Vauxhall's Astra Coupes keep the opposition on their toes.
Vauxhall begins the defence of its three titles, 25 wins and 73 podiums this Easter Bank Holiday Weekend and it was Vauxhall Motorsport's BTCC title contenders, Yvan Muller and James Thompson, who set the tone for the opening rounds of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship after topping the time sheets in today's Free Practice sessions. Muller set his fastest time of 1m33.333 in the first of the two sessions with teammate, Thompson just 0.231 seconds behind. Egg Sport's Astra Coupé driver, Matt Neal made it an all Vauxhall top three.
However, the tyre punctures that plagued the Astra Coupés in the last TOCA Test session at Brands Hatch ten days ago, returned to the forefront of the team's priorities. Caused by landing on the high kerbs at Dingle Dell, the notorious section of the 2.6-mile circuit that sees the cars airborne for several metres, the Vauxhall drivers are cautious about their chances for the weekend's races.
"It's disappointing in a way," said Yorkshireman, Thompson who was one of those to suffer with a punctured tyre whilst doing a race simulation. "I have an excellent set-up which unfortunately I can't use. I'm going to have to find a compromise. Although the kerbs have been ground down, they are not as smooth as I would like them to be. It's frustrating knowing that I might not be able to go flat out against the competition this weekend. And that could really affect our championship hopes in the long term."
Despite setting the pace today, Frenchman, Muller knows that anything can happen this weekend saying, "Fastest doesn't really mean a great deal and in the second session, I was only using the right hand kerbs at Dingle Dell. We'll see what happens, maybe when the opposition are really pushing, they will get punctures too. We could just avoid them, but in a race situation when you are behind another car, it is difficult to see your line clearly. I really enjoy Dingle Dell though, it's a big moment when you are in the air for that long!"
Vauxhall Motorsport Team Manager, Ian Harrison knows the team have a tough weekend ahead commenting; "The circuit have done what they can, it's up to us to find a way around it." <pre> Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) Rounds 1&2, Free Practice - Brands Hatch GP - March 30
(Sessions 1 & 2 Combined) 1 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupé 1m33.333 (7+11 laps) 2 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupé 1m33.564 (6+15) 3 Matt Neal Vauxhall Astra Coupé 1m33.717 (8+13) 4 Warren Hughes MG ZS 1m34.405 (8+12) 5 Tom Chilton Vauxhall Astra Coupé 1m34.492 (9+13) 6 Anthony Reid MG ZS 1m34.542 (8+13)