Having lost out to SEAT in the race for the manufacturers' title during 2006, Vauxhall will be looking to reclaim its crown when the 2007 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season kicks off at Brands Hatch in April.

However, the VX Racing team faces a challenging campaign as - for the first time - it will run a car to S2000 rules in the shape of the new Vectra.

With that in mind, Crash.net Radio travelled to the home of Triple Eight, the people behind the VX Racing programme, just before Christmas to talk to team boss Ian Harrison about the upcoming campaign and the challenges that lie ahead...

Q:
Ian, the announcement of the Vectra is something that was widely expected in the media, but just tell us a little bit about the process that went into the selecting the car that will be used in 2007.

Ian Harrison:
Obviously we looked through all the models that are available in the Vauxhall range and the Vectra is the one that ticked the majority of the boxes as far as we are concerned to turn into a race car, so we decided to go with that one. There is a new car coming out at the end of 2008 so it will be interesting to see what that looks like, but I think the Vectra will give us the best chance of getting back to a position that we need to be in.

Q:
It's not just a new car, you also have to contend with a switch to the Super 2000 rules. How does that all work out for the team? Is it easier to make the two switches together or would it have been easier if you had elected to run with an Astra again and just had to build one to fit the new rules?

Ian Harrison:
Neither really to be honest with you. The bottom line is that we have gone from a really, really strong set of technical regulations to a really weak set of technical regulations. The S2000 regulations, technically, are appalling compared to the BTCC regulations, but it is what we have got and we have to make the most of it. There is a lot of work, it is a lot more involved and a lot more expensive, and the guys have been burning the midnight oil since August in the drawing office here to try and make head or tail of the rules. The cars are more complicated, more expensive to build and more time consuming, which are basically all the things that you don't want in touring cars.

We spent five years trying to hone the BTCC regulations and we didn't really have to do a great deal of honing, we just wrote them and got on with it with one or two changes along the way. In general, they are probably the best series of rules that have ever been written for a touring car championship. We are learning the hard way now about the S2000 rules. I understand why we have done it and I'm not knocking the thought process behind it, but the reality for someone in the UK trying to build a locally homologated car is that it is a tall order.

Q:
How challenging do you believe 2007 is going to be for the team considering that your main rival in SEAT has a lot of experience now in running an S2000 car?

Ian Harrison:
There is no doubt that, on paper, the odds are stacked against us - there is no question of that. SEAT has previous experience for the last three years in doing Super 2000 cars and they should know how to do it. We don't. We are a bit 'backs-to-the-wall', of that there is no doubt.

Q:
With that in mind, how vital is it to get to the first round of the 2007 season and hit the ground running and be on the pace as the worst thing that could happen for you is to go to Brands Hatch and be on the back foot.

Ian Harrison:
Or on the back row, that would be even worse! We just have to do the numbers and look at where we are with the design of the car. We can simulate things and do simulation work and obviously we have a lot of testing planned as well. If we have any fundamental issues that other manufacturers over the years may have had and have ironed out, we only have a short amount of time to get them fixed but we are aware of that and I think we have the people here to address any problems that we may have.

Q:
What is the current state of play with the cars? How is work coming along?

Ian Harrison:
They are in about a million pieces at the moment. The car will run for the first time at the end of January, that is the first planned test and we are pretty much on schedule for that, I think we are maybe a week behind at the moment which isn't too bad. It won't run before then though.

Q:
For people who don't know anything about the regulations, is there anything from the Astra that can be carried over onto the new car?

Ian Harrison:
No there isn't. The body shell regulations, even if we had kept the Astra, are different. If you look at the two engines, they would look the same, but there is one millimetre difference in valve lift, something like two kilo difference in the weight of the crankshaft and things like that and while they are all minor things, it basically means you have to throw everything away and start again. The suspension regulations are so vague and poorly written that it really needs a rewrite as we are spending a lot of money trying to make something that isn't designed to go racing, go racing - and then throw it away every weekend and put some new parts on. We didn't need to do that with the BTCC regulations.

