Paul Radisich Previews The 1998 British Touring Car Championship
With only four weeks to go before we're all lining up on the grid at Thruxton, the teams got together this week for the first of five TOCA tests. Most of the teams, including ourselves, have benefited from some overseas tests to iron out teething problems, but our Oulton Park test this week was really the first opportunity for us to judge our performance and make some comparisons. Certainly our winter test programme has highlighted the areas where we need to revise our original thinking, however, that's exactly what this period of time is meant to do - seek out the problems allowing teams the time to solve them before we get to the first round of the championship.
We came back from Oulton Park encouraged by our performance over the two days, my team-mate Tim Harvey only three-tenths off the best time of the test. In spite of the intermittent rain curtailing our dry-running on Thursday, Tim posted the fourth fastest time and we both felt the improvements to the 406 worked well on the Oulton Park track. Like a number of drivers ( including Rydell and Plato ) I was caught short and couldn't post a fast lap before the rain set in, so I never got a chance to run on the best tyres. But with two complete days we were able to concentrate on chassis development, making reasonably good progress. I am still using the 97 car with 98 modifications, on which we try and test development parts and we are planning for me to be in my 98 car for the Silverstone test at the end of this month.
In terms of the revisions to the 97 car, the new 406 is completely different in the positioning of its engine mounting and we also have a new gearbox, different suspension and a stronger shell. Once we believe the new package is performing at its optimum level, we will then focus on perfecting set-ups for each individual circuit. I am often asked how I rate Peugeot the ingredients are in place I am sure 1998 will deliver Peugeot its best year in BTCC. All we have to do is ensure we find the most complete recipe to win races, which the 406 is most definitely capable of doing. It is quite difficult to make any kind of prediction about the teams fortunes this season - on the evidence so far you would have to say Williams Renault will be a consistent front-runner and I am sure Honda and Nissan will give them a good run for their money. The Renault is still quick in testing but Honda have improved their package, it's really more a question of consistency over the whole season, which Williams have already proved to be their strength.These three teams will be ready to go from day one. Audi and Volvo have new packages and undoubtedly the Volvo is quick, but not yet consistent.
Saying all that, this season should provide a less predictable and more varied results sheet at each round owing to the mandatory pitstops and one lap qualifying. I would say by the time we have all tested at Silverstone at the end of March we will all have a much better indication of our performance ratings.