• Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal ready to tackle fastest circuit in the country
• Civic Tourer on the march after its maiden BTCC triumph at Donington Park
• Honda Yuasa Racing won all three races at Thruxton in 2013
Honda Yuasa Racing has more silverware in its sights as the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship speeds into the fastest circuit in the country this Bank Holiday weekend (3/4 May) – Thruxton.
After the Honda Civic Tourer secured the maiden success for an ‘estate’ style car in the BTCC at Donington Park last time out, the team is looking to maintain its burgeoning momentum at the fearsome high-speed Hampshire circuit.
It was an epic last-gasp overtake by Gordon Shedden that sealed the team’s first victory of the year in Leicestershire, and the 2012 BTCC Champion now sits just a single point shy of the top of the title standings. Having twice ascended the highest step of the rostrum at Thruxton en route to clinching the drivers’ crown two years ago, ‘Flash’ knows just what is needed to tame the track’s formidable reputation.
“To win race three at Donington was absolutely awesome,” the Scot enthused.
“Every win you achieve is rewarding, but that one was particularly special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we made a bit of history as the first Tourer ever to win a touring car race, which was no mean feat in itself, and secondly, it was just a cracking race – probably one of the best I’ve ever driven. I had to come from some way back, and it’s not often you pass so many champions and winners in such a short space of time – and what a climax from the crowd’s point-of-view, going right down to the last corner on the last lap of the day!
“Now, I’m really looking forward to Thruxton. It’s a fantastic circuit and one that poses a genuine challenge. The racing is always very close with all the slip-streaming that goes on, and the number of quick corners means you really need to be at one with your car. The paradox is that although it’s the fastest circuit we go to, you don’t necessarily have to have the out-and-out fastest car to win there.
“As a driver, you tend to breathe a sigh of relief if you get to the end of the race at Thruxton and you’ve still got four tyres and some air pressure inside them! Historically, I’ve had a decent run there in the Civic hatchback and the Civic Tourer should be a pretty potent weapon, so I’m returning full of confidence.”
Shedden’s Honda Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal similarly enjoyed a strong showing at his local circuit last time out, scoring a podium in the final race to complete another excellent points haul for the squad.
The triple BTCC title-winner is firmly in touch in the chase for the crown. Sitting just eight points adrift of the lead heading to Thruxton, he is in confident spirits.
“It was great to see ‘Flash’ break the duck with the new car at Donington,” Neal reflected. “That was really something special. I’ve always tried to take each weekend as it comes, and although it wasn’t a perfect one for me, I still scored a lot of points. To be close to the top but a little further down in the classification is a blessing in many ways – we’ll have less ballast on-board than our rivals, so we need to capitalise upon that.
“I love Thruxton, but weirdly, until last year it hadn’t been a place where I’d had a lot of luck. Last season there was amazing for me, though, and hopefully the aerodynamics of the Civic Tourer will suit the track. We did some testing over the winter which should help us a bit, but to be honest, the ambient temperatures were much colder so whilst it was great to get the track time, we’ll still have a lot to learn this weekend.”
As Neal attests, Thruxton was a happy hunting-ground indeed for the Pershore-based outfit in 2013. The 2005, 2006 and 2011 Champion claimed a sensational double triumph in the opening two races, with Shedden making it three-out-of-three for the team in the final contest. There will be some different challenges this season, however, as every circuit visited provides a new learning curve with the bold Civic Tourer.
The fast, flowing nature of Thruxton ought to suit the sleek aerodynamic design of the striking red-and-white machines, and so far this year the car has proven to be well-balanced on its tyres. This bodes well for racing around a track that requires championship tyre-supplier Dunlop to bring a special super-hard compound to cope with the significant and often spectacular demands that it presents.
“We hoped for the win at Donington Park, but for it to actually happen was fantastic,” confessed Honda Yuasa Racing Team Manager Peter Crolla. “Every race meeting is a bit of an unknown for us this year, especially having to learn the new construction tyres as well as the new car, so our priority each weekend is to score as many points as we can and learn as much as possible.
“It was a great drive from Gordon in race three – we hadn’t quite got the balance in the first two races, but we nailed it for that one. He didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and whilst our tyre strategy didn’t work for Matt in Qualifying, it was great for him to grab a podium too.
“Thruxton is always a massive test both from a driver and an engineering perspective. That said, we think our car is quite sympathetic on its tyres, and we know both drivers will be able to pull out the maximum performance possible. The key is to make the finish line and avoid throwing away points by being too aggressive and overworking the tyres. We’re lucky in that both of our drivers are hugely experienced and will make the most of this weekend.”
As ever, a huge trackside audience is anticipated, and Matt and ‘Flash’ will be meeting and greeting as many avid touring car fans as possible during the pit-lane walkabout session and over at the superb Honda Yuasa Racing hospitality unit.
All of the action from the day’s racing will be broadcast live on ITV4 from 11.00 on 4 May, as Honda seeks to extend its advantage at the top of both the teams’ and manufacturers’ tables.