Interview : Matt Neal We're on a steep learning curve
Wed 28th March 2012 The Honda Yuasa Racing Team brings its new NGTC-specification Honda Civic to the BTCC in 2012. We speak to reigning champion Matt Neal ahead of the new season.
By Matt Lamprell
Matt Neal has kept fans up-to-date with the progress of his 2012 Honda Civic over the winter months, regularly tweeting photos as the build process went along.
The new Honda hit the track for the first time in late February and the team has had a number of outings over the past few weeks. It hasnt all been plain sailing though, with a number of 'teething problems' limiting the amount of useful running the team has been able to do.
"We've done a lot of days", said Neal. "But just not as many laps as we would have liked. It's a completely new starting point for us. The engine is the same as last year, as is the gearbox. But everything else, from the ground up, including the tyres, is brand new."
However, the reigning champion is nonetheless positive towards the car he will drive this season.
"I started smiling before it even got to the finished article. Seeing it come together was very exciting and then to finally hit the track with it was fantastic.
"We're on a steep learning curve. We're slightly ahead of Jason and the MG boys at the moment, but they're not far behind us."
This is the third new Honda that Neal has driven in the BTCC and both of the previous cars have won him a title. At the end of 2011, Neal heaped praise on his teammate Gordon Shedden and it would be no surprise to see Neal supporting the Scot this year.
They will face tough competition from across the grid, however. Just as for Jason Plato and the MG team, reliability could be key to Neal's quest to retain his title.
"We've got 30 races and we've got no dropped scores. Others are probably hoping that our Achilles heel might be reliability with the new car built to the new regs. Integration of the new regs is a bit of a challenge and that could be a factor. We're doing everything we can at the moment to get everything ironed out and make sure we're reliable from the very first race.
"However, we've got four cars really, with the Pirtek guys as well. Between us, we're trying to cover a lot of ground very quickly. Maybe that's an advantage."