Vauxhall aims high
"Make no bones about it, we hope to carry on where we left off last season."
Bold words from Vauxhall Motorsport Team Manager, Ian Harrison, but they sum up perfectly the mood in the Vauxhall camp as team and drivers prepare for the opening round of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship which takes place this Easter Bank Holiday weekend at Kent's Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
It is almost six months since the mighty Astra Coupés of reigning champions, Vauxhall, took to a race circuit in anger and after a winter of re-designing, refining and rigorous testing, it is time for the Astra Coupés to defend their titles and reputation against some of the staunchest competition the BTCC has seen for years. Britain's premiere motor racing series, the British Touring Car Championship is about to begin.
The ten-round BTCC will feature no less than six Vauxhall Astra Coupés this year with Vauxhall Motorsport's aces, Briton, James Thompson and Frenchman, Yvan Muller headlining the act. Although starting his ninth consecutive year in the BTCC, Yorkshireman, Thompson is chomping at the bit to get out there this weekend; "It's been a long build-up and it will be nice to get the first round under my belt. I'm really looking forward to getting the competition started."
Driving alongside the Vauxhall Motorsport duo in the Egg Sport Team Astra Coupés is four-times Independent's Champion, Matt Neal and Liverpudlian, Paul O'Neill. Whilst O'Neill graduates from the production class and will be using the year to gain as much experience as possible, Birmingham's Matt Neal can be expected to be running right in the thick of it. And completing the set in two Barwell Motorsport-run Astra Coupés is 17-year-old, Tom Chilton and World Superbike star, Aaron Slight.
The race against time to make Vauxhall's 2002 challenger another genuine title contender has been tight but the Triple Eight Race Engineering prepared and run Astra Coupés have once again dominated pre-season testing with Matt Neal and James Thompson topping the times at the Silverstone and Brands Hatch TOCA tests respectively. However, Team Manager, Harrison has his feet firmly planted on the ground and his desire to prove the Astra Coupé capable of a repeat of its 2001 performance is quelled with a dose of realism.
"We do hope to carry on where we left off last season but whether or not the opposition will let us, we don't know yet! It won't be until after Monday's races have been won or lost, that the size of the battle ahead will become apparent and we are making no assumptions about our chances this year," said Harrison.
"What I can say, however, is that there will be no team orders and I expect all our drivers to give everything they've got. The pressure is on," Harrison concludes.