Last week saw the official launch of the British Touring Car Championship for 2003. Crash.net was there, ladder in hand, to catch up with the tallest driver in the series, Matt Neal.

Neal has joined Honda Racing for this season and will be battling around the circuits in the 'pocket rocket' Honda Civic Type R. For the season he is partnered by Alan Morrison and Tom Chilton.

Q:
Tell us what it's like driving for Honda.

Matt Neal:
It's not just Honda it's Honda racing - it's the whole umbrella. It's very exciting, they're very serious about the job in front of them and they've got their sights set high.

Q:
You've had some time in the car, what do you make of it after driving the Vauxhall last year?

MN:
Considering all these common parts they use with TOCA it's surprising that it's quite a different beast to the Vauxhall with its strengths probably in other areas than the Vauxhall had. It should be a good scrap this year because I think certain circuits will suit our characteristics and certain circuits will suit the Vauxhalls, it should swing around.

Q:
What's the mood like in the team, has there been a lot of good development over the winter?

MN:
The general atmosphere in the team is good because Mike Earle, the team principal, leads from the top down and it's a big family atmosphere and that's good. They've got a lot in the pipeline, they've still got more in the pipeline and they've been doing a lot of work over the winter and it's exciting what they're coming up with, very exciting - it's moving forward.

Q:
It's a long off season, what do you get up to in that time?

MN:
For me I have an interest in the family business, so that takes up a lot of my time, then I've got my family to spend a bit of time with, then there's finding sponsorship, a bit of personal sponsorship, and working on the deals for the following year. Then there's just going on holiday, catching up with life because you don't really get much time in the summer.

Q:
Which tracks do you look forward to going to?

MN:
I do like Brands actually because I like the stadium atmosphere, it's a very good atmosphere with the crowds here. Donington's always quite special in my heart because we had the big win there a few years back, [when Neal won ?100,000 for being the first Independent to win a race] it's getting a longer and longer time ago, and then everywhere else is a bit of a much of a muchness as I've been there so many times - except for Mondello cause this is the first time, and I suppose at Mondello a few first race nerves will be there, I just want to get it over and get a half decent result under my belt for the first one.

Q:
You mentioned Brands, this year you'll be highlighting with the CART weekend, what do you make of that?

MN:
It's going to be pretty manic actually. We're not in the pits for the first time - we're down in the paddock lugging all the equipment up and then the cars up. For the Champ Cars races they have this concrete wall along the middle of the pit lane which we're not used to so we've got to get round that. It's going to be quite hectic I reckon.

Q;
Who do you think are going to be the main players for the season?

MN:
I think MG are strong in qualifying but hopefully we've got the edge on them in racing, all three of them are very quick. I think for the championship it's going to be Yvan [Muller] and Jimmy [James Thompson] again, obviously. They're going to be right on the money.

Then there's [team-mate] Alan Morrison - he's shocked me with how on the money he is, after pre-season testing I think he's going to be right in there.

Q:
He's going to keep you honest is he?

MN:
Definitely, or I'm going to keep him honest, it's all going to be really going for it. And there's young Tommy [team-mate Tom Chilton]- he can keep you on your toes, it's going to be interesting.

Q:
There's been a few really young guys coming in to the championship, how do you rate them?

MN:
Good, but then I would say these cars aren't intimidating enough to drive; they're not hard enough to drive. You can bring young guys in and they're straight on the money straight away. Then it comes down more to getting your set-up perfect and your racecraft and race strategy, which is what I'm going to be quite focused on.