BTCC: Series showcases 2003 season at Brands Hatch

BTCC: Series showcases 2003 season at Brands Hatch

The British Touring Car Championship build-up officially kicked off at Brands Hatch on Wednesday with the annual Media Day, an opportunity for all the hard pre-season work to be brought together into a day of launches, introductions, promotions...

The British Touring Car Championship build-up officially kicked off at Brands Hatch on Wednesday with the annual Media Day, an opportunity for all the hard pre-season work to be brought together into a day of launches, introductions, promotions and testing.

Phil Bennett.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
Tony Jardine, the Director of Jardine Communications and regular Formula One pundit for ITV, welcomed the members of the BTCC fold who had assembled in the crowded media centre. He went on to describe how the series is now in its third 'economical' year and listed the goals and successes achieved during the 2002 season. He also welcomed all the new drivers and sponsors to the series before introducing series co-ordinator Richard West.

"It is a credit to everyone here the work that everybody has put in over the winter months to put their teams together, especially the manufactures who have had the strength and conviction to move ahead into three-car teams" said West, referring to Vauxhall, MG and Honda who are each running three cars.

A significant improvement this season is the broadcasting of the whole package live on satellite television by French channel MotorsTV. West confirmed this, in the presence of executives from the channel, by describing it as "a fantastic step-up for the championship with live television coverage of the series pretty much across the whole of Europe, into the Eastern Block and Asia.". In addition to the television coverage improvements were announced to TOCA Radio in the form of SMS competitions, messaging, and diamond television screens at circuits in the second half of the season.

The top three drivers from the championship in 2002 were given the opportunity to reflect on their success and look forward to the new season. Matt Neal, who finished in third place, spoke about his ten years of experience in the championship: "It's kind of weird because I've always been either the younger up-and-coming or there's a group of us who in Touring Cars have always come up from being in the same age group, and suddenly I'm the older one. So everyone's looking to me and it's a new scenario for me really."

Yvan Muller, the championship runner up, spoke about the challenges that he expects from the other drivers: "For sure James will be a very competitive driver, but we can expect as well the MG, the Proton and the Honda. We don't know where we are at the level, but for sure I think the championship will be more tight than in the past."

James Thompson is the defending champion and is again looking forward to racing alongside Muller: "I'm very very proud to have won the championship last year as it has taken a lot of years of trying to win it, but it was a fierce battle and at Brands Hatch here it was a perhaps a little fiercer than it should have been, but we had a great year and to take it down to the wire was definitely the best thing for the championship. Yvan yet again is going to be very very stiff competition."

Yvan Muller, Paul O'Neill and James Thompson.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
After the press conference the Vauxhall team took the opportunity to unveil their 2003 contender, the VX Racing Vauxhall Astra Coupe, in front of their garage in the pitlane.

During the afternoon the track was open for testing on Indy circuit - the 1.2 road course that will be used for the London Champ Car Trophy race next month. MG set the pace with Warren Hughes fastest in his MG SZ and team-mate Colin Turkington in third place, who was beaten to second by Honda's Matt Neal on his last lap. The Vauxhall team completed 233 laps between the three drivers as they, like the other teams, worked on their final preparations before the first race of the season.

The session passed without major incident and the only stoppages were due to Tom Boardman coasting to a halt at Paddock Hill Bend with a broken gearbox and Chris Ryan spinning off near the end of a flying lap.

Session times:
1 Warren Hughes (MG ZS) 49.219s
2 Matt Neal (Honda Civic Type-R) 49.343s
3 Colin Turkington (MG ZS) 49.460s
4 Gavin Pyper (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.519s
5 Yvan Muller (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.574s
6 Paul O'Neill (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.608s
7 Anthony Reid (MG ZS) 49.616s
8 James Thompson (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 49.625s
9 Tom Chilton (Honda Civic Type-R) 49.649s
10 Phil Bennett (Proton Impian) 49.813s

The first round of the British Touring Car Championship will take place at Mondello Park in Ireland on 20-21 April.

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