<I>Crash.net's</I> Brands Hatch blog: Saturday.

Saturday eve - Early promise

The SEAT Leon TDi may be a winner on the WTCC stage, but the BTCC is a different challenge altogether - and the team was happy enough to see Jason Plato on the second row of the grid after qualifying.

BTCC 2008
BTCC 2008
© Jakob Ebrey Photography

Saturday eve - Early promise

The SEAT Leon TDi may be a winner on the WTCC stage, but the BTCC is a different challenge altogether - and the team was happy enough to see Jason Plato on the second row of the grid after qualifying.

It could still have been better though, had luck - and the Brands Hatch weighbridge - been on the team's site.

"I'm happy with fourth, but at the same time disappointed not to be on the front row," chief engineer Piers Phillips said. "We had a plan and worked through it, getting good balance in the car and making progress every time we were on track. It's a learning process and this is a big challenge for us - probably more than when we swapped the Toledo for the Leon.

"We think we have good pace over a race distance and we think tyre degradation won't be a problem. Everyone has seen that it's been a bit of an issue for the WTCC team, but the Dunlop tyres seem to be working better for us than the Yokohama ones work for the world team. But only time will tell if we're right."

Saturday eve - Youth wins over experience

Youth triumphed over experience at John Guest Racing as 'Young Man' out-qualified 'Old Man' ahead of his debut, but both Andrew and Mike were left to wonder what might have been after managing just 14th and 17th on the grid.

"It's frustrating," the young one said. "The guys did a good job but 14th doesn't show our pace. I made a mistake on the tyres and we could have been at the front as I did manage to get into fourth. People will have seen I got to fourth on the timing screens, which was good, and I've had some running in the wet now too.

"I want three finishes from Sunday and where I finish doesn't really matter at this stage - I'd be disappointed if I didn't bring the car home in all the races."

As for Dad?

"Apart from when we've had a problem, I don't think we've been this far down the grid," he said. "We were in the pits when we should have been on the track; simple as that..."

Saturday eve - Plenty of promise

The car came straight from Spain and driver Adam Jones hadn't sat in before the weekend, but Team Aircool made solid progress with its new SEAT Leon.

Had it not been for a red flag at the end of the session, Jones would have been higher up the grid than the 15th place he ended up with, having earlier run in the top three.

"It was all going well and we were in third at one point," team manager Graham Davis said. "Adam came in to change his tyres and then when he went back out and was on for his fastest lap, the session was red-flagged.

"It's a great shame for the GR Asia boys who were working until 2am last night and were back at 7am this morning, but its looking promising."

Saturday eve - Heading back to school

If the opening rounds of the season were like going back to school after the holidays, then Martyn Bell must have felt like he was in detention after his qualifying session ended in the Paddock Hill gravel trap.

However, he wasn't too despondent after the session despite ending up 24th on the timesheets as others improved their times as the circuit dried out.

"I'm a bit disappointed I guess but we've made solid progress and when the track was wet I was running well in about 15th place," he said. "I should have pitted for new tyres but the radio wasn't working and I missed the call. I followed Stephen Jelley into Paddock a bit hot; he got out of the gravel trap and I didn't.

"For the first day back at school, I'm fine with how it's gone. We ran a solid race pace in practice and let's see what tomorrow brings."

Saturday eve - Team 48 make Brands

Team 48 may not have been ready to hit the track at Brands Hatch, but the team still took time to visit the paddock as preparations continue for the its debut in the series.

Although Matthew Gore was back home in Jamaica - a wise move considering the weather - Darelle Wilson was wandering round in his race suit in the paddock while qualifying was going on.

Just a shame his car wasn't ready in time for him to be out on track with his rivals.

"The cars should be all sorted and ready for Rockingham," crew chief Les Wilson said. "We plan to do a shakedown and then we'll be into the race weekend itself. A lot of people think we don't have much experience but we have run in the BTCC before when we were with Mark Smith and our aim is to get the cars reliable first of all and then try and move forwards.

"If we put all our knowledge into it, we'd like to break into the points as the season goes on."

Saturday pm - Turbo 'troubles' for Plato?

Jason Plato may have found one downside of SEAT's decision to switch to the Leon TDi after being called onto the pit-lane weighbridge during qualifying.

Plato was called onto the weighbridge after pitting for fresh tyres, but the rules state that the car must go onto the weighbridge with its engine turned off. Unluckily for Plato, he was unable to turn the Leon off before allowing its turbo to cool down.

