The new format and rules introduced into the BTCC for the 2004 season have set up a great season of racing, according to young hotshot Gareth Howell.

Howell, who hopes to be confirmed as Matt Neal's team mate at Team Dynamics, believes this season is the best on paper since he made his debut in the series in 2001.

"I think there is a great series of racing ahead," he told during testing at Donington Park. "This season is the best on paper since I joined the championship and lets hope it's just as good on the circuit.

"The new format has been brought in for the fans and hopefully it will be great for them. With three races to a meeting they'll get to see more touring cars and that's what they want. With a great support package I'm sure the championship is on its way back to the boom of the 1990s."

During that boom, top manufacturers spent large sums of money on the BTCC with Audi, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Ford and Nissan amongst those entering works teams. Although those days are firmly in the past, Howell believes the BTCC needs to bring more manufacturers back to the series.

"We need more manufacturers in the championship as everyone says," he said. "I'm not afraid to say it. That's what the championship needs to get the elite drivers rather than anyone can buy a drive as it seems at the moment.

"I would be nice for some manufacturers to put faith in the BTCC as a marketing tool and be able to pay some drivers a salary, but its looking good."

With his drive in the Team Dynamics Honda still to be confirmed, Howell is cautious about what the season ahead holds.

"It's difficult to say at the moment, but I'd like to think we'll at least start the season," he said. "The team are desperate to have me in the car to help Matt. There is a bit of a shortfall of cash as far as the second car is concerned and everyone needs to work together to get us out there."

The chance to drive the Honda is something Howell is excited about, having previously driven for the Atomic Kitten MG team in 2002, and a part season in the Team Dynamics Astra last season.

"I had a run before Christmas in the car, an afternoon at Thruxton and now here," he said. "I love it. The car I'm in at the moment has a bit of a dog of an engine but that will be remedied with the 2004 specification parts.

"I've been in the three top cars on the grid, the MG, the Astra and now the Honda. Even with the Arena set-up, which isn't right for us, this is still the best car I've driven. It's by no means the easiest to drive, it's actually quite a nervous car, but it is by far the quickest."

Howell hopes to be confirmed as the official second driver in time for the opening race of the season at Thruxton on 11 April.