Gordon Shedden is bidding to win back-to-back titles in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this season, but the Honda driver admits the introduction of new standardised chassis components has thrown the competition wide open.
Shedden clinched the title in dramatic fashion in the final race of last season, and the Brit feels taking advantage of the new standard parts, which include each car's subframe, suspension and power steering and are available to every team, before his rivals will be the key to success.
“Everybody up and down the pit lane has access to exactly the same box of bits as we do. The competition will come thick and fast, you can’t single out anybody,” said the 37-year-old.
"You might find, to start with, somebody will get the drop on how to make the new kit work better than anybody else, and it might not be one of the favourites on paper who finds that bit extra."
Shedden’s previous championship success before last season came in 2012, but he finished second in the following campaign, and he believes being the defending champion will naturally make him the driver to beat in every race.
“Ultimately, whatever sport you’re in, everyone wants to beat the champion,” he said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for 10th place, if they can finish one place in front of you, they’ll do that and drive like their life depends on it.
“I’m a lot more prepared for it this year. After 2012, I don’t think there was any extra pressure, but certainly 2013 was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be.”
Shedden will be racing in a much-changed Civic Type R this season. His Team Dynamics-prepared car has a new engine, as well as the new stock parts, and he acknowledges his Honda team, as champions, will set the benchmark for the rest of the championship.
Honda, which has had a driver win four of the last five BTCC titles, has announced that Halfords will return as title sponsor this season after a seven-year absence, and Shedden will race with long-standing team-mate Matt Neal and Andy Neate, who returns to BTCC for the first time since 2013.
“From a selfish, personal point of view, of course you want to beat your team mates," Shedden admitted. "But I would stand with my hand on my heart and say, if I can’t win, I absolutely want another Honda to win.
“If you try and tick all the boxes of what’s going to make a successful season, from mechanics to engineers to drivers, team, support, everything that goes with it, we do tick a hell of a lot of those boxes compared with some other teams.
“I’m as confident as you can be, but you never know. We can talk about it all day but we’re not going to know until we get to the end of qualifying on Saturday afternoon on 2 April at Brands Hatch.”
Watch: Honda Civic Type R BTCC racer driven