By Andy Stobart

This weekend sees the start to the 2004 British Touring Car Championship and champion from two years ago, James Thompson, is eager to get back the title from his French team-mate, Yvan Muller.

"I'm looking forward to the season," James told "I've had a little bit of time to have a rest over the winter, so I'm refreshed really and looking forward to coming back and trying to get that number one back on the door."

Seeing his team-mate with the No.1 on his car must spur the Yorkshireman on a little? "It's a big incentive," concedes Thompson. "I was motivated last year, it's just I had a lot of outside influences that played a part in the racing from a personal perspective, it was a difficult year last year, but I'm thoroughly refreshed and looking forward to this year, keen to get the number one back and as far as the team goes I think we're in good shape."

So, does Thommo think there's life left in the Astra Coupe, after all it's been knocking about the BTCC for quite a few years now, and the team did evaluate a Vectra racer before the start of the season

"It's an old war horse!" says Thommo with a glint in his eye about the car that has brought him so many race victories in past seasons. "We've fine-tuned it a little bit more, we've forced a little bit more out of it, and the guys have done a great job over the winter to get a little bit more out of the car, the engine guys found a little bit more power, there were little things with the chassis, and I think our car's going to be very competitive for the whole of the year."

With plenty of changes in the series since last season, where does Thompson see the challenge to VX Racing's dominance? "Anyone driving a Vauxhall is certainly going to be a threat, but also with the way the rules are, three races, the reversing of the grids, it's going to be very tricky.

"No longer can you start both races from pole position - if you win the first one you're tenth in the second race so there's going to be a lot of overtaking, a lot of dicing, a good spectacle, I'm very upbeat about it.

With three races on a Sunday the poor racing drivers are going to be a pretty hard-worked bunch. "It's going to be pretty phrenetic," surmises Thompson. "Obviously we don't drop any scores, you've got to measure the controlled aggression with actually needing to finish the race to keep the points tally ticking along, but also you want to win as many races as possible."

First race is this weekend at Thruxton, a place James clearly likes. "I love Thruxton, it's historically been a good circuit for me, I won my first ever race at Thruxton, so thoroughly looking forward to it."

As we all are...