The Honda Racing Team opened its 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship attack with a stirring victory at Brands Hatch on Sunday.

Matt Neal had a great start and qualified fastest for the opening race of the season but his lead was short lived when he was punted out by a rival, who was later penalised, on the first lap. However, Neal bounced back to show the new 2-litre turbocharged Civic’s potential with a lights-to-flag victory in the final round of the weekend. His victory was allied to a fighting seventh position in the second race. 

Neal, who is fifth in the points after Brands Hatch, explained: “We’ve got to be pleased with what we’ve achieved this weekend but it could have been even more if I hadn’t have been knocked off the road in the opening race. Despite that, the performance has given me confidence. The potential in the car and the speed it’s shown straight out of the box has made me really optimistic.

“When the car is in clear air, we are very fast and it’s a strong car in qualifying,” added the former double champion. “We have christened the new engine and it’s performed perfectly first time out, which is a testament to the effort we’ve all put in. We aren’t going to stand still now and we will work harder than ever to stay at the front.” 

One of the most remarkable stories of the weekend was Gordon Shedden. The Fife ace had a 130mph accident during practice on Saturday when a tyre failed but heroic work by the Honda Racing mechanics meant the machine was repaired in time for race day. Despite starting at the back of the pack, Flash scorched through the pack to record a sixth place finish in the opening round. In race two, he vaulted to second place to give the Honda Racing Team its first podium of the season.

“I’m proud of the whole team this weekend because what they did was nothing short of a miracle,” explained the 32-year-old. “My car was in bits after the incident in qualifying and the guys pulled out all the stops to put it back together. Everyone’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to give me a car to race in. What is incredible is that I didn’t only have a car to race, I had a quick car and I managed to score a podium.”

Following his remarkable second place, Shedden backed that up with a fighting fourth place in race three. His points tally means he’s fourth in the overall standings and, like Neal, he is full of enthusiasm for the season ahead.

“The car has got huge potential,” he added. “We have the positives of the turbocharged engine and we will learn more about the handling. We were hopeful, but we didn’t know what to expect until these opening rounds were finished. The Honda has performed better than we could have hoped for and we will move on to Donington Park with a lot of confidence.”

The second meeting of the British Touring Car Championship season takes place at Donington Park on April 16/17.