By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter - Motorsport.com
Several leading Dunlop MSA British Touring Car teams took advantage of Thruxton's only general test session of the year to get an early advantage over their competitors.
West Surrey Racing, Team Aon and Pirtek Racing were all present at the fastest circuit in the country although their first day was hampered by wet conditions. Also present at the test was TOCA's prototype NGTC Toyota Avensis gaining yet more valuable mileage in preparation for when teams start taking delivery of the car before the start of the season.
This was WSR's first track action of 2011 and had both drivers present to test at their local circuit having been only announced this week.
Rob Collard, who will continue to drive for the team for the second consecutive season looked at home on either wet or dry conditions. Meanwhile BTCC rookie Nick Foster took part in his first full test, quickly adapting to the BMW and looked to be not far off Collards pace in dry conditions on day 2.
Like everyone present WSR team boss Dick Bennets was left frustrated by the day one conditions and said following the first day, "We didn't bother doing too much running today because the weather conditions were so changeable - it was too dry for wets and too wet for slicks so we ended up just doing a few laps at the end of the afternoon session to shake down the car because Rob hasn't driven since last October."
He then went on to praise newcomer Foster, "Nick did a good job, too. Thruxton is quite a hard one - in fact I think it's the toughest track in Britain because it's so high speed and because of the bumps and this is especially true in wet conditions. Hopefully during day 2 we'll be able to find our feet in the dry and also help Nick get dialed in more."
Collard was however pleased at the end of day 2 after a day of dry running but remained cautious by saying, "It's difficult to tell just how much progress you're making until you finally come up against everyone else but, in what has been our first proper run, I'd say the car already feels better for the changes that have been made in the workshop. I'm really pleased with how the day has gone."
Tom Chilton was once again using the 2010 spec Ford Focus which will shortly be on its way to Motorbase for Team Aon, as the team used the test to put more mileage on the petrol powered Mountune Turbo engine. Chilton was also joined once again by Andy Neate who looks certain to be joining him at Team Aon, although he only got the chance to drive a few laps during day 2 due to a number of stoppages through the day caused by heavy crashes and Chilton damaging the Ford's splitter during the morning.
Despite only managing a few laps Neate still almost managed to collide with his 2010 team mate from WSR as Collard explains, "I caught Andy so quickly through the previous corner at Noble but as we swung right into Goodwood it was like he just stood on the brakes on the apex. I ended up fully sideways in order to miss him - how I didn't hit him I do not know,"
Pirtek Racing were also on track as they manage to get used to their new NGTC Turbo engine built by Toca's engine developer Swindon. Sadly, for Pirtek in particular and regular driver Andrew Jordan, the test wasn't as productive as hoped with reliability issues as well as being frustrated by the rain.
In the morning during day one Jordan ran ok right up until the end of the first session of the day until he pitted with his car sounding rather flat. Sadly for Jordan he failed to get onto the track for the second session but said at the end of day one, "It wasn't the most productive of days but the latest TOCA engine which we use has a bit more power so we've learnt a few things on how to get the power down in damp conditions. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, though, as the weather is meant to be much better."
However his day two wasn't much better either, cutting on the first lap out of the pits in the morning. Although he did put in some laps during the session, clearly all was not well with the Vectra as Jordan was not his normal attacking self. He didn't even make the track during the afternoon after a damper failure.
Joining Jordan at the test was new team mate Jeff Smith who graduates from the Clio Cup having had a one off meeting for Triple 8 last year at Knockhill.
Smith still getting used to the Vectra particularly at Thruxton started off cautiously but by the end of the day was attacking the chicane more rigorously using more and more of the kerbs.
Also on track was Toca's own NGTC prototype gaining more valuable mileage. The Avensis on day one was driven by ex BTCC works driver Kelvin Burt concentrating on component durability. While on day two American Le Mans series star and brother of IRL champion Dario -- Mario Franchetti took the hot seat testing Dunlop's all new 18-inch NGTC Thruxton-spec slick tyre which was described as satisfactory.
Also taking to the track for day two was Speedworks driver Tony Hughes. Hughes was testing last season's winning Clio Cup car as he gets used to front wheel drive before taking delivery of one of the Avensis's.
Sadly for Hughes he was one of three drivers who crashed heavily in a Clio although thankfully he didn't roll the car like a fellow competitor did and was able to leave with a clean bill of health from the medical staff.