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Matt Neal aims to hit the ground running with new BTCC Civic

Thursday, March 22 2018

Triple Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal is aiming for a flying start for the new-look Honda Racing squad when the new season gets underway at Brands Hatch on 7/8 April.

Matt and the Honda Racing squad were hard at work on the Indy circuit yesterday (Wednesday) developing the new generation Honda Civic Type R, which will make its debut at the opening rounds in just over two weeks' time.

"The car is quite a different beast," said Matt, who has developed several championship winning cars for the team. "It's a completely new platform for Honda; OK, we've got the standard TOCA parts and components that go on, but the way they work is different. When we went to the estate car it was a different animal altogether, it took us until mid-season to learn it. There's going to be a fair bit of work in this one now and what we're trying to do is try and find the sweet spot with it.

"And we've got Dan [Cammish], who is new not just to us, but touring cars as well, so it's a fair bit of change for us."

Cammish replaces triple champion Gordon Shedden, who shocked the paddock in February by announcing a move to contest World Touring Cars with Audi this season.

Matt confesses that he wasn't surprised by his former team-mate's decision: "We expected something after he went out to Dubai at the end of last year, and with his performance out there. The rest of the field aren't blind, so we half expected it was coming and when he came, he said: 'I've got a problem', and explained it. We said 'it's not a problem, it's a big opportunity for you', and it is. He's still part of the family and we wish him well."

New team-mate Cammish comes with a strong pedigree, and could emulate Shedden, who was recruited by the team with just a single BTCC event under his belt.

Matt's already impressed by the rookie: "Dan's quick - he learns fast! You tell him something and he doesn't forget it, and he's got a knack of doing it a little better than I can do it, so the whole team's really pleased with him so far."

With time running out before the season gets underway, Matt has two chances to see how the new Civic stacks up against the opposition; the season launch and official test at Donington next Tuesday (27 March), followed by a second official test at Brands Hatch two days later (29 March).

The 51-year-old does urge caution, however: "People don't show the cars next Tuesday, it's a bit of a media event - some people have a go, some don't. Hopefully we're back here next Thursday and we'll see as it'll be a week to the first one.

"There aren't many slouches around; you've got to work your socks off just to be in the hunt, but I'm hopeful. [Engine tuner] Neil Brown's been doing a great job with the engine, and we've got a good package together. Hopefully we can be strong."

Tickets for the BTCC at Brands Hatch on 7/8 April available from £28, with free entry for under-13s. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.