Vauxhall Sets Testing Pace As Newcomer SEAT Impresses
Vauxhall headed the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship's first official test session of 2004, held at Donington Park (yesterday), as James Thompson set the pace ahead of team-mate and reigning champion Yvan Muller. BTCC newcomer SEAT, meanwhile, enjoyed a trouble-free debut run with its Toledo Cupras as drivers Jason Plato and Robert Huff each set very respectable lap times.
On a new track surface that provided extra grip, Thompson headed the timesheets with a best lap of one minute, 13.793 seconds - considerably faster than any previous official lap record since new BTCC car rules were introduced in 2001.
Behind Muller, in third, was the highest-placed HarrierZeuros Independents Trophy runner Matt Neal, in his Team Dynamics Computeach Racing-run Honda Civic Type-R. Next up was 18-year-old Tom Chilton, in official Honda team Arena's Type-R, who believed he could have beaten Thompson's time had his final, late run not been thwarted by the chequered flag.
Privateer Jason Hughes in his Kartworld Racing MG ZS was credited with an excellent fifth fastest time after sharing the car with official MG team West Surrey Racing driver Colin Turkington as the pair worked through a development programme. Defending Independent champion Rob Collard, in his Collard Racing Vauxhall Astra Coupe, completed the top six.
Plato and Huff ended the day 14th and 16th fastest overall - around 1.5 seconds off Thompson's fastest time. Plato said: "This test was to find out about the cars and the first signs are extremely encouraging. We worked on various set-ups and have found quite a few exciting things. If I'd gone out and pushed as hard as I would on a qualifying lap then you'd have seen another half second at least come off that time."
The BTCC's first ever gas-powered car, Mardi Gras Motorsport's unique Honda Civic Type-R driven by John George, was also in action and was 18th fastest.