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Honda duo focussed on Tourer testing

Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were amongst a large group of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship drivers that took advantage of a general test day at Thruxton on Tuesday (19 February).

The two former champions drove both the 2013 Honda Civic and the new-for-2014 Civic Tourer that will contest the 30 rounds this season – “At the moment its all about getting miles on the car and learning as much as we can”, said Shedden at the end of the afternoon’s running. “Today was my first time in the Tourer and it’s given us running in all kinds of conditions – it’s good preparation because with Thruxton where it is on the calendar you never know what the weather is going to be doing! It’s also the only chance we get to come and test here, so it’s important to maximise the opportunity. It’s also important to run the new car alongside last year’s car so we know exactly what the differences are and how we can make the Tourer perform – we’ve still got a way to go, but thankfully it’s still only February and we’ve got time to get the car where we need it to be.”

Despite sharing the same chassis configuration as the hatchback model, the Tourer has presented the team with new challenges to overcome. Neal, who kickstarted the switch to the Tourer model at the end of last season, explained, “Everyone on the outside expects that the cars won’t be any different, but they really are. It’s not just the chassis set-up that we’re working on – we’ve got a lot to do with the engine too. The rules used to mean that we couldn’t use the Honda engine, but now the VTEC system is allowed there’s a lot of development still to do. We had some gremlins early on but we’re getting to grips with it now – it really is all systems go at the moment!”

The two drivers have had quite contrasting fortunes at the Hampshire circuit over the course of their careers, with Shedden enjoying no fewer than five wins there whilst prior to 2013, Neal had taken just two victories. His fortunes reversed in 2013, as the three-time champion took two wins – including his career 50th and a further podium. “I’ve not had the best record around Thruxton which made last year even better!” commented Neal, while Shedden said, “It’s one of my favourite circuits. It’s so fast and requires so much commitment. Last year had its ups and downs for me, but I’ve got a win here every year since 2011, so I want to keep that going this time around.”

With the strength in depth of the 2014 BTCC field, there is more pressure than ever for the front-running teams and drivers to perform, but the experienced Honda pair were unfazed at the prospect of even more competition this year. “Our focus is totally on developing the car and making it the best we can,” said Shedden. “It’s all we can do at this stage and it’s all I’m thinking about at the moment. The strength in depth is unprecedented – with the rules as they are everybody has the same opportunity to achieve results. There are the seven champions, but there are at least half a dozen other guys knocking on the door as well which is great. For me one of the really interesting things is that everyone is split into different teams and places, which can only be spectacular for the fans. After qualifying at Brands Hatch we’ll know exactly where everyone is, and I’m sure by then we’ll have our car fighting fit and ready for action.”

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