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Matt Neal

Interview – Matt Neal 2011-10-26

BTCC Champion 2011

First off – a big “Congratulations!” To your third BTCC victory! This must be a fantastic feeling?
Thank you, yes it is fantastic, but quite surreal aswell. Because it doesn’t change you as a person. I never thought I’d ever win one championship, yet I’m now stood here with three to my name, it’s almost like a dream. What I do cherish is doing it with a great team of people, because we have achieved something together and shared that experience!

Please tell us a little bit about your racing background Matt!
From the age of around 4 years old, all I ever wanted to do was race. Whether it was a lawn mower, an old bike, a kart, or whatever, I just love the speed and competition. When I was 17 I passed my driving test, got a trailer for the back of my car, bought a second hand motorbike and went bike racing, purely because I was desperate to race and that was the cheapest way in. By the time I was 21 I had got to a level on bikes where I wasn’t talented enough to win, and to stay at the front I would have accident after accident. It was at this point my Dad pushed me into cars simply to get me away from the bikes. I started at the bottom of the ladder in cars and slowly worked my way up fighting for sponsorship and drives along the way.

You have had an interesting season in 2011, please tell us about it!
As soon as I sat in this year’s race car (Honda Civic) at the very first shakedown I had a good feeling. I came back in and said “that feels good, in fact that feels very good!” You almost know instantly how your whole season is going to be from that first feeling. We have had an awesome package, the engine, the chassis, the car has been a dream to work with and drive. That said, it’s been a pretty tough year, regulation changes to stop us running away with races have made it very challenging, some on track and off track conflicts have also made it pretty stressful at times too.

What are your plans for 2012?
The championship is changing to new regulations NGTC, which stands for Next Generation Touring Car. Stock bolt in chassis with turbo engines. We like many others developed our turbo engine and transmission and ran that in our existing S2000 chassis in 2011. We are now building the all new Honda Civic to the NGTC regulations and will drop the developed power unit and transmission in which was proven this year. I am very hopeful we’ll have another strong package to try and win races and defend our titles with.

You obviously drive on rims from Team Dynamics. How important is the design of the rims, from a technical point of view?
Design of the rim is important in more areas than you imagine. They need to be light, right on the minimum weight for performance, but this has proved challenging for some manufacturers whilst keeping the durability needed. In touring cars we smash over high kerbs at over 160kmh, so the wheel must give us performance with weight and good brake cooling, but also stand up to the punishment we give it. Fortunately we have had the best record of any team in this area, which is why all the new NGTC teams are following our lead and opting for Team Dynamics wheels.

Can you please tell us about your [BTCC] car?
It’s a Honda Civic S2000 chassis with 2.0ltr turbo engine. Cost is around £250,000 to build one from scratch which is all done in house at our workshops. Engines, we have to use the base Honda engine which is a fabulous platform to work from, it is then design and built into a race engine by Neil Brown Engineering in the UK who look after all our engine development and needs.

What is your ultimate dream in motorsport?
I’m there... would love to have had a crack at NASCAR or full time in Aussie V8, but I am realistic now. WTCC maybe, but only if the deal was right.

Do you find the time to follow any other motorsport, and if so, any particular favourite?
Yes all sorts, I am a fan aswell as working in the industry. Bikes, touring cars, formula one. I suppose having been in racing for so long now, I have built up friends who are away in many different categories all around the World. I follow because I love racing but also to follow old friends and advisories too!

Do you have any other interests than cars and motorsport?
Yes I love rugby from when I used to play it when I was younger, but just a spectator now, I am quite heavily into martial arts practising most days and general keep fit. A guilty pleasure I have is playing my Xbox online to! All those and just spending time with my family.

What car are you driving off the track (and what kind of rims does it have..:-)?
I’m driving a white diesel Honda CRV, it’s absolutely lovely and I can get all my kit in the back with ease (standard wheels, it’s how we have to run them I’m afraid).

Which is your favourite rugby team?
Worcester Warriors.

Ten quick ones to Matt:

1    Aston Martin or Ferrari?
Love the passion of Ferrari but would go with Aston being patriotic.   

2     Michelin or Dunlop?
Michelin are special but Dunlop have given me the tools for nearly all my successes, so must be Dunlop.   

3     Honda or Subaru?
Honda obviously.

4     James Bond or Jason Bourne?
Jason Bourne – more hardcore.       

5     Champagne or beer?
Champagne – better for spraying.

6     Fish & chips or Vindaloo?
Good curry – it’s as British as fish & chips these days.     

7    Muse or Robbie Williams?
Robbie Williams (who’s Muse?).

8    The Fast and The Furious or Trainspotting?
Trainspotting, it was more my era.

9    Top Gear or Top Less?
Top Less – come on is this a question?

10    British or Italian (tailoring)?
Italians do have style, you can’t deny that.