Honda Yuasa Racing Team drivers Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden will be hoping to start 2012 in the same way they finished 2011 as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship bursts back into life at Brands Hatch this weekend.
Neal narrowly pipped Shedden to the crown last year as Honda finished one-two in the drivers’ table and took the teams’ and manufacturers’ titles.
This weekend will be the debut for the NGTC Honda Civic and Neal, who put the old car on pole to kickstart his title challenge last year, believes the new machine has great potential.
“We’ve done some race runs, which were good,” said the triple champion “We got the old car to be bulletproof and that’s what we need with this. It’s early days and we’re on a really steep learning curve.
“The very first time we ran the previous Civic we won at the first meeting [at Brands in 2007] so if we could do that again with one of the cars this weekend that would be fantastic.”
Nevertheless, Neal knows that things won’t be easy. The Civics won’t run the same level of boost as some, due to the BTCC regulations, and the 45-year-old believes there will be a lot of competition.
“It all depends where we are on the boost,” added Neal. “The corner speed we’ve got with the car is really good. They say Brands is a handling track, but you need some grunt up the straight too. Everyone’s got a punt at it.”
Shedden is relishing the chance to launch his 2012 title assault in better style after his 2011 season started badly when a sliced tyre caused an off in first practice.
“It’s the first race for the new Civic and it’s exciting times,” said the 33-year-old. “The guys have worked so hard to design and build the car. It’s a totally new challenge.
“I’ve never been off to a flying start. The shunt at Brands last year was bad so I really need to get out there and score some good points.”
Despite the odd new-car teething problems, Shedden is confident he can be in the mix.
“The aim is to score as many points as possible. I think there’ll be some ebbing and flowing at the start of the season as they adjust the boost levels for the different cars.
“If the Civic is capable of winning we’ve got to try and win, if it’s capable of fifth we need to make sure that’s where we finish. Hopefully we’ll taste the champagne again after the winter – six months is a long time!”
With Brands reporting pre-sales of BTCC tickets at record levels, Shedden is also looking forward to going wheel-to-wheel with rivals again.
“Brands provides a fantastic amphitheatre and I’m looking forward to getting out there and putting on a show for all the fans,” he added. “Now we’re going racing and that’s what it’s all about.”