• Honda’s BTCC challenger stuns rivals with two race wins on debut
• Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal both taste victory champagne
• Neal takes championship lead and promises plenty more to come
Honda Yuasa Racing left their rivals reeling in the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch Indy today (5 April), as the exciting Civic Type R race car won second time out in the hands of Gordon Shedden – and then repeated the feat with Matt Neal.
Honda’s eagerly-anticipated tin-top contender had enjoyed only limited pre-season testing, but that did not hold Shedden and Neal back as they qualified their brand new hot hatch seventh and 11th respectively in the closely-matched field for the first race of the year.
A feisty Shedden ran with the leaders throughout the opening encounter, taking the chequered flag a competitive sixth and securing third on the grid for race two. The Scot fully exploited his prime starting slot, and in the closing stages indulged in a captivating wheel-to-wheel duel for the lead with multiple World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx. After swapping paint on several occasions, the pair’s scrap culminated in a drag race to the line and a thrilling photo-finish as the Honda man triumphed by a scant four hundredths-of-a-second.
A misfire did for the 2012 BTCC Champion’s chances in the final race of the day, but team-mate Neal truly came into his own. Following two eighth-place finishes, the three-time title-holder vaulted from third on the grid up to second at the start on the softer-compound rubber, before hunting down and passing Rob Austin for the top spot and thereafter fending off Jack Goff – on the more durable hard tyres – right the way to the flag.
“This result is just so unexpected,” acknowledged Neal, who takes an early championship lead. “For the team to come away with two wins out of three is fantastic. We knew the last five or six laps in race three were never going to be easy – Jack was putting me under a lot of pressure and I could see the front of his car vividly in my rear-view mirrors! Each time I went across the start-finish line, I kept counting down the laps. It’s early days yet, but this is a brilliant start for ‘Flash’, myself and all the guys who have worked so hard over such a short space of time to get the car ready. I’m absolutely over the moon.”
“What a positive first weekend!” echoed Shedden, who sits just five points adrift of the top of the table in fifth. “This car is brand new, so to win in only its second race is incredible. Everybody at Honda and Team Dynamics has bent over backwards to even get the car here this weekend, and I’m chuffed for them all. The new Civic Type R looks fantastic, and now we’ve proved it goes pretty well, too! There’s plenty more still to come from this car – so stay tuned!”
“What can I say? It was a textbook start to the season – we genuinely couldn’t have wished for any more,” concluded Honda Yuasa Racing team manager James Rodgers. “We came here targeting a solid day and to put some points on the board – we were never aiming to be heroes with such a brand new car. It’s unbelievable to come away with two wins.
“The lads have all put in a lot of hours and hard work back at the workshop and the support we have received from Honda UK has been phenomenal, so it’s great to be able to repay them in this way. Bear in mind also that we achieved these victories without the car being fully fettled yet – once it is, it really will be game on!”