In 2006, Matt Neal
added his name to the short list of drivers to have successfully defended the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title.
The Team Halfords driver enjoyed a fine second season with the Honda Integra, although for the 2007 season, that car will be replaced as the BTCC goes Super 2000 and brings itself inline with the World Touring Car Championship.
caught up with Matt to look at the challenges that lie ahead in 2007 and to reflect on back-to-back titles…
It was another fine season in 2006, just sum up how good that second championship campaign was…
I suppose the first championship was more emotional having never done it before, but to achieve two, and back-to-back, was a mega experience – not only for me, but for everyone involved in the whole programme.
Title nemesis from 2005 Yvan Muller had moved on to other things but Jason Plato
stepped up to the plate with the new SEAT Leon and Colin Turkington
with the MG was right up there so you didn't have it your own way…
It was tough, but last year, compared to 2005, I would say it was easier to win the championship but harder to win races. In '05, Yvan was consistently up there scoring second, third and fourth places and there wasn't the strength in depth – so you couldn't gain a load of points on him but you could win races, so it was harder to win the championship. Last year, because there was one of ten cars that could win a race, it was harder to do that but because lots of people had a rough time at certain weekends, it was easier to win the title if you get my meaning. As long as you kept going and kept picking up the points, you could stay at the front.
Mentioning the strength in depth there, the series has grown a lot in the past few years. As someone who has been here for a while and raced in the Super Touring era, what do you make of the current state of the BTCC?
You still have to look at the 1990's as the heyday with the driver line-ups and the manufacturer involvement, but today it is a great championship that has had great regulations over the last five years. It is getting good stability and the field they are talking about for '07 is the biggest it has ever been and bigger than the 1990's. It is still tough to win any championship, no matter who is in it. It is never easy and won't be for whoever does it this year.
The current state if the BTCC is down to Alan Gow and his team with the package they have put together and the fact that people such as Halfords are prepared to back teams is surely an indication of the rude health of the series…