In the second exclusive VXR column, Ian Harrison – team principal of the VX Racing BTCC team - talks about changing roles within the team and the relationship Triple Eight enjoys with Vauxhall.
Coming in to 2006 we have a new driver line-up in the BTCC, with Tom Chilton and Fabrizio Giovanardi joining Gavin Smith and adapting to this changes is something that is difficult and shouldn't be underestimated.
In the Astra Sport Hatch, we've got quite a quirky car with the suspension lay-out that it has as a standard vehicle. It's not straightforward like some cars and it take time to get used to. We had Yvan Muller here as part of out team for seven years and he got used to the car, but, he had to get used to it like everyone else and he did a bloody good job of it. It's a very steep learning curve for all of us to try and give the new guys what they want and to be honest it isn't easy.
With Tom, he is naturally a bloody quick driver and he is doing a good job. He drove well at Brands, we were pleased with that, and he did well at Mondello. But he doesn't have the experience. It might seem like he has been around for a long time but he has only driven two other cars and there is no doubt that that is a little bit of an issue. But he will learn as the years go on. After all, Tom is only 21-years-old and I think that sometimes people forget that.
Fabrizio has a lot of experience, but he has never driven a car quite like this one and it is different to what he has been used to. There is no doubting that fact and he has just got to learn how to get the best out of the car. That is a process that we are going through and as I say, it isn't easy for the team and it isn't easy for the drivers but we aren't here to roll over. We'll be working away at it and trying to improve.
This is our tenth year with Vauxhall and we are privileged to have had a partner like that from the mid-90s when it was Super Touring, right up to the present day. They are a great company and we are very close to them - they have seen us through the good times and through the bad times and all credit to them for that. We are going through a sticky patch at the moment but it is something that we will get through together.
In our time with Vauxhall we've used a number of cars and regulation changes mean the car now is different to ten years ago, but the BTC-spec cars haven't really changed since 2001 and I think that that is part of the problem that we have at the moment. The Super 2000 cars can develop a lot more than we can within our rules, so our cars haven't changed massively. What you try and do is modify and improve them year-by-year, but compared to a Super Tourer – they are totally different. The Super 2000 cars are actually more like Super Tourers, with all the carbon fibre and the fancy brakes that they have on them.
Of course this season is the final season for the BTC-spec cars but we will continue to develop our current car right until the end. That is something that doesn't change, but of course we have to keep one eye on next year. We have some decisions to make in the near future about what we are going to race next year and indeed, what we are going to race in next year.
I think the current Astra Sport Hatch is better than it is showing at the moment but it takes us back to the old problem of trying to dial up a chassis that the drivers like. We made big improvements on the engine over the winter, drag is still an issue, but we improved straight line speed and improved the power. What you can do on the chassis is limited by the rules, as it should be if we are trying to keep the costs down, so all we can do is massage and tweak and we'll be massaging and tweaking right until the last race.
Away from the BTCC we do other bits with Vauxhall, including a rally version of the Astra and work on the VXR range.
The rally car is a private thing that Richard Walsh from Thurlby Motors asked us to do last year, so we went ahead and did it. The car is great, it looks good and is a nice car and then on the road car side of things, our new venture is the VXR Performance Centre. We are designing parts and building parts for road cars but these things take time. Over the course of the next year or so, you'll see lots of bespoke bits that have been fully tested that will start to appear on road cars. We are doing the VXR bits obviously, but we have also done some bits on diesels which has been quite interesting.
Of course one of the perks is getting to drive the cars as they have to be road tested, and I don't want it to sound like a sponsorship blurb, but Vauxhalls range of cars is bloody good. They are a good platform to turn a nice road car into a really nice road car – something that is fun and funky – and you can see that in the VXR range. They are fantastic cars and the value for money on them is pretty unbeatable in my opinion.
When you look at the alternatives that are available, they cost more money and to be honest, they aren't any better