2 February 2013
Neal: Experience is more valuable than youth
If you're lucky enough to get Matt Neal to sit down and chat, he's more than happy to regale you with tales of BTCC racing in the 1990s, which he describes as 'very special'...
When it comes to drivers in the British Touring Car Championship paddock, there are few with pedigrees as impressive and enduring as that of three-time champion Matt Neal.
While he might not be as young as he once was, Neal reckons age is not a factor in seeking still more success in the series in the future, and that his huge race experience serves him to good advantage by allowing him to read races more tactically.
"I feel good at the moment," said Neal, who turned 46 at the end of last year. "There are many physical demands, for example in F1, that are based on reactions which maybe does suit the younger driver. In touring cars it's a lot more tactical, you've gotta roll with the punches, deal with reverse grids.
"It's survival as much as anything - that's where experience, and age helps, something that I try and use against Flash!” he laughed, referring to his Honda Racing team mate Gordon Shedden.
Neal first competed in the BTCC over two decades ago. Back in the 90s, BTCC was one of the most hotly contested and popular series of saloon car racing in Europe. With up to ten different manufacturers in the series, it was the era of big budgets and screaming 2 litre engines which saw BMW 318s, Audi A4s and Renault Lagunas ruling the roost.
Some of the world's best drivers came to British shores to try their hand at circuits including Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Thruxton, competing in super touring versions of well known car models of the time: Alfa Romeo had Gabriele Tarquini, Renault had Alain Menu and Vauxhall had John Cleland.
Team Dynamics was a small independent team that had the good fortune to have Matt Neal driving for them in various ex-works BMW, Nissan and Ford cars. As independents they often had a fraction of the budget of the works teams, and they ran older cars that were down on power and had different tyres to the big boys.
That's why when Neal triumphed at Silverstone in 1999, it was a much-heralded David-versus-Goliath victory by overturning the big gap between themselves and the works teams. It's clear that the events of that era are every bit as fresh and vivid today for Neal as they were at the time.
“The super touring days of the nineties were very special," he said, talking at the recent Autosport Awards event. "I think at one point we had over ten different manufacturer teams and a whole heap of names from all over the motorsport world.
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