Q:
You've already confirmed that Fabrizio Giovanardi and Tom Chilton will be the two people driving the Vectra next season. Fabrizio has past experience of S2000 from his time in the WTCC, is that something that you feel that will help the team as you develop the new car into 2007?

Ian Harrison:
For sure, his experience is vital for us. We have to know quickly if we have got something that is good or not and having someone who has driven a S2000 car for a number of years is obviously important.

We decided to keep the drivers not only because we feel they are a good pairing, but also because we underestimated the lack of continuity we had at the start of 2006. I have to hold my hands up to that one. After seven years with Yvan Muller it was a bit of a shock to everyone to not have him around anymore and I underestimated the importance of that. We want continuity and I believe that both the guys can do that job. Fabrizio's experience in S2000 is something we need as we have to get the car up and running quickly.

Q:
Alongside his experience there is the determination on Tom's part to get that first win as a Vauxhall driver as he is desperate to achieve that...

Ian Harrison:
He is a young bloke who wants it all to happen straight away which is fine. I think it was quite difficult for him this year as he had only ever driven for one team before and he came to us and, while I wouldn't say we are any better, we are different and it was different for him. He had to learn and fit in but he is a good bloke to have around and he is quick, of that there is no doubt. He knows how to drive a car quickly and we now have to work on how to make the car quick in the first place.

Q:
The team has downsized to two drivers for the new season with Gavin Smith moving on. What would you say he has been able to bring to the team over the past few years?

Ian Harrison:
I don't think anyone would disagree with me when I say he is one of the nicest blokes we have ever had driving for us here. He is a great guy and we all have a lot of respect for him, not only as a human being but as a driver. I think that if he could apply himself and spend more time doing the racing side of things rather than running his own empire back in Dublin - which he does as he has his own business and has employees to look after and business to run - and coming racing at the weekend, which is a tall order at this level, then he would see the benefit in terms of consistency of speed.

Gavin was quick when he was quick but there were times when we lost our way with him or he lost his way with us and it didn't quite click. That wasn't anyone's fault, but I think a lack of time spent thinking about it, working on it and driving the car probably cost him a little bit. It is a shame that he isn't driving for us, but the way the rules are written means that there is no incentive to run a third car anymore. It used to be that three cars scored or the first two past the post scored, but SEAT pressured everyone into changing that because they only wanted to run two cars a couple of years ago meaning there is no point in us running a third car and we have cut back to two.

Q:
So there is no scope for someone to come along with a big wad of cash to come along and ask you to put a third car out for them?

Ian Harrison:
What's the point? There is no point to it as you can only have two cars score and there is no incentive at all for us to run a third car.

Q:
The Astra is now departed and the Sport Hatches are up for sale. Has there been much interest in them?
Ian Harrison:
Yeah, there has been a lot of interest and things are unfolding as we speak. I can't really talk about it at the moment as I have respect our potential customers views and situation, but that will all become clear in the New Year.

Q:
So we haven't seen the situation some people may have feared we would see, where teams with BTCC spec cars might find it hard to sell their cars given that the series is heading down the S2000 route.

Ian Harrison:
It's always difficult to sell them on. They aren't cheap although they are quite cost effective to go motor racing with if you do it properly. If you are sensible about what you spend and are careful with the car and look after it, they are very cost effective. When you compare it to anything else, it is the most expensive but this is the premier series in the UK and I think that the amount of effort and money that goes into developing the cars in the first place means they are more expensive that a one make thing. I don't think they are any more expensive than a Porsche Carrera Cup car but I suspect they are cheaper to run, although I don't know that.

People have to think long and hard about going into the BTCC. With a BTCC spec car you need ?200,000 plus to do it properly but people like Mike Jordan have done a good job and shown that it can be done. But the guys who can afford to do the BTCC at the right level aren't that thick on the ground and they need to think hard about it because they are investing a lot of money. Plus it isn't the best time of the year as people are thinking 'God, how much did we overspend this year? How can we go racing next year?' I'm sure though that are going to be plenty of cars out on the grid next season and there will also be plenty of the old BTCC cars.

Q:
Away from the BTCC, you have been developing a rally version of the Astra. What can you tell us about that?

