team HARD was made with two things in mind. First, after finishing in the top four in each of his three previous seasons in the Clio Cup, Coates wants to claim his maiden Championship crown.

Just as importantly, though, he is hoping a mid-season test with Team HARD’s British Touring Car Championship arm will lead to a step up to BTCC level next season.

“It was a big decision to change teams,” said Coates, who is based in Scorton. “The new team are making their Clio Cup debut, but they’ve got lots of experience in lots of different areas, including British Touring Cars.

“One of the crucial things is that they’ve let me keep the same mechanics and engineering team, so it hasn’t really been a big upheaval. The team are based in Rochester, but the car is still prepared at our base up here so we’ve been able to stick to what we know works.

“We’re hopeful of some success this season, and things have started well on that score. But the other big carrot is the chance of a mid-season test in the team’s BTCC car.

“Hopefully, if that goes well, and I perform well in the car, we can start to look towards what might be possible in 2020. The goal for next season is definitely to be on the BTCC grid.”

Coates’ chances of making the step up will be enhanced if he can claim the Clio Cup title, and he could hardly have made a better start to the current season.

He won the opening race at Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit earlier this month, and while he finished second on the track in the second round of racing, he was awarded maximum points after race winner Jack Young was given a time penalty for breaching safety-car regulations.

As a result, Coates became the first driver to take maximum points from the opening round of competition for four years.

“It couldn’t really have gone any better,” he said. “In fact, in terms of points, it definitely couldn’t have gone any better.

“We went to Brands Hatch pretty hopeful because we thought the winter had gone well, but until you get out onto the track for the opening race, you’re never 100 per cent sure you’ve got the car spot on.

“The first race couldn’t have gone any better, and if I’d pushed a bit harder in the second race, maybe I could have crossed the line in first. I was mindful of last season, when I pushed too hard on the opening weekend, had a collision and ended up finishing fifth, so I was happy enough to sit in second and take the points. Thankfully, it didn’t matter anyway when Jack was penalised.”

The next round of racing is staged at Donington Park on the weekend of April 27-28, with Coates determined to build on his strong start.

“Donington is a track we’ve generally done well at,” he said. “It’s a track that suits my driving style - it’s really fast and flowing – so hopefully we’ll have another good weekend.”