As lap times tumbled for his rivals, Plato spent around two minutes waiting for the turbo to cool before he could go onto the weighbridge and then return to the session - without having time to stop and take on the new tyres that he was pitting for in the first place.

Jason reckons he lost five laps with the whole incident, although his chance of a late run for pole was ended by a red flag - leaving him fourth on the grid for the season opener.

Saturday pm - Keep friends close, enemies closer...

It sounded a bit weird when Martyn Bell revealed that his deal to join Arkas Racing had come about following the Snetterton event last season - considering that that was the weekend where he made contact on track with his new team-mate Erkut.

That was until Erkut revealed the real reason behind his decision to team up with his fellow privateer...

"I was sat in the field at Snetterton and I thought it was better to have a driver who could be dangerous to me in the team so I could keep an eye on him!" he said. "If someone else knocks me off this season, then maybe we'll have three cars next year...

"Seriously though, it's good to have a team-mate as we can compare data and things like that and work together. We are a young team in the BTCC and want to move forward."

Pre-season testing hasn't really gone to plan for the Turkish driver - although that's more because of the fact he hasn't had chance to do any due to his business commitments.

"I've not been in the car since Thruxton so I'm a bit rusty," he said. "Two sessions isn't long for me to get used to the car again, so I need to ease myself back into the swing of things. I know the car and I know most of the tracks now, so there can be no excuses this season.

"And it might sound stupid standing here in the rain, but its good to be back in this country."

Saturday pm - Harry bottles it

Second practice saw Harry Vaulkhard in the wars, after spinning his Chevrolet Lacetti early on at Surtees and ending up down in 18th place on the timesheets.

Having shown solid pace during the off-season, it's not been the easiest start to the weekend for the SEAT Cupra Leon R title-winner after he finished 17th in first practice - but he wasn't making excuses.

"I bottled it and spun," he said, "and I messed up my lap on new tyres. I'm struggling a little bit and I'm slower than my testing times so I know there is more to come from me and from the car. It's just down to me to sort it out."

Saturday pm - The waiting game

Quickest in pre-season testing and right at the sharp end in both practice sessions - but Mat Jackson says there is more to come from the BMW Dealer Team UK squad.

In fact, Mat thinks there is more to come from everyone.

"P4 in the first session and P2 in the second session is a reasonable start," he said, "but we haven't seen people show their hand yet. We'll have to wait and see how it pans out.

"We did a 49.1secs in that second session and that won't put us miles away - but you'll have to wait and see if we have more to come."

Saturday pm - The rumbling begins

The first qualifying session of the season hasn't even taken place yet, but comments are already being made about how the diesel SEATs will stack up against the rest of the field.

Plenty of people feel that the team has sandbagged during its testing so far, with one outspoken member of the paddock believing that Jason Plato and Darren Turner will have the edge over the rest of the field.

"Its crazy that we have to run heavier here than if we were in the WTCC [compared to the diesel Leon]," Team Halfords team chief Steve Neal said. "We've not seen what that car can do yet and if they don't go out and get pole position then they are doing something wrong.

"You put Yvan Muller into that car and you wouldn't see it for dust..."

Saturday pm - Integras injured

The Honda Integra has long been regarded as one of the most bullet proof cars on the BTCC grid, but it didn't stop two of them hitting problems in the second practice session.

John George was first in the wars in the TH Motorsport car, returning to the pits with just two laps under his belt.

"The gear selector broke, but hopefully it's all fixed now," he said before turning his focus to how its gone for him and the team so far. "Our pre-season has gone well and in testing here we were about half a second than last season so it's looking good.

"I'd like to be the leading non-professional driver this season and it would be good to try and get into the top ten to score points a bit more this season. But then again, the grid is a lot stronger now than it was last year."

'Young Man' also hit problems in the #78 John Guest car with Andy managing just nine laps.

"The engine went," he said. "We've got a new engine in so should be ok, but I could have done without losing that session. We're going with a gamble for qualifying, whether it works or not remains to be seen."

Saturday am - Plato fires a warning

Second quickest in first practice and just 0.023secs from top spot - but Jason Plato can't yet drive his SEAT Leon diesel.

If that's the case, then maybe its time for the rest of the pack to start worrying - and maybe time for Crash.net to revise the view that Fabrizio Giovanardi will defend his title this year...

