Over 600 British Touring Car Championships starts since 1991, 59 wins and a hat-trick of titles earn Matt Neal his place in British motorsport folklore. While the 49-year-old bids for a fourth crown in 2016, he could soon have company from a pair of 20-year-old budding tin-top stars – his own twin sons, Henry and William Neal.
The brothers have set their crosshairs at racing dreams similar to their elder, currently racing in separate MSVR MINI Challenge championship classes.
Maiden podium visits also came the way of both in their most recent outings, Henry battling to second place in a wet JCW outing at Oulton Park while [slightly] older brother Will battled to a runner-up spot in similar conditions at Cadwell Park in the Cooper class of the sister series.
With their father Matt long a household name of the BTCC since the early nineties, TCF asks both – is that route an ultimate goal of the future for the pair?
“I’d love to race in it”, was Will’s response to the BTCC question posed. “It’s a dream for one day.”
Henry similarly enthuses: “Ultimately, BTCC is the dream. I’ve got a long way to go, what with this being my first season. I ended on a high last year with a win in the Coopers and hope to do the same in Gen-3 this year. Hopefully this year it will come.”
But where did it all start for the pair? Unsurprisingly, their father’s influence at racetracks around the UK became a lasting memory, something that clearly runs in the blood of both Will and Henry at a young age.
“We’ve always been brought up with it”, adds Will. “Obviously dad’s done it all, so we’ve been at these tracks since we were little babies. There’s pictures of us with my dad holding us both as babies on one of his cars. We’ve done it since we’ve been old enough.”
Often the preferred starting point for budding racers at a tender age, karting was not in fact something particular high on the duo’s agenda in their early racing years.
“We did a little bit on weekends, but not properly”, Will says of their karting experience. “People put hundreds and thousands [of pounds] into it. Unless you’re going to be the next Lewis Hamilton, I think you can learn just from going into something like we have. [Karting] does help, but I think that, with our dad obviously knowing the circuits so well, it’s helped us get straight into it.”
Instead, tuition came their way further North in Scottish Legends racing, a format that brought smiles to their faces just as it does to the eager onlookers across the country.
“I started off in Legends two years ago in Scotland”, Henry explains. “That was awesome. Those things are nuts, because they don’t go in a straight line anywhere!
“After I did a year in that, the best value for money for good racing was to start in the Coopers in Mini Challenge. You quickly learn proper race craft and all that kind of stuff you want, then I stepped up to the JWC and it’s going brilliantly so far.”
Legends racing started a season later for his twin brother, who adds: “Through Legends; Henry was first, then me the year after, then we got to Minis. Legends are great fun; completely different to a Mini, because you don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Race craft learned in the highly competitive JWC Mini Challenge has already become a key factor in Henry’s progress in 2016, displaying overtaking prowess at Silverstone’s final complex in May that could have been mistaken for his father’s top-tier tin-top escapades gone by.
Speaking of which, what does the triple BTCC champion himself think of the progress of his racing sons in their early development stages?
While the Halfords Yuasa Racing driver battles to grab a fourth crown from under the noses of his West Surrey Racing rivals with just the visit to Brands Hatch GP remaining on October 1/2, Matt Neal said that the Mini Challenge provides a healthy stepping stone to learning key traits of touring car racing.
On the progress of his sons so far, Matt told TCF: “They’re both really enjoying it. It’s been steady away so far, taking it just one step at a time.
“They’re not trying to set the world on fire yet; just learning some racecraft and I think it’s a great series at the minute.
I had a little go in [both Minis] before Silverstone in May and those cars are great!”
On their father’s input behind the scenes, Henry adds: “Matt actually had a go in the cars for the first time, told us what he thought and basically worked out what we should do set-up wise.”
If the pair’s swingball battles looked competitive enough within the paddock after a race weekend, more is to come as the brothers intend to tackle 2017 more closely on the tarmac as potential team-mates in the Mini Challenge next year.
“We’ll be team-mates next year”, Will states. “I can show him how it’s done!”
Henry confirmed these intentions, adding: “Fingers crossed; if all goes will this year, [Will] will move up to the John Cooper Works MINI with me. We’ll then have some proper teamwork battles.”