Touring car veteran Gabriele Tarquini is confident that the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team has turned a performance corner ahead of the 2015 WTCC season.
Speaking at the championship's official pre-season launch in Barcelona, the Italian praised the combined efforts of Honda and the JAS team as they attempt to close the gap on champion Citroen in what will be the third year of their WTCC adventure.
In its first two campaigns on the international stage, the Civic WTCC took six victories and one world title but, after extensive off-season development during the off-season, Tarquini reckons the 2015 version promises to be stronger than ever.
"Last season was difficult, but we have worked very hard with the support of Honda and JAS in development and testing to improve the performance,” he commented, “It's not easy, especially in the winter, because the conditions are not the same as in the season, so it's difficult to compare performance, but we are quite optimistic. I think we are [going] in the right direction in terms of performance, so we are quite happy."
As well as taking part in the day's media activities, the JAS team also recorded more track time during the series' official pre-season test, building on private testing in Valencia at the end of January.
"We have a big gap to fill because we started last season with a big delay compared to our competitors but after one year we can for sure be much closer to the front." JAS managing director Alessandro Mariani explained, "We started the plan of the development and testing in the second half of last year but, of course, the regulations made it difficult to change the car while the season was running,”
“After that, coming back from Macau, we started to follow our testing plan developed with Honda R&D. Step-by-step, we started to test different parameters on the engine and chassis and, lap-by-lap, we could see a good improvement. Of course, in testing it's pretty hard to know where you are and what the competitors are doing, but the feeling with the drivers and lap times and consistency makes me quite confident for the beginning of the season.”
Daisuke Horiuchi, Large Project Leader for Civic WTCC Development at Honda R&D, added a little more detail about the programme that has been followed in the bid for success this season.
"We have done a lot of work on the car since last year to increase our power,” he revealed, “We've changed the compression ratio, and we've developed a new exhaust system with smoother exhaust gas exit, which have helped us in this. But, when you change compression ratio, engine management is very important, so we have also developed a good engine map.
“We are still developing all of these points every time we test, so we still have work to do, but I am happy with our progress so far since last year."
The opening round of the WTCC will take the Castrol Honda team and its rivals to Argentina on 7-8 March, and Tarquini's team-mate, Portugal's Tiago Monteiro, is looking forward to discovering the real extent of the Civic WTCC's renewed potential, particularly at a new 'home' round later in the year.
"There has been a lot of development last year, so now we need the track time with the new car,” he reasoned, “However, I'm looking forward to the season
“I'm very excited about the Portuguese round at Vila Real, especially as it was quite unexpected. It's a revival of this former racetrack with a lot of history, and like a mix of Nordschleife and Macau, so it will be a big challenge for us drivers."