Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
With a little over 2 weeks until the start of the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, many of the leading teams took the opportunity to test at a sunny Brands Hatch. The venue will be the first round on April 1st, alongside cars from the Porsche Carrera Cup GB and Ginetta Supercup, which are both support races to the BTCC.
Teams present at the test included Honda Yuasa Racing, West Surrey Racing, ES Racing, Motorbase Performance, AmD Tuning.com, and Tony Gilham. However, most eyes were on the public debut of the Pirtek Racing team and their newly acquired New Generation Honda Civics built by Team Dynamics, the men behind the works Honda effort.
Both drivers, Andrew Jordan and Jeff Smith, were in action for Pirtek Racing. Jordan was appearing in full 2012 livery and had a brief shakedown of the car prior to the test. After a steady start, he showed some good pace, particularly just before lunch, putting in what looked to be some quick laps. As for Smith, this was his first test in the car and he only got out on the circuit just before lunch to put in a few shakedown laps, but stepped up his testing after the lunch hour.
I wondered if we’d left our testing a bit too late but we’ve made huge progress immediately today.
After the test Jordan was left hugely encouraged by his day and admits he has no excuses in 2012 and said, “I’m actually feeling a bit relieved. I wondered if we’d left our testing a bit too late but we’ve made huge progress immediately today. The signs are very good. I’ve no excuses. I’ve got the same kit as Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden are getting with the factory Honda team and we’re getting support from Dynamics who’ve built those cars. I should be pushing for the outright title, if not then at least the independent titles. It’s down to me.”
Honda Racing has been testing constantly since first unveiling their all new Civic at Brands Hatch less than a month ago. Despite the team making all the right noises about how testing is going, insiders have told Motorsport.com that not all is going to plan and that certainly looked to be the case today. Both drivers didn’t complete as many laps as they would have wanted which included Gordon Shedden completing just one out lap in the afternoon. Although, he did complete more laps in the morning, and while there was no official timing, Shedden didn’t look on the pace. The same can be said for reigning champion Matt Neal whose day was a role reversal of Shedden. After sitting out much of the morning Neal did eventually manage to string together some laps in the afternoon but like his team mate, looked off the pace.
For West Surrey Racing, who will be known as eBay Motors for 2012, this marked the first day of running with their new turbo as prepared by Neil Brown Engineering the same people behind the Honda engines. Rob Collard who starts his third season for the team tested in the morning before handing over to new recruit Tom Onslow-Cole, who returns to the team after driving for WSR in 2007, which would have been the last time he has raced a rear wheel drive car. Third driver Nick Foster was not present at the test.
After his morning in the car Collard declared he was very happy with the first signs and said, “I was very pleasantly surprised with the car. The reliability was excellent – it ran faultlessly all day. I managed 50 laps this morning and the chassis seems to handle the extra torque from the turbo engine very well. The rate of tyre wear was also very good. It’s early days and there’s still a lot of set-up work to be done but it’s a very good start.”
It was very much a tale of two drivers for ES Racing in their ex Triple 8 Racing Vauxhall Vectra. Team Boss Chris James already had his first taste of the car last week at Silverstone, however for new driver Dave Newsham this was his first taste of the multiple championship winning car.
Despite this Newsham looked on the pace immediately and will certainly be one to watch next year if today was anything to go by. Speaking at the end of the day the 2010 Clio champion admitted that he was blown away with the car after his first experience, “The car blew me away – it’s better than I could have ever imagined and I thought it was going to be good! I felt comfortable very quickly and our times proved very comparable with the car’s form around here last season, despite us not having the correct gear ratios fitted. But it’s only practice and we won’t find out our true pace in relation to everybody else until the first qualifying session.”
However there was less good news for James. After reporting encouraging lap times at Silverstone James was keen to impress again when it ended in disaster trying to keep up with his team mate as the former mini racer explains, “My team-mate Dave Newsham and I were circulating in formation so the photographers could get some nice photos, unfortunately they have some other photos now. It’s the biggest hit I’ve ever had in motor racing. I put a rear wheel in the gravel on the exit and round it went. There’s a lot of damage and it’s obviously a massive set-back particularly after such an encouraging first test with the car at Silverstone last week and with the Media Day launch coming up and the season just a few weeks away.”
Motorbase were present with all three drivers, Mat Jackson, Liam Griffin and newcomer 2011 Clio Cup runner up Aron Smith. The team will once again run Ford Focus’ and appeared in a plain red livery before unveiling their title sponsor on Monday at Media day. The team completed plenty of laps in the morning but sadly had to pack up early due to a mechanical issue affecting all three cars. Speaking at the end of the day Team manager Oly Collins gave this assessment of the day, “We had a really good morning and saw more development with the car. Aron’s progress has also been cracking. It’s good to come away with what we believe is a set-up on the car for when we return for the first round in a fortnight. Unfortunately we had a minor issue that affected all three cars this afternoon so had to call it a day earlier than we’d hoped.”
This will be AmD Tuning’s third season within the series but this marks the team’s first year benefiting from a full pre-season, allowing new drive Ollie Jackson to get used to the VW Golf as he prepares for his first full run in the series following his two meetings last season with Triple 8. Things however didn’t go as planned for the team today, as Jackson agreed and said, “We’ve had better days. We had a brand new engine but it let go in quite a significant way and we’re not really sure why. Despite that, the changes we’ve made to the Golf’s geometry and suspension set-up has made a massive difference to the front end and our pace was very good even though we were running with reduced turbo boost levels.”
The final car to take to the track today was Tony Gilham who got his first brief taste of the all-conquering Honda Civic from last year belonging to Gordon Shedden. Gilham only took delivery of the car this morning which was brought to the track by Honda. This looked like it took Gilham by surprise as he didn’t have a transporter at the circuit. However by mid-morning a van had appeared with a few essentials and after lunch he completed just a few shakedown laps before heading off back to his local workshop to start turning the all white car into his Green and Pink machine prior to media day. Gilham has yet to officially confirm but he is set to run the car himself as part of a new team which he has set up, although the name of his team has yet to be unveiled.
The next time we will see the cars on track will be at Silverstone on Monday for the official unveiling of the Championship at Media day. As well as the final drivers and teams being confirmed the day will also be the first time that all cars will be on track in the afternoon for official testing. Motorsport.com will of course be present at the Media day so for the complete drivers list for 2012 and full reviews from the day be sure to return on Monday for all your BTCC news.
All quotes courtesy of btcc.net