Under the Lid – Matt Neal

News | October 20, 2020

British Touring Car Championship legend Matt Neal is a three-time series champion, has taken 61 race wins since 1991, and is the most tenured BTCC drivers of all time. Turns out his myriad fans have asked him to sign some very strange things over the years too.

Name?

“Matt Neal.”

Age? You can lie about that if you want…

“51.”

Where and when was your first ever car race, and how old were you?

“I didn’t go the karting route, and my first car race was at Snetterton in Norfolk, in the UK. I think I was…20, 21 years old. It was quite a long time ago!”

What is the best moment of your racing career so far?

“I have three British titles, but I think probably my two best moments are, one, winning my first ever BTCC race, because there was a nice cheque that came with that! And two was a race I actually didn’t win. It was the second time at the Bathurst 1000 and we finished 2nd.* The reason that’s special for me is because we over-achieved that weekend, and to that point, it was the [event’s] closest ever finish. Just over two seconds after seven hours.”

 

* Matt and teammate Steven Richards just lost out to Jim Richards and reigning BTCC champion, Rickard Rydell.

Which is your favourite circuit and why?

“In the UK, probably Brands Hatch on both layouts – Indy and Grand Prix – because it’s unspoilt, and the Indy circuit in particular because it’s a great stadium atmosphere. Worldwide, probably either Nordschleife or Bathurst. You ask pretty much any driver, we like good run off areas, but we also like circuits that are a little bit scary. It’s the adrenaline rush, and if you do well at [the Nordschelife], then it’s a good achievement.”

Describe the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you at a motor race …

“I’ve been asked to sign some pretty strange things! Front body parts – there’s been quite a lot of them – and things coming through the post have been pretty crazy. I got asked to sign a guy’s driving licence once. We used to have paper licences at that time in the UK, and if you got 12 points, you lost it. This guy turned up with 48 points! I asked him, ‘how are you not in jail? And it’s a legal document, so I couldn’t sign it, but he was like, “no go on, do it!” That was quite strange.”

Describe your helmet design to us, and what it signifies…

“On my new helmet, I’ve got my three championship winning cars on it.” One apiece for 2005, 2006 and 2011. “All Hondas. They’re very special memories through my career. I’m very superstitious, and I hope they bring me a bit more luck going forward.”

What is your greatest strength?

“I’m a team player, and probably my experience and race craft. In British touring cars, the racing is pretty rough. It’s about survival and getting out the other side. It gets pretty busy in [the 24H SERIES] as well, but hopefully not as rough!”

If Hollywood made a movie about you, who would play you and why?

“Probably Will Ferrell, because he’s funny and he doesn’t mind making fun of himself as well as everyone else. That’s probably me.”

What would you like to achieve before retiring?

“It would be nice to get one more British title with Honda. That would be pretty special and I think that would sign me off well. Then I could come do some more racing in the 24H SERIES !”

Tell us a random fact about yourself that your fans might not know…

“I have two boys” – twins William and Henry – “that have already started racing. Is that a random fact? I’ve also started racing on two wheels. In fact my first ever bike was a Honda CL 250, so I started with Honda, and I’m still with them.”

Finally, what do you enjoy most about competing in the 24H SERIES?

“The challenge. I enjoy competing with the Synchro guys. We’ve got a good synergy with them and we work well with them, with their race side, with our race side, with the guys at the factory, etc. It’s lovely to come and spend time with them because they’re a great bunch of guys, so if we can get a good result along the way, it’s even better.”

  • Words by James Gent
  • Images courtesy of Petr Frýba / Matt Neal Racing

 

Matt Neal was speaking with Koen Wiesman at the 2018 Hankook 12H SPA. You can also check out this story in the 2019 Hankook 12H SPA magazine, available for download at the link below.

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