Matt Neal will be hoping for a record breaking fourth title
(Photo from: ww.btcc.net)
In this eight part series I will be looking at each of the eight drivers who have a mathematical chance of winning the 2016 British Touring Car Championship. The sixth instalment is all on three time champion Matt Neal.
Neal is one of five former champions aiming to win the 2016 season with Neal aiming to be the first person in BTCC history to win the title four times. To achieve this feat, he must overturn a 13 point gap to current leader Sam Tordoff.
Despite this being Neal’s 26th season in the BTCC he has shown no signs of slowing down, having finished in the top 5 of the championship in all but one season since 2002.
The early signs proved that 2016 could be Neal’s year, after finishing in the top 10 for all but one of the first six races which included two podiums at Brands Hatch and a maiden win of 2016 at Donington Park. This ensured that after the first two rounds Neal was leading the championship.
Onto Thruxton and Neal’s first retirement came in the first race of the day, where he suffered a front left puncture. However while trying to get back into the pits Josh Cook was unable to avoid the stricken Honda and clattered into the side of him who, while spinning, clipped Neal’s teammate Shedden leaving him skating down the pit straight. This meant that Neal started towards the rear of the field for race 2 in which he recovered to eleventh. A second in the final race of the day was consolation for a challenging weekend.
His first retirement of the season sparked an incredible run which saw him finish in the points for 17 consecutive races, 14 of those being in the top 10. Oulton Park was another strong round for Neal, as a ninth and a seventh in the first two races was followed by his second win of the season.
Following the summer break Neal struggled at croft as he only managed to scrape into the top 10 once in the second race of the day, at a circuit known to favour rear wheel drive. A twelfth, tenth and eleventh were his results from Yorkshire. Snetterton saw the Honda man return to form though with three strong showings in very frantic circumstances. After an eighth in the first race of the day he moved up to third in the second, which ended with a fantastic battle with Rob Collard for the final podium spot. Another tenth rounded out a strong days racing for Neal.
The next round was Knockhill, a circuit which has been kind to Neal over the years and this season was no different, as three top 10 finishes including a win in the second race of the day ensure he left Scotland second in the standings and only nine behind the lead.
Another three top 10 finishes as Rockingham in the next round ensured that Neal’s strong consistency throughout the season continued. Last time out at Silverstone saw Neal register only his second non score of the season, again caused by a left front puncture. Neal recovered to 15th in the second race and fifth in the third to set himself up for the final round of the season.
Neal has been in fantastic form all season, executing some wonderful overtakes on the brakes multiple times. Although there are two drivers ahead of the 49 year old Neal knows how to overcome deficits. It will be fascinating to see how he fairs come Sunday.