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The Race to the Championship: Matt Neal

Matt Neal started his 2016 British Touring Car campaign by jumping to the top of the standings after round one, and he hasn’t left the sharp end of the field since then. With retirements his only finishes outside the points and three wins this season already under his belt, Neal will be one of the ones to watch at Brands Hatch.

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Matt Neal’s championship points this season

Honda began the season with two double podiums at Brands Hatch. Neal wasn’t quite able to get as good a start to the season as his team mate, taking a third and a second in the first two races, before a fifth place in the reverse grid race.

Neal left Brands top of the championship, but Donington didn’t look like it was going to be a repeat. It was an uphill struggle in the opening race, a difficult qualifying matched with the soft tyre type meaning the best Neal was able to do was a twelfth place. It wasn’t ideal, but that did make race two a little easier. Without the success ballast and with prime tyres, Neal was able to move up through the field, eventually finishing sixth.

The reverse grid worked in Neal’s favour, moving him up to third on the starting grid. The race was a fight against Jack Goff, who managed to get past the Honda driver in the opening laps, but Neal eventually found his way past, moving into the lead of the race three laps before the end.

Neal crossed the line in first, taking his first win of the season, and Honda’s second win. It mean that, despite the tough start to the weekend, Neal would remain in the lead of the championship going into the third round.

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The first race at Thruxton looked like it might be a continuation of the glory. The championship leader qualified third, but was quickly battling for the lead of the race. Controversially, Neal hit second place starter Aiden Moffat, sending the Scotsman into a spin. It didn’t seem to have much of an impact on Neal’s race, the Honda driver staying in the lead battle, but it soon became clear that wasn’t the case.

Neal had a puncture in the closing stages of the race and he slowed down, tagging Josh Cook, who was sent into a spin and collided with Neal’s team mate Shedden.

The race ended in a retirement for Neal, his first finish outside the points. It meant Neal was going to be in recovery mode for the second race of the weekend, but a strong drive moved the Honda driver up to eleventh, a better starting position for race three. Neal set about moving up through the field, managing to get into the lead battle once again. This time there was no contact – not for this Honda driver anyway – and he managed to take second place, his fourth podium of the season.

Neal took twenty three points from Thruxton, meaning he was now the joint leader of the championship with Rob Collard. This wasn’t going to be the Honda driver’s worst weekend of the season, though.

At Croft, a twelfth, eleventh, and tenth meant Neal only took fifteen points from the weekend, and a retirement at Silverstone during the last race weekend meant he would only take twelve points.

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A break down of Neal’s finishes this season

Overall, it’s been a strong season for Neal, though. The Honda driver has an average finish of eighth, but that drops down to sixth if you take out the two retirements this season. After Thruxton, Neal took two further wins and a third place, putting him in one of the strongest positions to take the championship.

Going into the final race of the weekend, Neal is only thirteen points behind the championship leader, and two points behind his team mate. Neal lead the championship for the first three rounds, but he hasn’t been able to retake that lead since.

It won’t be easy for Neal to take the championship lead. Shedden and Tordoff have finished ahead of Neal on eight occasions, with only one of them finishing ahead of him thirteen times. Beating either driver – whilst finishing ahead of those behind him – won’t be easy, but Neal’s shown it’s possible. He’ll definitely be one to watch this weekend.

Photo credit: Caroline Rhea

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