Fresh from topping the official Media Day test at Donington Park, Matt Neal believes that Honda are the best outfit to be in ahead of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The Halfords Yuasa Racing man put himself top of the times in Leicester during the final 10 minutes of the official four-hour test on Tuesday 22 March, denying Triple Eight’s Ashley Sutton that particular honour.
While team-mate Gordon Shedden was not concerned by 16th place after a more experimental day, Neal was happy to have ended the day with initial bragging rights.
“It’s a great start”, a delighted Neal told The Checkered Flag after Tuesday’s action concluded. “I’d rather be there than down the back end.
“But, it’s still early days yet for all of us.”
The triple champion made a big step forward in 2015 after a somewhat battling campaign with the Civic Tourer the season prior, a campaign that gave Neal the kick to succeed once again.
On a personal revival, Neal commented: “Last year I changed my tune. I’ve relaxed and thought ‘I’m lucky to be here’ and enjoying every minute, so I’m so still thinking that way now.”
The coming season is one that already couples nostalgia with a new technical cycle for the Dynamics outfit, who return to the orange and black scheme of previous title sponsor, Halfords, for 2016.
Neal compared his father’s Honda outfit to a different, iconic Formula 1 name, saying: “It’s exciting because, with Honda, you know that you’re arguably in one of the best teams in the paddock. To now have Halfords and Yuasa back involved make it the dream team again!
“Halfords have been the Martini, if you like, of touring car racing. It’s been in and out, but it’s often been there and it’s a massive name still.
“Plus, Honda to me are like the Ferrari of touring car racing. Now we’ve married the two together.”
Looking at the latest improvements to grace the 2016 Civic Type-R, Honda have brought with them an updated power plant as well as a raft of component updates to their latest model.
“I don’t really hear [the engine] much from the outside, so if anything I just think it’s quieter!”, Neal said.
“We’re still trying to understand the engine; there’s a lot of work going on in there and to drive it, as well as manage the heat that goes into it and oil surge are among the things we’re still getting on top of.
“It feels alright”, Neal added on the new Civic’s handling at this early stage. “A lot of the time we’re working on the new TOCA components with the RML guys and it was a really positive day with them.”
Third in the championship last season behind team-mate Shedden and Team BMR‘s Jason Plato, 56 -time BTCC race winner Neal says that 2016 will be another tight contest, bringing with it another Japanese rival manufacturer in Subaru.
“Subaru’s go really well in the gravel don’t they?” Neal quipped of Honda’s potential new rivals. “We’ll see what happens. But no, it’s going to be tight this year.”