Honda Yuasa Racing Team stars Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden will be looking to continue their strong start to the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship as the series moves to Thruxton this weekend.
Neal and Shedden have already taken victories in the first season of the NGTC Honda Civic, and Thruxton provided a great weekend for them in 2011. Shedden led a Honda one-two in race one last year, while Neal returned the favour in the second encounter.
Shedden, who currently lies fifth in the standings while Neal sits in second, is certainly a Thruxton fan. “I’ve had some great results there and some terrible times with punctures,” he said. “It’s always been exciting!
“Thruxton is a unique challenge. You either take to it or you don’t and I love it.”
Despite BTCC rules limiting the Honda’s turbo boost and restricting their straightline speed, many other cars have been allowed more boost for Thruxton under the championship’s lap-time equalisation regulations. Shedden hopes the Civic’s fine chassis will help negate the disadvantage.
“You need a good, balanced chassis, but it’s the fastest track in the UK so you need straightline speed as well,” said Shedden, who will also run with 9kg of success ballast compared to Neal’s 36kg. “The target is to score as many points as possible. I’m reasonably light so hopefully that will help in qualifying, then we’ll see how it pans out.”
The high-speed Hampshire circuit is notoriously hard on tyres too, and Dunlop has produced special rubber for the event. Despite suffering no problems last year, Shedden believes the switch to the NGTC Civic creates an unknown. “It’s a completely different beast, so it’s a clean sheet of paper really,” he said. “It’s a different tyre and we don’t know how the set-up will work with it.
“The first two practice sessions will be crucial, but Matt and I will work together to find the right set-up for qualifying.”
Reigning champion Neal, who is just four points behind the points leader, also believes tyres will be key. “The 18-inch NGTC tyre is meant to be more bulletproof than the old one, but no-one has run the new tyre at the speed and with the weight we’ll have,” he said. “On paper it should be better.”
Despite a mixed history with the circuit, Neal also likes racing at Thruxton. “It’s never been a happy hunting ground for me, but I love it,” he added. “It’s unspoiled and is a big-commitment circuit.
“They’ve flattened the chicane this year so it will be a learning curve to see how much speed you can take through there, but apart from that I don’t think it’s changed since I first raced there in the BTCC in the early 1990s.”
The Thruxton action gets under way at 09:30am on Saturday with free practice. Qualifying is at 3:20pm, and the first of three races on Sunday is scheduled for 11:37am.