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Matt Neal: "We've got to be hard on it at the first race"

Tuesday, March 25 2014

Triple Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal has had a busy winter developing the new Honda Racing Civic Tourer, which will make its competitive debut at Brands Hatch this weekend (29/30 March) for the first round of the 2014 season.

Despite being based on the hugely successful hatchback model, the first works estate car to enter the BTCC for 20 years has needed a lot of fine tuning. "Every day we get a good run in it, we're finding more about it," admitted Matt. "It's a different animal to what we've been running, both engine and chassis, and we're finding bad things as well as good things as well. We're going two different routes with both the cars, trying to cover as much ground as we can, but we're in the hunt for the first race."

Matt has been piling the miles on the test car, which has been adapted from the hatchback. However he doesn't feel this gives him a particular advantage over his team mate, fellow champion Gordon Shedden. "No, I don't think so," he said. "The competition's going to come from outside of the team anyway, we work closely together so it's Andy and the Pirtek Hondas and the BMWs and the MGs. It's going to come from all angles."

The competition also includes returning champions Fabrizio Giovanardi and Alain Menu: "Fabrizio's actually got one of our ex-guys engineering him this year, so he'll be in the hunt this year, as will Alain. I think whatever happens it's going to be a close year."

So close, that Matt has no idea where he will qualify this weekend: "Throw all your balls up in the air and see where they land! I think it's going to be busy, just out qualifying is going to be chaos with 31 cars out there on the Indy circuit. I said the other day you're going to have to be really pulling your socks up to get into the top ten and they said top fifteen, which is true, so there's no margin for error.

"Thing is now, you've got 30 races and no dropped scores, every score counts when you're out there, so you've got to be hard on it at the first race. There are 30 other guys up and down the pitlane thinking the same, so hopefully we'll get ourselves in a position where we can have a good scrap."

Tickets for the opening round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch on 29/30 March are available from £26, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.