Paul O'Neill will be forced to wait to make his return to the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship after Team sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed Motorsport revealed that he will miss the opening rounds of the season at Brands Hatch.

O'Neill was due to make his debut for the team alongside Martyn Bell in the ex-John Guest Racing Honda Integras, but a prior commitment elsewhere means he will be unable to take part in the first three races of the year.

However, the former Vauxhall works driver should be back in the car in time for the second round of the season at Thruxton later in the month.

"It's a shame I have to miss the weekend," he said, "but the support we have seen so far has been great and I can't wait to get out in the car and get back on track."

The fact O'Neill will miss the weekend means Bell will run alone for the opening rounds of the year, and he said he was keen the get the new season underway.

"We've had a successful shakedown and brief testing programme and are happy with the progress we've made," he said. "We have only used one set of new tyres during testing so most of our running has been on old rubber, but the lap-times have been quicker than in the Astra last season and I wasn't too far away from the times that Mike Jordan had previously set in the car during the day at Brands.

"Looking at that test, I know that I need to be a bit braver into Paddock Hill Bend, but the exit speed from the corners is good as we were one of the quickest cars through the speed traps. It's nice to be back in a right-hand drive car again and I am ready and raring to go for the new season. I have another year of experience under my belt and I'm going to be going out all guns blazing to do the best job I can."

Bell, going into his fourth season in the BTCC, added that he was keen to try and give the team a points-scoring start to the new campaign with the aim being to help the team become regular contenders for top-ten finishes as the season goes on.

"The aim for the weekend has to be three solid finishes and it isn't out of the question for those finishes to be in the top ten," he said. "The Honda isn't the newest car on the grid, but it is still a fantastic bit of kit, and I couldn't hope for a better team than Tech-Speed to be running me.

"If I can break into the top ten in the second race then you never know what the reverse grid might throw up for race three, but our aim over the coming races will be to try and take the sunshine.co.uk cars towards the front."

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