MAX COATES freely admits that driving at Croft Circuit used to give him mixed emotions. Based at Scorton, just a mile or two from the track, the Renault UK Clio Cup championship hopeful always loved the chance to race on his home circuit.

However, competing in front of family and friends also meant a logistical headache. It isn’t always easy to sort out 100 sponsor invites when you’re trying to concentrate on getting a flying start to the first bend.

Now in his mid-20s, and with a decade-and-a-half of motorsport experience under his belt, Coates has learned how to deal with the off-track attention that inevitably accompanies his return to home tarmac.

So as he prepares to compete in this weekend’s two Clio Cup races as part of the British Touring Car Championship support programme at Croft, the North Yorkshire driver is exuding an air of calm contentment.

“I feel much more relaxed,” said Coates, who is set to unveil a custom-built road version of his Clio, built in conjunction with one of his sponsors, RMB Renault, before racing today. “Down the years, I’ve become much better at organising things around Croft week.

“I’ve learned what I have to do and what I can delegate, and it’s made it much easier to be able to enjoy myself and concentrate on the racing.

“It’s going to be a great weekend. We’ve got around 120 friends, families and sponsors coming down to the garage, and it’ll be nice to catch up with some old faces. But I know when I need to switch off from all of that and concentrate on the racing. That has to be the number one thing – if I want to finish the season with the championship, I have to leave Croft having had a good weekend.”

Coates heads into this weekend’s two-race programme sitting in third position in the championship standings, 23 points adrift of series leader Jack Young.

Having switched teams to join Team HARD in the summer, a pair of wins on the opening weekend at Brands Hatch represented the ideal start to the season, but Coates’ luck was out at Donington Park last month as a snapped auxiliary belt forced him to retire from the opening race.

He claimed a podium spot as he finished third in race two, and while Young’s two victories saw Coates slip behind in the race for the title, he was happy with his race speed ahead of Croft.

“We were unfortunate at Donington really,” he said. “Even though we had a couple of good results on the opening weekend at Brands, we came away with quite a few things to work on. The results weren’t as good at Donington, but we were happy with the all-round performance of the car.

“Hopefully, Croft will suit us. The resurfacing work should make the track even quicker, and that should play to our strengths. We’ll have to see what the weather does – that’ll obviously dictate how fast we can go – but we’re going there in a very optimistic mood.”

As well as battling for the Clio Cup crown, Coates is also looking forward to taking part in a Touring Car test with Team HARD in July.

His long-term ambition is to move onto the BTCC grid, and the offer of a mid-season test drive was one of the key reasons he opted to join Team HARD in the winter.

“That’s coming up in the middle of next month,” said Coates. “There’s two more rounds of the Clio Cup to tackle first – at Croft and then at Oulton Park – so hopefully by the time the next break comes around, we’ll have moved closer to the top of the championship.

“Then I can switch focus a bit to the Touring Cars. The long-term targets haven’t changed – but in the short term, it’s all about trying to get back to the top of the podium at Croft.”