Five men will begin this weekend's British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) finale still with a mathematical chance of taking the title.
In the immediate build-up to the race weekend The Checkered Flag look back at the journey the five drivers have made through 2011 to arrive at Silverstone chasing the championship.
It is difficult to deny that Honda Racing Team‘s NGTC-spec engined Honda Civic has been the car to beat this year, and slightly more debateable that Matt Neal has been the best exponent of the equipment.
He was fast right from the start of the season, taking pole position for the very first race, though his involvement only lasted one corner before he became the first victim of racing contact of the 2011 BTCC season – though Liam Griffin and Rob Collard had already introduced themselves on the warm-up lap.
His visit to the Druids gravel has not been Neal's only missed step on the path to Judgement Day. He suffered a disappointing Oulton Park, ending race two in the gravel after clashing with teammate Shedden on the final corner of the race – a incident he was instantly distraught about judging by the emotion captured by the camera as he sat in the stranded car.
All of the top three men in the championship standings have suffered their own nightmare weekends. Shedden and Plato have Donington. Neal has Snetterton.
His race day started well enough, with a good start putting him on the outside of challenge Jason Plato at turn one. However, Plato eased the Honda man wide, Neal eventually spinning across the track infront of the full pack. Miraculously, not only did every driver avoid the Honda, but the Honda avoided the barriers, though Neal still failed to take anything from the race.
Race two saw a Neal fightback to the points positions before a puncture brought him back to the pits. The parallels with Plato's race ruining punctures earlier in the year where glaring, if a little lost at the time.
Since leaving Snetterton in third place Neal has rebounded, logging consistent points as Jackson, Shedden and Plato have all suffered blips in the second half of the season. He now lead the championship by a measly five points, but with 52 points available for a clean sweep of pole, three wins and three fastest laps at Silverstone this weekend, any one of five drivers could still be crowned champion.
Matt Neal 2011 Results:
Wins: 6 (Brands Indy R3; Donington R1; Thruxton R2; Croft R1, 2; Brands GP R3)
Podiums: 11 (Brands Indy R3; Donington R1, 2; Thruxton R1, 2; Croft R1, 2; Knockhil R1, 2; Rockingham R2; Brands GP R3)