BTCC driver Matt Neal has hit back after receiving criticism for the role he played in the final race of the championship deciding weekend, held last month on Brands Hatch's Grand Prix circuit.
The final race, that was eventually won by Jason Plato and saw Ulsterman Colin Turkington win the title was partly overshadowed by what appeared to Vauxhall team tactics attempting to secure a third consecutive title for their driver Fabrizio Giovanardi.
Fans, as well as several media outlets, including this site , cited Neal, who started from Pole for the finale for deliberately driving slowly in order to allow Giovanardi to overtake Turkington en route to taking the title.
However, in an interview published on the BTCC's website, Neal, while not denying the tactic defended its use.
“What I can say is I know how to play the game,” Neal told btcc.net. “I could have made life much more difficult for Colin, but I didn't because I believe there is a line to draw. I think I drove for my team-mate and my employer with high morals. And Vauxhall acted exactly the same in its quest to win.”
“So let the critics say what they want. It's not going to make me cry.”
Neal added, “the thing that really did upset me about the weekend was that my car was so hooked up. It was mega. Nothing would have made me more proud than to put the hammer down and win Vauxhall's last BTCC race which the car was easily capable of doing. Unfortunately the day wasn't about me. Vauxhall has been good to me these last two years so I had to drive with that in mind.”
“It made me laugh when I heard Tim Harvey [former BTCC champion, now ITV commentator] had criticised our team tactics on TV and that we'd got our comeuppance.”
“He wouldn't have had his title in 1992 without his team-mate Steve Soper and the rest of the BMW family to help him, which got pretty ugly at the time.”
The 1992 finale saw Soper, whose car was already damaged, take out Harvey's title rival John Cleland at Silverstone's Luffield corner, much to the ire of the Scotsman who climbed from his car to remonstrate with Soper even before he had climbed from his stricken 3-series.
“Isn't that why [fans] come to watch touring cars?” asked Neal.