• Triple BTCC Champion Matt Neal breaks his Civic Tourer duck north of the border
• Popular podium on home turf for fans’ favourite Gordon Shedden
• Honda extends manufacturers’ advantage as season races towards final stretch
Matt Neal made a popular return to the top step of the podium as the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship ventured north of the border to Knockhill in Scotland – whilst hometown hero Gordon Shedden delighted the partisan fans with a rostrum result of his own.
After qualifying in close proximity to one another in fourth and fifth positions in their striking Civic Tourers, Shedden and Neal immediately made their intentions clear in the weekend’s opening encounter. The Scot made short work of fighting his way up into second, before a coming-together on the exit of Butcher’s sent him slewing across the track and dropped him back down to fourth.
Neal was the principal beneficiary, advancing to second and going on to swiftly erase the two-and-a-half second deficit separating him from the leader before slicing neatly past at the final hairpin at the end of lap 19. The three-time BTCC Champion would retain the advantage all the way to the chequered flag to clinch his first victory in over a year, whilst Shedden recovered well to complete the podium in third.
Unfortunately, race two rapidly unravelled as a drive-through penalty for Neal for a jump-start and a sideswipe from a rival for Shedden spoiled a potential Honda one-two, sending both drivers tumbling down the order and outside of the top 20. Evincing characteristic grit and determination, the duo scythed their way back through to 12th (Shedden) and 14th (Neal) at the close.
From there, race three was always going to be something of an uphill battle around a tight-and-twisty circuit where overtaking is famously at a premium, but Shedden delighted his adoring home fans by battling up the order into sixth, setting fastest lap for good measure. Neal wound up a frustrated 11th, finding himself in the wars in the typical BTCC midfield mêlée.
“The softer tyre was really hard work to begin with in race one, but as the laps counted down, the car really came to me and we were very strong over the second half,” reflected the Englishman, who ended a 33-race drought away from the top of the podium. “The car felt fantastic and I was able to keep my nose clean as all manner of chaos kicked off around me!
“When I got into second and saw how far ahead the leader was, I did think it would be a tall order to close the gap, but I kept on pushing and it was awesome to win again and break my Civic Tourer duck. It was about time that Lady Luck smiled upon me!
“We briefly looked to be on-course for a one-two in race two, and I felt a bit hard done-by with the penalty, in truth, because they held us longer than usual before the starting lights and these cars can begin to creep slightly. It was marginal at best.
“That made race three much harder work than it should have been, but focussing on the positives, we’re back leading the manufacturers’ championship again and well in contention for the teams’ title – and it was certainly my best weekend for quite some time!”
“I was disappointed we didn’t have a better weekend – it promised a lot more than it ultimately delivered,” countered ‘Flash’, who nonetheless remains just 23 points adrift of the top of the drivers’ table with three outings remaining. “That said, we didn’t actually expect the car to go as well as it did round here – and it was great to get up on the podium in front of all the Scottish fans in race one.
“The events of race two set us back, and race three was a salvage job after that – although we had good pace in the car, with it being so tight round here, there was nowhere to use it! The doors just didn’t open for me.
“Overall, it was a missed opportunity. The results weren’t quite what we wanted, but our pace and performance were strong again and there is still almost a third of the season to go. Now we need to keep our heads down and do the best job we can over the remaining races.”
A display to celebrate Honda’s long and successful history in the BTCC was a popular on-site draw, and fittingly, Honda UK Managing Director Phil Crossman was present to accept the manufacturers’ trophy for races one and three. He was quick to praise both drivers’ efforts, as their combined results saw Honda extend its lead in the manufacturers’ standings.
“The team did a superb job of preparing the cars as usual and reliability was flawless,” commented Crossman. “It was a fabulous and long-overdue result for Matt in race one – and wonderful to see him on the top step of the podium again – whilst Gordon was quick throughout and made the most of every situation in which he found himself. His race three charge was particularly spectacular.
“Both drivers were very happy with the performance and balance of the Civic Tourer and drove phenomenally well. They just needed a few more overtaking spots to be able to fully exploit the pace in the car, but overall, there was some fantastic racing for the record crowds that turned out – everything that the BTCC does best.”