By Pat Cranham - BTCC reporter
- Teams enjoy pre-season test at Brands Hatch
- Techspeed secures two Chevrolet Cruzes for this coming season
- Team Aon debuts Ford Focus Touring car
With the start of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship less than 4 weeks away many of the top teams took the opportunity to test at the same circuit whilst there were also some big stories to come through the day.
We start though with the news that Techspeed today tested last year’s winning Chevrolet Cruze as used by RML to take Jason Plato to the 2010 BTCC championship in an all purple livery.
Paul O’Neill did the majority of the running and said at the end of the day; “I now know what all the hype is about with RML. It feels like I’m in a different category with the Cruze. Jason and Alex have been very accommodating to the team. If this comes off we’ll be working hard to win some titles. It would be a great opportunity for a small team like ours.”
Fellow driver from 2010, John George, also took to the wheel briefly before Lunch before having to fly back off to his homeland of Jersey but said, “We were all really impressed with the Chevrolet. It was very smooth to drive and has a very strong engine. It was my first time back behind the wheel of a BTCC car since last year’s final round and it’s gone very well.”
No official announcement has been made yet on the livery choice but when having asked a team member about the colour of the car they said it was because of a sponsor. While a reliable source told Motorsport.com that both George and O’Neill will almost certainly be in Chevrolets for this season with the sponsor set to be in the telecom business. They would also keep some sunshine.co.uk sponsorship due to the owner contributing heavily to the purchase of O’Neill’s Cruze with George being the sole owner of his car.
Following its official unveiling last week at the Geneva Motorshow Team Aon’s global Ford Focus took to the track for the first time with Tom Chilton at the wheel and instantly declaring his love for the new car. After a massive rush to get the car ready in time following the show, the morning didn’t go quite to plan only completing a small handful of laps, by the sound of things due to a turbo problem perhaps with the power boost.
However in the afternoon Chilton was able to complete 55laps and said afterwards, “The car feels just beautiful. We had some teething problems early on but they were fixed at lunchtime and in the afternoon it ran like a dream. But an effort from the people in the team - it's been a really big proper push on their part. Without a doubt the base product is already ahead a better starting-off point. The old car was great; this is just even better. “It feel better on the brakes and over the kerbs and uses its tyres better almost like a BMW. Not only that but without really putting a Brands set-up on it I was still able to match my qualifying time from 2010’s final round. To do that straight out of the box is a great effort.”
Joining Chilton at the test was once again Andy Neate in the 2010 Focus and it now seems certain that he will be driving for the team after Team Aon boss Mike Earle said earlier in the week, “Andy is coming on leaps and bounds. He started off not knowing the car and, from what we’ve seen so far, I think he will be competitive.”
Neate drove the car in the morning. However, an early damper problem in the afternoon put an early end to the car’s day. This was particularly disappointing, as Phil Glew had been pencilled in for testing the car during the afternoon. Yet the same source from earlier said that the 2009 Clio Cup champion had already signed a race deal for the third seat in 2011.
After winning the Clio Cup, Glew had been set to race for Triple 8 in 2010, nevertheless after a positive first race at Thruxton for the team Glew was forced to sit out the rest of the season after the team’s title sponsor pulled out. Although, he did take part in a one-off race at Silverstone for Special Tuning in a Seat Leon.
Airwaves Racing took part in the test at their home circuit with both drivers Mat Jackson and Liam Griffin.
Jackson enjoyed a trouble free day but Griffin had a high-speed trip through the gravel at the first corner, damaging the radiator of the Ford Focus. Unfortunately the team did not have the relevant spares to fix the car on hand. Yet, the team is based so close to the circuit they were able to drive back to the factory, get the parts and then get Griffin back out in the afternoon.
Team manager Olly Jackson said, “We worked on the car’s set-up and, overall, it was a very useful day during which we were able to progress through our test programme. Liam’s off in the morning set us back a bit, but he was able to do some long runs in the afternoon and make a lot of progress. As a team we’ve learnt the car a bit more – we are still trying to learn about the Ford Focus after all – and we feel it was a successful day.”
No news has been made yet over the third driver however they have now taken delivery of the third Focus, albeit with a broken damper, following Team Aon running it in the morning. The car was seen leaving on the back of a Motorbase trailer late in the afternoon.
The team reportedly are keen to run Tom Onslow-Cole, who was present at the test. He is also keen to continue to drive the same car he did last year for Team Aon but it’s unsure whether he has the budget to do so.
RML Chevrolet tested for the first time using the cars from the title winning 2010 World Touring Car Championship. Two cars were present for current champion Plato and for Alex MacDowall who, as expected, has been confirmed for the season. MacDowall continues for the second year with the team following his debut season where he showed great pace scoring two pole positions and a best of second place.
On being confirmed for his second season at Chevrolet MacDowall said, “It’s fantastic to be staying with RML for my second year in the BTCC and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Cruze and begin preparations for the new season. There were some amazing highlights last year and I learnt so much from RML’s Silverline Chevrolet team and from being teammate to Jason. The aim for 2011 is regular podiums and, hopefully, wins too.”
Following a very positive test at Thruxton two weeks ago West Surrey Racing were again present with both drivers Rob Collard and newcomer Nick Foster. However this time not all went to plan with Collard having a trip through the gravel at Turn 1 as well as other problems for the team as Team Boss Dick Bennetts explains, “Rob sensed an imbalance with his car all day, which remains an unsolved mystery so we’ll have to strip it properly. There was also a slight power steering hiccup on Nick’s car, which meant a bit of down time for us, but overall we’re very happy with his progress again. We’ve also got a lot of serious bits still to go on the car for Media Day.”
The final car present at the test was Honda Racing who were testing their new NGTC Turbo engine for the first time. Yet, clearly not all went to plan for the 2010 Manufactures’ and Teams’ champion with Matt Neal only completing one installation lap all day, although the team could now continue to stay on and test tomorrow (Thursday) during the circuit’s general test day.
Away from the test it has also been announced that 2010 Clio Cup Champion Dave Newsham will be the first driver to be confirmed at Geoff Still Racing who will be racing last year’s Airwaves BMW cars.
The 43-year-old Inverness racer said: “I am delighted to have secured this drive, although I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet. We had a fantastic 2010 season winning the Clio Cup title. However, I am under no illusions – this is a big step up for me and moving back-to-rear wheel drive will take some adjusting to. The car makes a big difference in the BTCC and I hope that Geoff Steel Racing can give me a competitive package. If they do, then I am sure we will be up there. We are not doing BTCC simply to make up the numbers. I have never completed a season’s racing without winning at least one race, so my aim is to keep this record going.”