Honda Yuasa Racing duo Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden are eager to show their Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) rivals just what the Civic Tourer is capable of, after taking the wraps off their new challenger at the series' Season Launch at Donington Park.
Honda has ruled the BTCC roost for the past four seasons, with two iterations of the ultra-successful Civic hatchback scooping the manufacturers' and teams' silverware every year from 2010 to 2013. Neal, Shedden and Pirtek Racing's Andrew Jordan lifted the drivers' laurels in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
For 2014, however, Honda Yuasa Racing has adopted a new approach. Out has gone the formidable Civic hatchback and in has come the dynamic Civic Tourer, prepared and run - appropriately - by Honda's long-term BTCC partner Team Dynamics, with engine support from Neil Brown Engineering.
Adding to the impressive numbers and variety in the 2014 line-up, a quality field has also been further enhanced with seven champions making the grid, and a further five drivers having already won BTCC races.
"As with any new car, testing with the Tourer was challenging to begin with, and I was initially surprised by how different it felt to the Civic hatchback," reported three-time BTCC Champion Neal. "That said, we've learnt a huge amount every time we've gone out and have made a lot of progress, which is really positive. I'm confident we've turned a corner now and have rounded off a few of the sharp edges.
"As to Brands Hatch, obviously the opposition is looking pretty strong at the moment, and there are a huge number of drivers who are likely to be sparring up at the sharp end of the grid. It's shaping up to be the most competitive season in BTCC history, and everybody in the field is going to have to fight like crazy just to make it into the points this year - which can only be good for the championship. It's fantastic to be a part of it!"
Indeed, the ever-popular BTCC - the UK's premier motor racing series - is set to feature no fewer than seven champions this year, both Neal and Shedden amongst them. Having come within a whisker of successfully defending his hard-fought 2012 crown, 'Flash' is keen to see how the trend-setting Tourer measures up at Brands Hatch against its more conventional touring car rivals.
"The first thing to say is that the Civic Tourer looks mega - really awesome!" enthused the Scot. "So much work has gone on over the winter to try to replicate the heartbeat of the Civic hatchback, which has obviously been such a potent weapon and the BTCC benchmark for the past couple of years. We ran the first Tourer back-to-back with the Civic hatchback, which was tremendously beneficial and provided us with some really interesting information.
"The Tourer is clearly a new engineering challenge, but as a manufacturer, Honda has always been prepared to go out there, try something different and really push the boat out. We've made huge progress from where we started with this car and now we're starting to unlock its secrets - which is tremendously exciting for the year ahead."
Pivotal to Honda Yuasa Racing's sustained success in recent years has been its portfolio of partners. The retention of Yuasa as title sponsor for a third consecutive campaign in 2014 allied to the arrival of Castrol Lubricants, Auto Glym and One Call Insurance ensures that the team will continue to take to the track perfectly primed for the no-holds-barred nature of BTCC battles.
"Yuasa's continued commitment, passion and determination have formed a backbone of support for this team for several years," said Honda Yuasa Racing Team Manager Peter Crolla. "It's also fantastic to see Castrol and Auto Glym return to the team, and to welcome One Call Insurance into the family. It's a great time for them to be coming on-board, with the Civic Tourer deservedly drawing plenty of interest from both the public and media.
"The Civic Tourer builds upon Honda's sporting heritage and spearheads a new direction following two immensely successful seasons with the current Civic hatchback, but everything in racing evolves - you can't stand still. The nature of motor sport as an engineering project is to always keep challenging yourself and pushing back the boundaries.
"The changes are obviously significant - both visually and from an engineering point-of-view - and whilst in some respects the Tourer is very similar to the hatchback variant, there are considerable differences aerodynamically and a greater distribution of the weight towards the rear. We had to compensate for that during the testing and development programme, but we like to think we've been innovative in the way we've engineered the back end.
Official manufacturer entries from Honda Yuasa Racing and MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save are joined by a host of other independent teams entering cars from Audi (AlcoSense Breathalysers Racing, Exocet Racing, Rotek Racing), BMW (eBay Motors), Chevrolet (Laser Tools Racing, Power Maxed Racing), Ford (Airwaves Racing, AmD Tuning.com, Crabbie's Racing), Honda (Pirtek Racing), Mercedes (WIX Racing), MG (Quantel BiFold Racing), Proton (STP Racing with Sopp + Sopp), Toyota (Handy Motorsport, Houseman Racing, United Autosports, Speedworks), Vauxhall (RCIB Insurance Racing) and Volkswagen (Chrome Edition Restart Racing).
"The BTCC Civic Tourer is clearly going to be a key vehicle in marketing the road-going version in its first year on sale - and most importantly of all, it is another way for Honda to demonstrate its sporting credentials across its model range."