Update - Successful test for Vauxhall at Magny-Cours
The works Vauxhall British Touring Car Championship team have completed the first major test with the updated version of their Astra Coupe at the Magny-Cours circuit in central France.
The Triple Eight-run machine dominated the 2001 season with 25 wins out of 26 races, but has been significantly updated for this year. Works aces Yvan Muller and James Thompson did the majority of the driving at the three-day reliability test this week, with the car proving trouble-free.
Former privateer hero Matt Neal, who will lead the privately-funded Egg Sport sister squad to the works outfit this year, and newly-signed team-mate Paul O'Neill were also at the test, and had their first taste of the car.
Triple Eight team boss Ian Harrison said: "Our main aim was to establish the reliability of the car and in that respect it was very succesful. Everything went to plan. It was also Matt and Paul's first opportunity to settle in and I'm pleased with both of them. Matt did exactly what you would expect him to do and Paul used the time well to play himself into the team and the car."
Both Muller and Thompson were upbeat with their first test after the winter lay-off. Thompson said: "I feel very positive about the 2002 car. It feels more refined and, having completed lots of endurance work, the way is now clear to concentrate on the car's performance."
The Vauxhall British Touring Car team is confident of repeating its crushing form of last year in 2002 following a winter development programme and the signing of new recruit Matt Neal.
Despite the rival MG team taking a win at Brands Hatch at the end of last year and the threat of new manufacturer Proton, the Triple Eight-run Vauxhall team is optimistic about retaining both the drivers' and manufacturers' titles from last year.
"For some of the bigger teams, it's inevitable that they're going to catch up," said Triple Eight director Ian Harrison at AUTOSPORT International. "I think all the teams this year will be good. But we've got a development plan in place and we're sure we can improve."
As exclusively revealed in this week's AUTOSPORT magazine, Neal will drive an Egg-backed Astra this year and will attempt to take on the might of works Vauxhall team mates Yvan Muller, and James Thompson.
Neal started the year in the BTCC in 2001 with Peugeot, but switched to the super-competitive European Touring Car Championship. However the Brit is glad to be back on home turf and he too is confident he can continue Vauxhall's winning ways.
"The competition is going to be hard enough just from my team mates let alone the rest of the field," said Neal. "But I think Vauxhall and Egg are giving me the best chance I've ever had to go out and take the championship and I'm not one to give up chances."
Neal is due to get behind the wheel of his new car at the Magny-Cours circuit in France in two weeks' time.