Matt Neal takes 2011 BTCC crown
After a long season with as many ups and downs then you'd care to mention, Honda's Matt Neal has taken the top spot in this year's MSN British Touring Car Championship.
The final races, held at Silverstone, saw Neal face off with arch-rival Jason Plato, who was valiantly trying to defend his title. However, a puncture in Race 1 saw TV's Plato out of the running, leaving Neal and team mate 'Flash' Gordon Shedden to battle it out for the title.
With Plato out of the frame in Race 1, Neal claimed the top spot there. Shedden responded by taking Race 2 – leaving Race 3 to decide the season.
Even after Shedden's Race 2 win, Neal was six points ahead of his rival, meaning his 8th place finish was enough to win the title. Shedden finished two places behind, in tenth. While Plato finished second in the final race, it wasn't enough to bridge the gap his DNF in Race 1 created.
On his win, Neal commented to The Sun: "I wish the names of everyone in the team could be engraved on this... Just to hold it is a special thing. I never thought I'd win it once, let alone three times. It almost feels like job done.
"Winning it three times, I'm happy. Maybe it'll be Flash's year in 2012. He's fast, he's hungry and he is one of the best there is. Perhaps I can help him on his way next year."
Plato, not wanting to sound like a stereotypical racing driver, expressed concerns all season about the balance between turbocharged and naturally aspirated cars – especially at Silverstone, which is made up of long, turbo-friendly straights. He described the task as "weeing against a hurricane."
"We had some pretty bad luck," Plato said. "But that's racing, and we always knew Silverstone would be difficult as it's impossible to overtake the turbocharged cars on fast circuits. We know we've got a great car and Silverline Chevrolet/RML are the best team in the business, we gave it our best, and we took it to the final meeting – a lot of people weren't expecting that."
We're sure next year will be just as exciting as this year. Though it'd be nice if Plato and Neal had calmer chats next season...