Fabrizio Giovanardi admits that he expects a strong challenge from the BMW teams when the new HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season kicks off this weekend - while the return of an old adversary will add extra spice to proceedings.

The VX Racing ace, chasing his third successive BTCC title, posted the quickest time during the recent Brands Hatch test session but was just a fraction of a second quicker than Airwaves BMW pairing Jonathan Adam and Rob Collard.

With Colin Turkington having already paced the Rockingham test held on the annual media day, Giovanardi admitted that the BMWs are likely to provide some of the stiffest opposition during the opening rounds of the year with the Italian expressing his belief that the rear-wheel drive cars have yet to show their full potential.

"I won two of the three races at this track last year, so I will be expecting to match or better this," he said. "However we will have to be careful of the BMWs.

"I don't think they have shown us their full potential and with four of these on the grid, they could give us some trouble. The short Indy circuit keeps the lap times close and it is set-up which is key here."

Giovanardi was speaking before the surprise announcement that arch rival Jason Plato will be racing in the opening rounds after reaching an agreement with RML to race a Chevrolet Lacetti and despite the fact that the former SEAT driver will no pre-season testing behind him, Giovanardi said he expected the Lacetti to be near the front.

"I am sure he [Plato] will be really close to the front when we start the three races on Sunday," he told the official series website. "OK, they are not 100 per cent ready but really I don't see that as a big problem. RML is not inexperienced and Jason is... well, Jason! One of the teams ran 2005 Lacettis last year and now there is an '08 Lacetti with the new Tempus team that has already tested on the Dunlop tyres, including at Brands Hatch.

"RML I am sure will have all that data and know where they are going when they come to Brands Hatch."

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