F1 Fanatic - British Touring Car Championship
Interview with Matt Neal Autosport Awards Show January 2013
Back in the Nineties the British Touring Car championship was one of the most hotly contested and popular series of saloon car racing in Europe. Some of the world’s best drivers came to these shores to try their hand at circuits like Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Thruxton in super touring versions of well known car models of the time. Alfa Romeo had Gabriele Tarquini, Renault had Alain Menu and Vauxhall had John Cleland.
With up to ten different manufacturers in the series, it was the era of big budgets and screaming 2 litre engines which saw BMW 318’s Audi A4’s and Renault Laguna’s rule the roost.
Team Dynamics an independent team had Matt Neal driving various ex works BMW, Nissan and Ford cars. As independents they often had a fraction of the budget s of the works teams and ran older cars that were down on power and had different tyres to the big boys. When Neal triumphed at Silverstone in 99 it was a much heralded victory in the David versus Goliath category. Despite the inequality to the works teams, Neal still holds fond memories of this spectacular time in the BTCC. Talking at the Autosport International, the first major motorsport event of the year in the UK, Neal speaks with pride about the halcyon decade. “The super touring days of the nineties were very special. I think at one point we had over ten different manufacturer teams and a whole heap of names from all over the motorsport world. The challenge was greater for an independent (against the works teams) as you weren’t allowed the same tyres and engines so you were at an immediate disadvantage, that’s why it was such a massive thing when we won at Silverstone in 1999.”
Matt points to a British and German touring car stalwart as being the driver he looked up to the most in an era that was rich with competition. “Steve Soper was one of the best touring car drivers of all time. I remember the head of BMW motorsport doing an interview and he was talking about some of great drivers that BMW had like Jo Winkelhock and Roberto Revagglia and he said Soper is like the English terrier he bites hard and does not let go” I liked that about him he was hard but fair, his bust up with Cleland in 1992 at Silverstone will not be forgotten but he was playing the team game for BMW in the championship.”
Matt also values his success in recent years in the BTCC and as a three time champion in (2005, 2006 and 2011) he sees his vast experience serving him in good stead allowing him to read races more tactically. “I feel good at the moment. There are many physical demands for example in Formula One that are based on reactions which maybe does suit the younger driver. In touring cars it’s a lot more tactical, you’ve gotta roll with the punches, deal with reverse grids. It is survival as much as anything that’s where experience and age helps something that I try and use against Flash!” Gordon Shedden, Neal’s team-mate at Honda Racing.
So with a busy schedule in the BTCC which also includes racing in the Dominican Republic for Honda and co-commentating on the WTCC with Martin Haver, how does Neal find time for his role as Marketing Director at Rimstock supplying alloys to teams throughout motorsport? “It gets a bit chaotic at times. I don’t have many days off but I prefer to be busy. The good thing is that we supply a lot of wheels in motorsport now and I get a buzz from seeing our wheels on other people’s cars.” It is refreshing to speak to Matt in a relaxed event during the Autosport show. Few drivers are as approachable and accessible as Neal and he values the shows importance to the public even if they can be a little judgmental at times. “The show represents that the season has started again, and gives the public a good chance to see the cars and the drivers from the ones they love even the ones they hate!”
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