"The challenge was greater for an independent [non-works team], as you weren't allowed the same tyres and engines so you were at an immediate disadvantage. That's why it was such a massive thing when we won at Silverstone
in 1999," he explained.
When asked, Neal pointed to one particular stalwart of the British and German touring car series as being the driver he looked up to the most at the time, in an era that was rich with competition.
"Steve Soper was one of the best touring car drivers of all time," he said. "I remember the head of BMW motorsport doing an interview and he was talking about some of great drivers that BMW had, like Jo Winkelhock and Roberto Revagglia. He said Soper is like the English terrier - he bites hard and doesn't let go!", he laughed.
"I liked that about him," Neal added. "He was hard but fair. His bust-up with Cleland in 1992 at Silverstone
will not be forgotten, but he was playing the team game for BMW in the championship."
Neal also values his own personal success that followed the 90s, which saw him become a three time champion in his own right with titles won in 2005, 2006 and 2011.
Not that he's showing any signs of slowing down any time soon, despite a busy schedule in the BTCC
which also includes racing in the Dominican Republic for Honda and co-commentating on WTCC
races with Martin Haven, as well as his day job as Marketing Director at Rimstock, a company supplying alloys to teams throughout motorsport.
"It gets a bit chaotic at times," Neal admitted. "I don't have many days off, but I prefer to be busy. The good thing is that we supply a lot of wheels in motorsport now and I get a buzz from seeing our wheels on other people's cars."
Attending the Autosport Awards show is part business, part pleasure for him then. And seeing how relaxed the driver was on the day, it was hard not to feel that there really wasn't very much difference between the two as far as Neal was concerned.
Few drivers are as approachable and accessible as Neal, and he clearly values the show's importance to the public - even if some of the fans can be a little judgemental toward him and the other drivers at times.
“The show represents that the season has started again, and gives the public a good chance to see the cars and the drivers from the ones they love - even the ones they hate!" he laughed.
by Julian Hamilton