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BTCC triple champ Matt Neal: "It's game on for everybody"

Tuesday, September 27 2016

Triple Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal has got his best shot at a record-equalling fourth title at Brands Hatch this weekend (1/2 October) when the season finale takes place on the Grand Prix circuit.

Having been in the championship top three throughout the season, Matt comes to Brands Hatch just 13 points off the title lead, but for the first time this year behind the Honda Civic Type R of team-mate and reigning champion Gordon Shedden.

Despite this cruel turn of fortune, Matt isn't too frustrated. "In one respect, yes, but in another I'm now lighter," he said. "We're still close on the points [Shedden is two ahead], which means we've got two strings to our bow. Because we're both behind on points, we've just got to throw caution to the wind, then one of us with a bit of luck might get through. It will be a little bit of every man for himself, but after the outcome of race one, we might have to refocus on a priority."

Whereas in previous seasons Matt has been backing up Shedden, aiding the Scotsman's 2012 and 2015 title successes, this is his best opportunity for personal glory since his third championship in 2011.

"It's gone well this year," Matt said. "I've had a bit of bad luck on occasion, a couple of rough meetings - Silverstone is one and Thruxton should have been mega. I just feel that it's clicked again this year, we've been working well with the car and with the new regulations, so we've definitely got a shot at it."

The two works Hondas are closely tied with the WSR BMWs for the championship lead, but Matt will be keeping an eye on his Motorbase and Subaru rivals too. "Every point is going to be critical," he said. "So you've just got to grab every point you can. The BMW likes Brands Hatch, but so does the Ford and I think it should suit us; the Honda's good in the high-speed stuff.

"It's lovely doing the Grand Prix circuit because it's old-school, it's big commitment out the back, and the drivers love it. It is game on for everybody."

Matt and Gordon also have five championships between them, whereas WSR's title-chasing pair Sam Tordoff and Rob Collard have both yet to win one. "We know what the pressure is like," Matt said. "It's a different kind of pressure at the last weekend and it's how Sam copes with that. It's going to be new territory for him; maybe it's something we can play on, maybe he'll be great - with WSR he's got a strong team behind him and they've been there before.

"Sam's got the advantage - he's got points in the bag, make no bones about it, but we have got him looking over his shoulder."

This is Matt's seventh title showdown, but the largest number of opponents the BTCC's most experienced competitor has previously faced has been four. An eight-way battle is new even to him: "It's quite bizarre, isn't it? I think four or five have got a serious crack at it, but eight mathematically, I think that's only happened once before in World Touring Cars back ten years ago, so it's quite amazing to be fair.

"[It would] definitely [be special to beat them, but] you've just got to think about the here and now and what you've got to do on the Saturday, maximise everything you've got in the car, team and the opportunities and then we'll think about that at the end."

Tickets for this weekend's BTCC finale at Brands Hatch on 1/2 October are available in advance from £27, with free entry for under-13s. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click  here.