• New Honda Civic Tourer claims a hat-trick of podiums in BTCC curtain-raiser
• Honda snatches an early lead in both manufacturers’ and teams’ standings
• Drivers confident of increased success as season progresses
As the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship roared into life at Brands Hatch Indy last weekend, Honda Yuasa Racing staked its claim to a little bit of tin-top history as the bold new Civic Tourer became the first estate car ever to achieve a podium finish.
The pace of the new Tourer had already been very much in evidence at the championship’s annual Season Launch at Donington Park a week-and-a-half earlier, when 2012 Champion Gordon Shedden had been pipped to the top spot on the timesheets by a scant thousandth of a second by fellow Honda driver Andrew Jordan, in Pirtek Racing’s Civic hatchback.
Both Matt Neal and Shedden confirmed that early promise in qualifying for the 2014 BTCC curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch, lining up fourth and fifth on the starting grid, the former barely a whisker shy of pole position in an immensely close session that saw the leading 23 cars in the 30-strong field all blanketed by less than a second.
Race day took place in front of a bumper crowd all enjoying the spring sunshine, and Neal and Shedden both made progress in the opening encounter, battling their way past the BMW of Colin Turkington to take the chequered flag line-astern in third and fourth places respectively, thereby earning the Civic Tourer its maiden BTCC rostrum at its very first attempt.
The success ballast for race two did not dim the Civic Tourer’s potential, and this time it was Shedden’s turn to shine as the Scot snuck through into second position at the start and proceeded to harass leader Jordan relentlessly, very nearly making a move stick into Paddock Hill Bend on lap seven. ‘Flash’ pushed hard throughout and was delighted to secure a podium of his own, as Neal survived a lively opening lap to cross the finish line fourth.
The third and final outing saw the Tourers line up third (Neal) and fifth (Shedden) on the reverse grid. A late charge by Neal resulted in a penultimate lap pass for the runner-up laurels and a third consecutive rostrum for Honda Yuasa Racing’s BTCC contender, whilst a slight loss of balance following the mid-race safety car period meant Shedden had to settle for sixth.
“I’m chuffed to bits with the results, absolutely over-the-moon,” said Neal. “Ok, we didn’t win a race, but we certainly made our presence felt and threatened the top spot. Every time we go out in this car, we are learning something new and making progress. What’s more, the longer, more sweeping circuits should suit the Tourer a lot better.
“The level of competition in the BTCC is so incredibly high this year that you’ve really got to roll your sleeves up just to stay inside the top ten – but we will always dig deep and find something, so underestimate us at your peril.”
“What a start for the new Civic Tourer!” echoed team-mate Shedden. “I honestly don’t think anybody expected us to come away from the car’s first weekend with a podium in every race. Historically, Brands Hatch Indy has always been my bogey circuit; last year, I left 37 points off the championship lead, so this is a massive turnaround.
“Overall, it was a really good, solid opening meeting. To be this competitive this early is fantastic, especially as we will only improve as we really find the car’s sweet spot – and there are some circuits coming up that should suit the Civic Tourer better. We are firmly in the game, the car is quick enough to win – and there’s plenty more still to come.”
Thanks to its hat-trick of podiums and sextet of top six finishes, Honda has snatched an early advantage in the manufacturers’ title chase, whilst Honda Yuasa Racing similarly leads the teams’ standings. In the drivers’ table, Neal sits second, just two points adrift of double race-winner Jordan, with Shedden five points further back in fourth.
“I’m very happy,” summarised Honda Yuasa Racing Team Manager Peter Crolla. “We were expecting a much tougher time of things, because we didn’t think this circuit would be as well-suited to the Civic Tourer as it ultimately was. The car was strong on both compounds of tyre and from an engineering point-of-view, the whole weekend went very well. We’re making good steps with the Tourer every time we run it.
“We notched up six good points finishes and learned a lot along the way, and to come away with a podium from each race, we couldn’t really have asked for much more than that. This championship will be won by consistency, so it was crucial to get off to a solid start because we’ve left ourselves on the back foot before and paid the price. This time, we’re right in the mix, and we look forward to fortifying our championship positions and moving forward as we head to circuits that should suit the Tourer even better.”