BTCC: Vauxhall Mondello preview

BTCC visits Ireland's Mondello Park It's official -- the Vauxhall Astra Coupes being campaigned in this year's www.theAA.com British Touring Car Championship are just too good. In an unprecedented step by championship officials, all four Astra ...

BTCC visits Ireland's Mondello Park It's official -- the Vauxhall Astra Coupes being campaigned in this year's www.theAA.com British Touring Car Championship are just too good. In an unprecedented step by championship officials, all four Astra Coupes will, from next weekend's rounds at Mondello Park on June 16/17, carry an additional 30kgs to their minimum weight. The Astra Coupes currently fill the top four spots in the championship standings.

Three of the four Astra Coupe drivers; current championship leader, Yvan Muller, Jason Plato and James Thompson (Egg Sport), are already ladened with 60kgs of success ballast following their run of wins and podium finishes in the previous eight rounds of the championship. This latest move, therefore, sees all three carrying 90kgs in extra weight -- the equivalent of a 14-stone passenger; a Derek Warwick or Mike Nicholson for example !

There is no doubt that the trip across the water to Mondello Park's 2.268-mile circuit is going to prove a tough challenge for the team. Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller, who leads the championship by just 9 points ahead of teammate, Plato, is more than aware of the battle that lies ahead. He is however, believed to be one of the few, if not the only, BTCC driver competing to have previous experience of the Irish circuit, albeit before its recent improvements.

"For sure it will be a challenge, not only to win but because of the braking situation, just to finish. If I remember Mondello correctly, there are lots of braking points with no really long straights to cool the brakes down. If it's warm, then that too will be a factor."

This is backed by teammate, Jason Plato; "We are right on the edge with brakes as it is. In reality, it isn't just 30kgs extra because of the g-forces we're pulling under braking."

Oxford-based Plato has high hopes for the forthcoming weekend following his double win at the Silverstone night races. Lying second in the championship on 99 points, he is the first to admit he needs to win in Ireland to get his championship challenge back on track commenting: "I'm sure the other Vauxhall drivers are going to be quick, so it will be a good pair of races, but I just have to keep putting the pressure on. The plan is to go to Mondello with the team and car both 100% so we can start the weekend in the best possible shape."

A new circuit on the BTCC calendar, Mondello presents a different set of challenges to other rounds. "I've never been to Mondello before and I'm really looking forward to it with anticipation," said Plato. "It's going to be fun learning the circuit and setting-up the Astra Coupe in the short amount of time we've got. We are all starting from scratch and gear ratios and so forth will have to be sorted."

Vauxhall Motorsport Team Manager, Derek Warwick, believes next weekend's rounds will be a great asset to the championship saying: "I think it's important for the development of the touring cars that we go to Ireland -- a new circuit with new spectators. They understand and love motor racing over there. We've been trying for two or three years now and they've invested a lot in the circuit. It will also be a refreshing change from the UK circuits, a completely different set of circumstances -- I'm looking forward to it."

Unlike previous rounds in the championship, teams will be allowed a one-hour test session on Friday 15, June prior to Rounds 9 & 10 at the weekend.

BTC Touring qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon between 3.15pm and 3.45pm. The traditional pit walkabout and autograph session takes place on Sunday morning between 11.15am and midday with the day's racing activities starting with the 15-lap Sprint Race at 12.30pm. The main 30-lap Feature gets under way at 3.15pm.

-Vauxhall Motorsport

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