The Honda Racing Team driver Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden set the pace at Brands Hatch in the first round of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). Neal scored a win in the last of the day's three races while Shedden spent the day fighting up from the back of the grid after a 130mph practice crash.
While Shedden's off at Paddock Hill Bend ruled him out of qualifying Neal went on to take pole, breaking the qualifying lap record around the 1.22 mile Indy circuit in the process and conforming the pace of the Neil Brown built NGTC-spec turbocharged engines used by the team this year.
Neal's advantage was short lived, the victim of some aggressive driving the opening corners forcing him to watch the race unfold from the Druids hairpin after his Civic had been hauled from the gravel trap.
Shedden, meanwhile, was on a charge. The team had managed to rebuild his no.52 car and the Scot was rewarding their efforts. He had made it into the top ten in only a matter of laps and had made it up to sixth by the time the checkered flag feel at the end of 24 laps.
The finish gave him a platform from which to start his race two attack, taking second place behind race winner Jason Plato to score Honda's first podium of the year.
The 32-year-old praised the work that went into his weekend; “I'm proud of the whole team this weekend because what they did was nothing short of a miracle. My car was in bits after the incident in qualifying and the guys pulled out all the stops to put it back together. Everyone's gone above and beyond the call of duty to give me a car to race in. What is incredible is that I didn't only have a car to race, I had a quick car and I managed to score a podium.”
The reverse grid – and success ballast – for the final race limited Shedden to a fourth place, but propelled Neal back to the front of the grid, and the double champion led from lights to flag to score a welcome win for the team after a rollercoaster weekend.
“We've got to be pleased with what we've achieved this weekend but it could have been even more if I hadn't have been knocked off the road in the opening race,” said Neal. “Despite that, the performance has given me confidence. The potential in the car and the speed it's shown straight out of the box has made me really optimistic.”
“When the car is in clear air, we are very fast and it's a strong car in qualifying. We have christened the new engine and it's performed perfectly first time out, which is a testament to the effort we've all put in. We aren't going to stand still now and we will work harder than ever to stay at the front.”
“The car has got huge potential,” added Shedden. “We have the positives of the turbocharged engine and we will learn more about the handling. We were hopeful, but we didn't know what to expect until these opening rounds were finished. The Honda has performed better than we could have hoped for and we will move on to Donington Park [April 16/17] with a lot of confidence.”