Matt Neal: "New approach has reinvigorated me"

Honda's Matt Neal has looked a much stronger BTCC driver in 2015 than he did at the end of last year - and the 48-year-old put that down to a different mentality.

In 2014, three-time champion Neal endured one of his toughest stints in the BTCC, as he finished no higher than ninth in the final 11 races of the season and ended the year in eighth overall - the lowest he's been since 2001.

But the switch to the new Civic Type-R in 2015 has gone seamlessly for himself and his Honda Yuasa Racing Team, with Neal scoring two wins in the first two rounds of the year.

"I made a New Year's resolution," he said. "Whatever happens, I'm going to get up with a smile and I'm going to smile at some point in the day.

"Even if a lot of shit is going on, I'm going to smile, I'm going to see the light side of it.

"And I'll tell you what - it's reinvigorated me. During the last two years or so, I was getting to a Friday and thinking 'Oh God, I've got to go racing this weekend, I wish it was Sunday night.' That's the wrong attitude.

"But now I can't wait, I'm thinking: 'When is the next one?' I can't wait to get back in the car."

No point in "moaning" over ballast

The Type-R struggled with success ballast last time out at Snetterton, which dropped Neal from third to sixth in the points - albeit the BTCC veteran continues to be well within the title fight.

But even though the Hondas were hit hard by the added weight, the 48-year-old had no complaints about the rules.

"Some people moan about the handicap of the weight, but at the end of the day we all want to see
 sportspeople in distress," Neal reckoned. "And that’s what the ballast does.

"They want to see us under pressure, falling out in close combat with others, like me and Jason [Plato]. It’s a major draw.”

BTCC battle "getting closer every year"

The BTCC points lead has changed hands on 10 occasions in 2015, with six different drivers taking turns at the top.

And as the championship battle enters its latter stages this weekend at Knockhill, Neal reckons the series has gotten progressively more competitive at the top end in recent years.

"It seems to get closer every year," he said. "If you took me out from five years and ago and put in me now, I would notice it.

"But it just creeps up on you and you just get used to the high competition you have to deal with year on year. It just shows the regulations are working."

While Neal pointed out that the smaller gaps in performance make it more difficult to overtake, he added that he prefers a more level playing field.

"I was brought up in the class structure of Classes A-D based on engine performance, and often the guy with the best car would win the championship, just due to the regulations – and I don’t agree with that.

"These days it comes down to who is the best driver, best engineer, and how well you use your tyres and what you’re given. it’s much more  gladiatorial."

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Matt Neal
Teams Team Dynamics
Article type Interview