Ian Harrison:
The Rally D is an independently sanctioned thing. Thurlby Motors, who we did some diesel road cars for this year, approached us with the idea and then we got verbal approval from Vauxhall. They aren't involved in terms of funding but do support it as it is their product and is good for their brand. If they didn't want us to do or didn't want to see a car out there then we wouldn't do it - simple as that. Vauxhall are our customer and a partner so we do what they want us to do. They are keen for us to do this project and why not? I think it will be good and there is the British Rally Championship class for us to compete in and I think we will be quick. We aren't that experienced with rallying but I believe we can build a good car at Group N level. We have some good parts going onto it and I think it was will be a good car.

Q:
So was it Thurlby's decision for the car to be a diesel or was it a suggestion on your part?

Ian Harrison:
It was joint thing. Thurlby are very close friends of ours and Richard Walsh, the chairman, is a real enthusiast who loves his motorsport. He knows more about rallying than we do and asked about a petrol or a diesel and obviously the diesel is easier to work with in terms of being able to develop the engine cheaply, electronically you can do more to it and see more instant results than you can with a petrol engine. We have the previous experience with the road car and it has the same engine in it so this thing will have 200 horsepower and buckets of torque which I'm told is what you want. He [Richard Walsh] understands the marketplace so it was instigated by them and then technically driven by us and that it how it has worked with Thurlby over the years. It is something we are very excited about.

Q:
When can we expect to see the rally car out of the stages?

Ian Harrison:
March is the launch date for the car and all things being equal it should be out testing on somewhere like Sweet Lamb around that time.

Q:
Do you think that can open up a new market for you here at Triple Eight?

Ian Harrison:
I don't know to be honest. Primarily we are VX Racing and the British Touring Car Championship is what we do. If something was to come along involving Vauxhall or General Motors products that Vauxhall approve of us being involved with then why not? Whether it will develop into something or not we'll have to see. If you had asked me twelve months ago if we would be doing a rally car I would have said 'Why? I don't think we will' but these things happen.

However we aren't consciously going out there to try and sell 50 Group N Vauxhall diesel rally cars. We are a technical company at the end of the day and are an engineering firm - not a marketing one. We'll have to see how the car goes first, if it isn't any good then no-one would want to buy one!

Q:
Looking at that car being a diesel raises a question about the BTCC. Is there scope that the car there could run on an alternative fuel like diesel or could the team go bio-ethanol? Is that something you might look at in the future?

Ian Harrison:
Of course we have already been involved with the bio-ethanol project with Thurlby and Techspeed and frankly the whole BTCC should already be on bio-ethanol and we should be actively looking for a fuel sponsor who would come along and sponsor the series in a headline way and would supply bio-ethanol fuel. There would be no negative publicity from that at all and it would be entirely the opposite and only positive. Being the premier series in the UK, it is what we should be doing. We should be pushing that sort of image more than we do.

Q:
How much would a deal like that bring to the BTCC in your opinion?

Ian Harrison:
Put it this way, if we found a big sponsor in the shape of a fuel company and they said they were advertised on each car in a fixed position, like the number plate, and each team got free fuel for the year, for the teams that is a big chunk of money. For a big fuel company, I suspect that wouldn't be, but they would get massive advertising out of it and in terms of value for money in the market place, it would be a bit of a no-brainer. They would only get positive publicity from it and the championship would get positive publicity from it and everyone, I believe would win. But we need to go out and make it happen.

Q:
You say that fuel is a big cost for teams - for the smaller teams in particular could that make the BTCC more appealing, to have that cost removed?

Ian Harrison:
Absolutely. We are trying to attract people into the series and need to make it as attractive as possible to make people want to come and join the BTCC - we need to make the feel good factor as good as we can. In terms of other things like tyres, engines, accident damage, driver costs and all the rest, the cost of fuel isn't that big but it all adds up and makes a difference. More than just the financial side of things, it would send the right image out and give the right message to the rest of the country, and indeed to Europe, to say 'Hey, look at us, we are bio-ethanol. We're as green as we can be, doing what we are doing'. I don't think that would have a negative effect on anybody.