Not that things always go smoothly, even when vast armies of articulated trucks are assembled. Some teams there ran out of fuel because the stuff they’d ordered didn’t arrive (the delivery driver instead went to the Catalunya circuit, where Formula 1 testing was taking place). Early the next morning about nine pallets packed with fuel drums – about twice as much as the teams ordered or would need – turned up and figuring out how to get it all home was quite the task.
Meantime Mattandflash had started testing. Gradually. One of the advantages of this year’s Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R – some distance from being the most convoluted team/car name, after the Team Shredded Wheat Racing With Duo Ford Focus – is that a fair amount of it is carried over from last year. Mattandflash tested the bits that have had to be updated as a result of a rule change some years ago. A new supplier was appointed for some control components, but teams were, for a time, allowed to pick and choose from the old supplier or the new one. This season everything has to come from the new one. There were new tyres to test, too.
They are bigger, to better cope with demands that cars place on them as they get faster. Some tyres were marginal last year, particularly a soft ‘option’ tyre that teams are required to use at various stages in a race weekend. Like success ballast, where winning cars are given weights to carry, it’s a slightly contrived way of making the racing closer and allowing smaller teams to target certain races they want to do well in. And, like the success ballast, it works: there’s a 32-strong grid and the racing is extremely close this season (see how the first round at Brands Hatch went here)
What’s it like, then, this Team Halfords Yua…this Civic? Flashnotmatt lends me his for a while. It’s hard to get into, like most racing cars, and you sit very low – Shedden more than most drivers – so you can’t see anything within about 20 metres of the front of the car. A Civic is not a large car but it feels like a Rolls-Royce Phantom, and even Shedden admits he can’t see most apexes. It’s pretty intimidating. It starts on a button and throttle response is sharp. There’s plenty of torque, though; the rev limit is above 7000rpm but because this is a 2.0-litre turbo there’s bags of oomph through the mid-range. Mattnotflash smiled when I asked how much power it makes. “We say it’s about 360bhp, don’t we?” he asks an engineer. So reckon on it being nearer 400bhp. These days, though, some hot hatches aren’t far off that, so the Civic isn’t brutally fast in a straight line.
Once you’re under way you can forget the clutch; the sequential gearbox’s lever wants a confident pull, but the brakes are well servoed and the steering extremely light, so it isn’t a physical car to drive. At least it’s not at the speeds I drive it at – there’s more lateral and braking g when real drivers are involved, obviously. And the steering gains no particular weight in corners. Road car engineers like to add extra feel and weight as cornering forces increase, to give drivers something they feel like they can lean on. The race Civic does have exceptional steering feel and frankly extraordinary agility, but the messages about both come filtered delicately through the rim.