BTCC: Matt Neal crowned 2011 BTCC Champion in Silverstone showdown
Sunday Oct 16th, Silverstone, UK-Matt Neal has won the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship after coming out on top against his Honda Racing team-mate Gordon Shedden (pictured) in a nail-biting final race of the season at the Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire today.
In front of ITV Sport’s cameras – broadcasting live for seven and a half hours from the event – and packed grandstands at Silverstone, Neal lifted one of motor sport’s most prestigious titles in the world for the third time in his career. The BTCC also ended on a massive high today with a record 30 cars appearing on its grid.
Worcestershire’s Neal won today’s first race from pole position ahead of Fife’s Shedden. Buckinghamshire’s James Nash finished third in his 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra to secure the Independents Trophy.
Shedden then retaliated by winning race two ahead of Neal, their Civics chased to the line by Tom Onslow-Cole’s Team Aon Ford Focus. It meant Shedden was now just six points behind Neal heading into the day’s third and final race of the season.
But it was to be Neal’s day as he finished the third race in eighth, two places ahead of Shedden, to add to his previous titles in 2005 and 2006 – also in Hondas and with the same Team Dynamics squad. The race was won by Tom Chilton’s Team Aon Ford Focus ahead of 2010 Champion Jason Plato’s Silverline Chevrolet Cruze and Tom Boardman’s Special Tuning Racing SEAT Leon.
Plato plus Nash and Airwaves Racing Ford Focus driver Mat Jackson had also all arrived at Silverstone still capable of winning the crown – the first five-way showdown in BTCC history – but by the end of race two each had fallen out of contention.
Meanwhile Neal and Shedden’s partnership has enabled Honda/Dynamics and the Honda Racing Team to comfortably win the BTCC’s coveted Manufacturers/Constructors and HiQ Teams championships. Nash’s 888/Collins squad has also won the Independent Teams Trophy.
An ecstatic Neal, who at 44 has become the first triple BTCC Champion since Andy Rouse in the early Eighties, commented: “This has been the toughest of my three titles to win – the competition has been extraordinarily high and Gordon has been such a hard team-mate to beat. To have my name on the trophy for a third time alongside so many great names… I am overwhelmed. It means the world to me.
“My pole position lap on Saturday, with maximum ballast in my car, was one of the best laps of my entire career and it set things up perfectly for me today. If I hadn’t won it I would have been disappointed for myself but over the moon for Gordon – he’s become like a younger brother to me and even though he’s only been in the BTCC for six years he is one of the absolute best out there on the track.
“But it’s not just me who has won this championship – it is everybody in the Honda team. Gordon and I couldn’t ask for a better company or bunch of people to drive for and they all richly deserve this clean sweep of titles.”
Shedden, aged 32 from Dalgety Bay, had today hoped to become the first Scottish driver to win the BTCC since John Cleland in 1995. He said: “We’d said all along our priority was to ensure Honda won these titles and then see where things led after that – I was third last year, now second this… maybe it’ll be my turn next season. I gave it my all but it was to be Matt’s championship this time around and I’m very happy for him and particularly everyone in the Honda team.”
Newport Pagnell’s Nash, aged 25 and a rising star of the BTCC, was justifiably proud to have won the Independents Trophy in what has been his first full season in the BTCC after part campaigns in previous years.
The 25-year-old, overcoming the effects of flu, said: “What everyone at Triple Eight Race Engineering has achieved with the Vectra is incredible. We knew taking on the might of the manufacturers such as Honda and Chevrolet was going to be tough, but we’ve been right up there, won a race, had plenty of podiums and fastest laps and even led the championship at one stage. This has really filled me with confidence for the future and I really want to be back in 2012 and go for the outright championship.”
Elsewhere today, Frank Wrathall was fined £500 and had three penalty points applied to his competition licence for an on-track incident with Robert Collard. Both the WSR and AmD Milltek Racing.com teams were also fined £500 for failing to comply with officials’ instructions. Daniel Welch was excluded from the results of race three in the championship’s previous round at Brands Hatch after his car failed a technical inspection.
Interview with the Champ
This is what the 44-year-old from Worcestershire, who has joined Frank Gardner, Bill McGovern, Bernard Unett, Win Percy and Andy Rouse as a triple BTCC Champion, had to say…
Question: How does this rank to your other two titles – has winning this one been harder?
Neal:“I think it’s been a harder fight this year. Definitely… externally fighting other teams and internally with ‘Flash’. It’s been so close, nip and tuck all the way. Ultimately it all came down to one qualifying session – that was it, one lap. And I managed to pip him (to pole position) in qualifying and that gave me the edge for the rest of the weekend.”
Q: Would you rank that as one of the best qualifying laps of your career?
N: “It was a pretty awesome lap. I left nothing to chance. I used every inch of the circuit and more. That was the thing that won the championship, that one lap. I feel for ‘Flash’ because I’d have loved him to have won it. I know how I felt the first time.”
Q: Your name is now going on that trophy for the third time alongside many great names from the past – some you watched as a youngster while dreaming one day of racing in the BTCC. How does it feel?
N: “I never thought I’d win it once never mind three times. Just to hold it – it is such a special thing. It’s like it’s job done. Three times… I’m happy.”
Q: Where does it go from here?
N: “We’ve got a new car coming out (Honda’s new Civic model being built to the new NGTC regulations) and I’m really excited by that. We’re going to be involved in getting that up to speed. Maybe it’s Flash’s year next year… we’ll both keep pushing hard. He keeps coming on in giant steps every year. He’s only been in this formula since 2006 and he’s one of the best there is now.”
Q: Was it hard to contain him?
N: “He’s just fast. He is fast and he’s hungry. He’s going to be one of the tough guys next year, but maybe I can help him on his way next year. I’m happy, I’m chuffed. With everything that’s gone on this year I’m happy to get to the end. To have this trophy in my hands again is an absolute bonus.”
Q: How would you rate your car, the Honda Civic, this season?
N: “The Honda has been the best car. It’s been the most consistent car. The engine’s been sweet, the chassis’s been strong. It’s everyone back at Honda UK, Honda Manufacturing. The support we’ve had from everyone has been absolutely monumental. The fact they are supporting the British Touring Car Championship is great – it’s fantastic for the sport. We now have 30 cars on the grid. It’s just amazing.”
Q: How draining has this season been?
N: “I feel mentally drained. I’ve been a bit tense this past week. I’m always a bit of a sceptic when it comes to looking for results. It’s probably a fault of mine – I plan for the worst and hope for the best. My wife’s had to put up with me. I’ve been a bit short-tempered this past week… non-talkative. Maybe I can lighten up a bit now. I’m glad to get it over and done with.”
Q: It looked like you shed a tear in the car on the slowing down lap…
N: “Yes, I did. I just know what it means to everybody. I haven’t won it. The Honda people and Honda Racing have won it and Flash. I just wish I could stick all their names on it (the trophy).”