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.

Crash.net Radio caught up with Matt to look at the challenges that lie ahead in 2007 and to reflect on back-to-back titles...

Q:
It was another fine season in 2006, just sum up how good that second championship campaign was...

Matt Neal:
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.

Q:
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...

Matt Neal:
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.

Q:
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?

Matt Neal:
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.

Q:
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...

Matt Neal:
If you look at it as a marketing platform for sponsors and companies, it is unrivalled in the UK with the TV package and the promotional package that it's got. If you are a sponsor looking for motorsport as a medium, it's a no-brainer - it's the BTCC or nothing.

Q:
Going into 2007 you are going for the hat-trick of titles but how difficult is the year ahead going to be with the move to Super 2000 and a new car?

Matt Neal:
Very, for us, if I'm being honest. On paper, what we have looks very exciting but SEAT and Jason are going to hit the road running at the start of the season as they have a full developed package, they know things and understand what works. We are going to be starting with a fresh sheet of paper so it isn't going to be easy, but what we have looks exciting and you never know.

Q:
Ian Harrison, the VX Racing team boss, told us about the work they are having to put into the Vectra and they are a manufacturer backed team. As an independent team, how tough is it to source a car and put together a package and build a car without that backing?

Matt Neal:
It isn't easy. When you think that the work force at Triple Eight is three times ours, they have a lot of strength in depth and are a good company. They will hit the road next week and towards the end of January with their new car and we will be looking at mid-March before we get ours out with all the best will in the world. It will be a case of backs to the wall for the first meeting and we'll see how it pans out.

Q:
How do you see the season panning out? Do you think we might see some unexpected names near the front in the early stages because they won't have teething problems to encounter?

Matt Neal:
Sure, there are some good cars out there. There are a fair few Toledo's, there are Alfa Romeos, BMW's and all of them will be strong. They are known packages whereas Vauxhall and ourselves are developing cars and starting afresh so it won't be easy.

Q:
Given you have the new car, how special would it be if you could make it three titles in a row?

Matt Neal:
If we could do it this year, it would be more special than anything - not because it would be three in a row, but because SEAT should have won it last year and stole defeat from the jaws of victory. They should walk it this year with all the cards stacked in their favour, so if anyone can beat them to the title then it should be special for them, not only us.

Q:
From a driver point of view, will it be Gordon Shedden alongside you again?

Matt Neal:
Yeah, that was all agreed last year, that it would be me and 'Flash' again for '07. We are sorry to lose Gareth as reserve driver as he is off to pastures new but that is great for him.

Q:
How important is the continuity of keeping Gordon alongside you?

Matt Neal:
It's very good. We have similar driving styles and he has a season under his belt now. He is very quick, although I don't like it when he's too quick as I have to keep up him, but it will be interesting. He is a very nice guy and works well with the team so it's a pleasure to have him around.