Matt Neal Takes 2011 BTCC Crown

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Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent

Honda Racing’s Matt Neal has today become 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion following today’s three races at Silverstone.

Neal went into today’s three races 6 points clear at the top of the standings, leading team mate Gordon Shedden and Silverline Chevrolet’s Jason Plato. Neal would take the first race of the day from Shedden. Meanwhile Plato, who was already the outsider heading into today’s races with the Turbo cars having an advantage over the normally aspirated engine Chevrolet, saw any chance of retaining his title all but vanish after he suffered a puncture and finished outside the top 20 in race 1. This meant he had to start race 2 in the low position from race 1 and despite finishing 7th in that race, mathematically his title hopes were over with the Honda’s once again finishing 1st and 2nd, this time with Shedden taking the victory.

This meant heading into race 3 the pints battle was as we started the day with Neal leading Shedden by 6 points. This time around the Honda pair were the only two who could take the title. However, starting 8th and 9th it was always going to be difficult for the pair to make good progress through the field; particularly for Shedden who not only had to pass Neal but make sure there were several cars between himself and the second Honda. In the end neither Honda driver could make great progress through the field but importantly Neal was able to keep Shedden behind him all race and eventually the pair took 8th and 10th which was enough for Neal to secure his third driver’s crown.

To have my name on the trophy for a third time alongside so many great names, I am overwhelmed. It means the world to me.

Matt Neal

After the race an ecstatic Neal was quick to praise his team and team mate and said, “I’m overwhelmed, I never thought I’d win it once in my life and now it’s three. It means the world to me. If it had gone Gordon’s way I’d have been disappointed for me but over the moon for him. I have to say he is the ultimate team-mate and so hard – he’s only been in this game for six years and he is one of the absolute best out there on the track, and that’s why this has been the toughest of my three titles to win. But it’s not just me who has won this title; it is everybody in the Honda team who give so much to their BTCC campaign. This has been the toughest of my three titles to win – the competition has been extraordinarily high and Gordon has been such a hard team-mate to beat. To have my name on the trophy for a third time alongside so many great names, I am overwhelmed. It means the world to me.”

Despite narrowly missing out on becoming the first Scottish driver to win the title since John Cleland in 1995 a philosophical Shedden said, “I’m getting closer – third last year, second this… maybe it’s my turn next year. It’s see-sawed so much between us and other drivers over the course of the season. It really could have gone any way but it was to be Matt’s year and I’m very happy for him.”

The other big Championship to be decided was for the Independent Drivers' Championship, an honor which was a straight fight between Triple 8 Racing’s James Nash, who held a 17point advantage over Airwaves Racing Mat Jackson. Jackson started race 1 from the front row of the grid and was putting great pressure until disaster struck. Like Plato he suffered a puncture and that was that. Nash meanwhile was able to keep cool and in the end was left unchallenged to take third and the Independent victory, in doing so he secured the title.

2011 Independent champion James Nash
2011 Independent champion James Nash

Photo by: Pat Cranham

A delighted Nash was quick to praise his team and admits it sets him up well for the future and said, “What everyone at Triple Eight Race Engineering has achieved with the Vectra is incredible. We knew taking on the might of the manufacturers such as Honda and Chevrolet was going to be tough, but we’ve been right up there, won a race, had plenty of podiums and fastest laps and even led the championship at one stage. This has really filled me with confidence for the future and I really want to be back in 2012 and go for the outright championship.”

The final title to be decided was Independent Teams' award and that was to go down between Nash and Jackson’s teams Triple 8 and Airwaves. Triple 8 eventually came out on top to send off the all conquering Vectra in style; a car which they have used since 2007 scoring 2 drivers titles, 3 Manufacturer and team trophy’s and now these Independent titles. Despite Nash securing 3rd in race 1 things didn’t go well for Nash or Triple 8 when in race 2 he suffered a bruising race and finished outside the top 10. In race 3 he had a drive through penalty for exceeding track limits while team mate Ollie Jackson had a best finish of 11th.

However this didn’t matter, as Airwaves Racing had yet another weekend to forget. Following Jackson’s puncture from 2nd in race 1, things were to get worse for Jackson after he suffered his second puncture of the day in race 2. In race 3 he lost time having to pit with repairs having to be made to his bonnet and finished well outside the top 10. James Thompson was brought in a bid to help Airwaves and Jackson but he also had a miserable weekend, retiring in race 1 after the first lap. In race 2 he was unable to avoid a spinning BMW and had to retire while in race 3 he couldn’t battle his way through the bumper grid and finished in 18th although he did manage fastest lap.

Although not part of the BTCCr, another title to be decided which is very significant to the weekend was the Ginetta Supercup series. This was won by Tom Morgan and his prize for winning the championship is a fully paid drive by Ginetta to take part in the 2012 BTCC season.

The other race of the day was won by outgoing Independent champion Tom Chilton for Team Aon, who finished just ahead of Plato who at last had something to show from a difficult weekend. For full race reports of the day be sure to return to Motorsport.com in the next 24 hours along with full images.

2011 Champion Matt Neal celebrates
2011 Champion Matt Neal celebrates

Photo by: Pat Cranham

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Series BTCC
Tags btcc, honda, nash, neal, silverstone, triple 8