Defending champion Matt Neal is itching to get back on-track when the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returns at Snetterton next weekend.
Neal heads Honda Yuasa Racing teammate Gordon Shedden by the smallest of margins in the title fight, just one point separating the pair, with Jason Plato 29 points behind in third.
With four wins in the opening half of the season, and five further appearances on the podium, the 45-year-old entered the break in the best possible position for his title defence. But he is anticipating a tough battle to keep hold of the championship lead.
“The first half has gone amazingly well, no one can deny that,” the three-time champion told theCheckeredFlag.co.uk, “especially considering all the restrictions they are heaping on our Civics to slow us down.
“But it's only half way and we're now heading in to the half of the season where the gloves get taken off. So I just need to keep focused, get my head down and try to keep notching some results up. But no doubt it'll go down to the last round.”
One year ago, the debut of the new '300' layout at Snetterton, Neal and Plato came to blows within seconds of the first race, contact sending the Honda spinning at more than 100mph.
Plato, then in a Chevrolet Cruze, qualified pole and won the opening race but this time, with Honda's increasingly impressive new NGTC package at his disposal, Neal believes the combination of long straights and a tight infield means Snetterton is anyone's guess- and the same applies to the battle within the Yuasa team as well.
“Between me and Flash it's swung backwards and forwards,” he says, the two racking up ten wins from 15 between them. “He had the upper hand at a few meetings and then I've managed to swing it back my way for the last two, it could literally go either way.
“As for Jason, who knows? He'll be there because he always is and the MG has pace, he's the one who has the potential to spoil our party for sure.”
The Civics turned a corner in their development in a test at Pembrey before Oulton Park, where they won all three races, and Neal feels going into the second half of the season they will continue to be the car to beat.
“I think at the beginning S2000s had the edge,” he explains, “but now that edge has passed to NGTC cars for both outright speed and durability – [NGTC's] definitely the way forward for any team wanting to challenge consistently at the front.
“Implementation of the new regulations has been challenging but where we've got to with understanding it, I think the guys at Honda Racing are definitely one step in front of the others.”