Defending champion Matt Neal insists that the Honda Yuasa Racing team is on a steep learning curve going into the opening rounds of the new Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season this weekend at Brands Hatch.

The team has spent the winter developing an NGTC-spec version of the new Honda Civic, which will now make its race debut in the first three races of the season.

Pre-season testing hasn't gone without its problems for the Team Dynamics-run outfit but Neal said he felt confident of a solid start to live with the new car.

"We've done some race runs, which were good," he said "We got the old car to be bulletproof and that's what we need with this. It's early days and we're on a really steep learning curve.

"The very first time we ran the previous Civic we won at the first meeting [at Brands in 2007] so if we could do that again with one of the cars this weekend that would be fantastic.

"It all depends where we are on the boost. The corner speed we've got with the car is really good. They say Brands is a handling track, but you need some grunt up the straight too. Everyone's got a punt at it."

Team-mate Gordon Shedden will also hope for a strong start to the new season and is keen to ensure there is no repeat of the drama from twelve months ago, when a tyre failure and high-speed off at Paddock Hill Bend during practice almost ruled him out of the opening event.

"It's the first race for the new Civic and it's exciting times," he said. "The guys have worked so hard to design and build the car. It's a totally new challenge. I've never been off to a flying start. The shunt at Brands last year was bad so I really need to get out there and score some good points

"The aim is to score as many points as possible. I think there'll be some ebbing and flowing at the start of the season as they adjust the boost levels for the different cars.

"If the Civic is capable of winning we've got to try and win, if it's capable of fifth we need to make sure that's where we finish. Hopefully we'll taste the champagne again after the winter - six months is a long time!"