Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
Honda Racing have been busy this week testing their stunning new Next Generation Honda Civic in which they will compete in this season’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Honda confirmed their season’s plans as early as the end of August and are the first of the big teams to test their all-new machine. They hope to get an advantage over their competitors by hitting the track early while their big rivals in 2012, MG with Triple 8 Racing and Jason Plato, face an uphill battle just to be ready for the season.
After extensive work at car development/research specialist MIRA last week, where the car underwent some wind tunnel work before a brief shakedown around their test track, the car made its first public appearance at Brands Hatch on Tuesday. Team boss Steve Neal said after the first test, "It was more of a shakedown than a proper test. We'd done a brief shakedown at MIRA last Friday just to make sure all was OK for Brands. Matt reported a few teething problems, but you expect that with any new car.”
It’s not perfect but if we had to race the car this weekend, I wouldn’t be afraid.
The Civic then moved to Donington Park today (Thursday) where Matt Neal enjoyed a hugely successful day and at the end of the day declared the Civic was already “ready to race” and said, “We’ve taken big steps forward with the car already and have solved most of the problems we experienced at the MIRA shakedown last week. We had a bit of a benchmark, but we’ve just tried to get our heads around everything rather than chasing lap times. It’s not perfect but if we had to race the car this weekend, I wouldn’t be afraid.”
Gordon Shedden, 2011 BTCC runner up to team mate Neal, got his first taste of the NGTC machine at Donington as well and also declared himself very happy after his brief experience behind the wheel saying, “Although brief it was still nice to have that first run in the NGTC Civic, take a look at the lay-out and get an initial feeling of what it’s all about. My own car is well in-build and it’ll be ready sooner rather than later. At the moment it doesn’t matter who drives the car because we’re literally just working through the usual list you have with a new car and ticking all the boxes.
"You’re obviously full of expectation but with big projects like this when you start to work with new regulations there are a lot of different factors that can influence the progress you make and how competitive you are. The team has done a great job, things are starting to become clearer and being out so early means we have plenty of time to work on the car before the start of the season.”
To see the car in action please check out this video from Tuesday’s test at Brands Hatch.
During the video you will also notice the Speedworks NGTC Toyota Avensis belonging to Tony Hughes. Driving the car was in fact double BTCC champion James Thompson. Thompson was the development driver for the original Avensis prototype and has been helping with set up work for Speedworks not only at Brands Hatch but Donington previously. After his latest outing in the car Thompson said, “We’ve taken some notable steps forward with the car compared to where it was at Donington a couple of weeks ago so it was a constructive and enjoyable day. My job today was to give the team a competitive platform on which to work from and now it’s all about making both Tony and Adam comfortable and tailoring the car to them.”
Adam Morgan is Speedworks second driver for 2012 after he received the drive as a prize by Ginetta for winning the Ginetta Supercup in 2011. After Thompson’s set up work, Morgan then sensationally matched Thompson’s time on a damp track in Hughes' car, which he is testing while Morgan’s new generation 2 Avensis is being built. After the test Morgan was delighted with how his day went, particularly after matching the double champions time and said, “It was difficult to get a feel for the car at first because we struggled to get enough heat in the tyres in the damp conditions, but I was really happy with everything because I went on to match James’s times in the wet.
“He went out on a damp track first thing and then I got in the car. He’d been working on finding a decent base set-up and it wasn’t too long before I felt comfortable. James has masses of knowledge and experience with front-wheel-drive touring cars and taught me a lot, but particularly how to manage the car through corners.”
Also present at today’s Donington Park test was Ollie Jackson who took part in his second test for new team AmD Tuning.com in his VW Golf.