By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
Teams get First Taste Of New 300 Layout
With the start of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season growing ever closer several leading BTCC teams took the opportunity to get a first taste of the brand new '300' configuration at Snetterton in Norfolk during unofficial testing.
The teams will visit the circuit for the first time proper at the beginning of August but Honda Racing, Airwaves Racing, Team Aon, Tech-speed, WSR and Eurotech Racing all were present as they continue to step up there preparations for the season, with the official season unveiling just a week away.
Honda Racing began there pre season testing at Brands Hatch last week in a rather low key fashion with the team completing just a shakedown lap as they suffered teething trouble using their new Turbo NGTC engine prepared by Neil Brown engineering. Despite the troubled start Honda Racing decided to stay at Brands for an extra day after the public day where they were able to get good mileage under their belts.
During the Snetterton test however all went to plan with Neal in the sole Honda Racing Civic completing 53 laps setting the best time of the day in the afternoon being the only driver the brake the 1min 59 barrier.
Neal was clearly hugely encouraged by his days work particularly due to his lack of running and said, "It's a great start for us considering the others have been running for a month or so. It's actually got me quite excited about our prospects, but I'm not getting carried away - I'm sure the others have something more up their sleeves."
Next up was Mat Jackson in the Airwaves Racing Ford Focus. Jackson was the quickest driver in the morning but had to settle for second overall after seeing his time beaten in the afternoon. Team mate Liam Griffin also continued to get to grips with a BTCC car following his promotion from the Motorbase's Porsche Carrera Cup team.
Sadly for Griffin he also continued to give the Motorbase team some less than appreciated extra work by ripping his front bumper off and headlights off the Focus following a spin at the high speed Bombhole corner following his high-speed trip through the gravel last week at Brands Hatch.
Birthday boy Tom Chilton continued to put in some valuable testing in the all-new 2011 spec Team Aon Global Ford Focus Touring Car. After a slow start to the day Chilton picked up his speed considerably in the afternoon and ended the day in third place with his afternoon time.
Team Aon will continue for a second day tomorrow in a private test where it is expected that they will give other drivers Andy Neate and Phil Glew all be it unconfirmed the opportunity to test the new car.
Paul O'Neill was next up in the Tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze. This was O'Neill's second outing in the Jason Plato's winning RML Cruze from 2010. Although no official announcement as been made yet O'Neill seems certain to be driving the car in 2011 and must be in with a good shout of Independent glory and a strong chance of taking his first victory series since 2003.
In fifth was the first of the two Vauxhall Vectra's driven by Andrew Jordan powered by TOCA's Sindon prepared NGTC engine in his Pirtek sponsored Vectra. His team mate Jeff Smith was also present for the first time in full livery. Although being run by the same team as Jordan, Smith was present in an all white livery sponsored by I.C.D and will be car 55 for the season. Smith only took part in the afternoon session and finish bottom of the time sheets.
The final team to take part at Snetterton was WSR with both drivers taking part in an all white livery. The teams sponsors are set to be announced at next weeks media day at Silverstone. Rob Collard finished in 6th still within 800th of a second to Neal's fastest time with rookie team mate Nick Forster half a second and a further place behind Collard.
Away from Snetterton former Mini racer and BTCC rookie Chris James got his first taste of his ES Racing Chevrolet Lacetti at Donnington. James quotes on his facebook page that he was within 0.5seconds off Platos times from when the series visited the circuit last year although he did admit to a small mistake and said, "I thought I'd drive just one more lap, but I got a little too close to the edge of the track and put a wheel on to the grass. The next thing I knew I was sliding sideways. Luckily the only damage done was a broken splitter - it could have been a lot worse."
It's actually got me quite excited about our prospects.
While Special Tuning Racing (STR) were busy testing at Silverstone at the end of last week with the main purpose of the test was to continue the development of their all-new VW group TFSI engine has developed by Liechtenstein company Lehmann. However the team also managed to test four different drivers including their one driver who is certain for a drive Tom Boardman.
Testing the Seat Leon were Porsche racer Mark Hazell as well as Martin Depper and Tom Onslow-Cole.
Depper ran for the first time last year in the BTCC with Forster Motorsport who he had run with for many years in the Mini Challenge. At the beginning of the year Depper stated that he would continue with Forster Motorsport although his BMW, which he ran last year, was up for sale but would continue with until he found a suitable front wheel drive car. No official news has yet been made on Forster Motorsport but with Depper out testing the Seat this surely raises question over the team participation in 2011.
As for Onslow-Cole he still remains hot favourite to be named as Airwaves Racing third driver following his year and part season at Team Aon although he has not been in a Touring Car since the end of last season.. Onslow-Cole was a star in 2010 but had to play second fiddle to team-mate Chilton last year particularly at Silverstone last season having to let him past to deny him two certain victories. Although it always seemed likely he would depart Team Aon the thought of seeing him end up at STR would be quite a shock.
After the test Onslow-Cole said, "It was only a short run but the handling was very strong and the new NGTC-spec engine they have is very good as well - there's a nice, smooth delivery of power. OK, I've not been in a car for six months so it's difficult to compare to the others, but from what I experienced this looks like a very good package."
As already mentioned the official Media day is now just over a week away and 2011 is already shaping up to be a great year. At least 28 cars are expected to be confirmed at Silverstone on the 24th March and of course Motorsport.com will be on hand to give you all the news not just from the day but also on any news, which develops prior. So be sure to stay logged in and not miss any news as it happens.