"I'm just learning about the car," he said. "I need to get into the diesel rhythm as the whole feeling of what is right and what is wrong is different with this car compared to the petrol one. Once I get into the right rhythm, then we can start working on things like set-up and really getting the best from the car.

"I think I've only done something like 100 miles in the car before this weekend - although you might need to check that - so I'm not driving the car yet as it needs to be driven. It's got great potential, but I'm not making the most of its strengths yet."

Saturday am - A familiar face appears at Robertshaw

A familiar face appeared in the garage of the Robertshaw Racing team in time for the opening practice session of the weekend, with former Vauxhall and SEAT engineer John Waterman.

His presence at the season opener is all part of RML's customer service, with Waterman now plying his trade working on the works Chevrolet Lacetti in the World Touring Car Championship.

"John will help us massively," team manager Joe Bradley admitted. "He has extensive knowledge of the Lacetti and also has a lot of previous experience in the BTCC so having him here can only be a good thing. We have always said the potential of this package is massive and having someone like John here is part of the customer service we get from RML.

"I'm told we are getting Rob Huff's engineer for the next round - although I haven't got a clue who he is!"

As for the session itself, mixed conditions meant that neither driver broke into the top ten, with the weather having left the team making various changes during the 40 minutes.

"We got good pit practice," Bradley added. "We had to change tyres so often that we're really well drilled now. Maybe we should enter Le Mans..."

Saturday am - Aircool hit the track

With the car having come straight from Spain to Brands Hatch, Adam Jones finally got to hit the track in his new SEAT Leon in opening practice.

He'd managed to sit in the car for the first time on Friday night, but only after spending two hours stuck in traffic on the M40 on his way from home.

Eleventh place was a solid start for the car, which was being hastily cleaned after the session having been coated with oil from the Vectra of Matt Neal during the session.

Team manager Graham Davis told us he'd said enough about the car already this week, so it was left to the driver himself to reflect on how it had gone.

"It's all going ok so far," he said. "The car feels a bit strange compared to the Toledo so I just need to get my head round that really - and that's a lot to do in a 40 minute session. My only previous experience of the Leon was driving my mum's road car!

"Matt Neal put some oil down when I was behind him so I got covered in that which was great and we have a few minor things to sort it - but it hasn't really hindered us. I'd have taken being half a second off the pace because everything was so late coming together. We're not just viewing this as a big test session, we are here to score points and get the job done as points mean prizes at the end of the day."

Saturday am - The boss plays his first joker

Series director Alan Gow is known to play the odd joke in the BTCC paddock - normally involving members of the press pack that follows the championship around the country.

However, it was the John Guest Racing team that became the target for the Aussie on Saturday as the cars of Mike and Andrew Jordan sported some amendments when they hit the track for the first time.

For those trying to work out which of the Honda Integras is which, 'Old Man' Mike is in #77, while 'Young Man' Andrew is in #78.

"We got told to put that on the car by Gow," 'Young Man' said. "He stuck it on the cars as a bit of fun!"

Saturday am - Motorbase shows its hand

Motorbase Performance may have been the last team to finalise its plans for the 2008 season, but the team hit the ground running in the opening practice session at Brands Hatch - the home race for David Bartrums team.

Rob Collard ended the opening session in 15th place but rookie team-mate Steven Kane was fifth and only two-tenths of a second behind quickest man Colin Turkington, a performance exceeding the expectations that some outsiders had going into the weekend.

"We've got to try and keep ourselves there now!" Bartrum said. "We've hardly done any running before the season starts and we wanted to use the testing we've done to work on the car rather than just throwing tyres at it and going for a time. We'll see now if it pays off for us, but if Steven is still in that position at the end of the day, then I'm going to be a happy man."

Bartrum may have extra reason to smile if the interest being shown in his SEAT Toledo's this morning can be turned into a sale...

Saturday am - Just A Little More Time....

Having spent his off-season sat in a garage making car noises, Micky Doyle needs to wait a little longer to hit the track in his InTune Racing Honda Civic, which wasn't quite ready for free practice one.

Instead the little Scot was watching from the sidelines as final preparations with the car - including some work on the dash - were completed ahead of the second practice at 12.20 local time.

"We weren't quite ready for that session so we sat it out to get the car ready for session two," he said. "Just to be here is a bonus for as we did think we might not be ready in time and the engine only went in yesterday.

"The aim for session two is to have some trouble-free laps and keep it on track. This is a bit of a test for us, but we don't want to be last this weekend. I don't think we will be..."

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