Defending British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal made a strong start to his Championship defence at the opening round of the 2012 Championship at Brands Hatch. Two trips to the podium in three races saw the Neal net 48 points, placing him second in the standings behind Jason Plato.
After testing at a number of the tracks in the lead up to the 2012 BTCC season, the new Honda Yuasa Racing NGTC Civic made its racing debut at the opening round. It didn’t take Neal long to get a handle on the car, improving on his position of 11th in the first free practice session on Saturday to finish second in the practice two. He then went on to qualify second.
The first race involved a number of lead changes with Matt himself leading at a number of points, though a charge from Rob Collard in the second half of the race saw Neal finish second. In spite of the pressure of a mid race battle with Jason Plato in the second race Matt Neal was able to take the win, followed to the line by fellow NGTC Civic runner Andrew Jordan. It was not only the first victory for the Honda Yuasa Racing Team NGTC Civic, but also the first BTCC victory for an NGTC car. An off on the grass in the restarted third race saw Neal’s chance at another podium fade, with him finishing seventh after twenty laps.
His team mate Gordon Shedden had a disappointing start to his Championship campaign at the opening round. The Scotsman’s problems started in the Friday installation lap session, which had to be red flagged after his Civic dropped fluid on track. These problems continued on Saturday, when electrical problems saw his car stop on track in the opening practice session and spend most of the second practice session in the garage. While Shedden managed a fifth in race one, the electrical problems remerged to end his second race. They also effectively ended his third race after his fourth place finish was excluded from the official results, with his crew deemed to have been carrying out unauthorised work on his car during the red flag stoppage.
After an eventful opening round the Honda Yuasa Racing Team sits third in the Teams Championship on 57 points.
When asked about the opening round results Matt Neal had the following to say to TcT:
“I’m really pleased to get a win first time out in the new Civic with the new regulations so I’m over the moon. We had a bit of a rough weekend with Flash. We didn’t expect to win, it was a hope obviously. They have cut us back on the boost because we have the strongest engine, but five of the seven slowest cars in the speed traps were Hondas so that is not parity. It needs addressing and that is the disappointing side of the weekend.”
And in regards to the new NGTC Honda Civic:
“The new Civic has only been out a month on the road, let alone the track. I’m really pleased to get the first win for an NGTC car too. It’s certainly something to build on. With the engine inequality I would have to say I don’t have confidence in being able to challenge for the title because Brands Hatch is not a power circuit, but with the car being good you never know what we could do this season. We have just got to keep our heads down and keep trying.”