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Honda looking forward to Oulton International

Honda’s Matt Neal says he is looking forward to returning to the Oulton Park International circuit for this weekend’s fourth British Touring Car Championship meeting of the year.

Neal is one of only two current BTCC drivers to have raced on the longest configuration of the Oulton Park circuit, with the other being Alain Menu. The last time the BTCC used the layout was during the 1996 season.

“People have described Oulton Park as a mini Nürburgring Nordschleife because it’s just such a challenge,” said Neal. “I’ve had mixed fortunes there in the past, but the first team I ever raced for was based in Rochdale, so it was my home test circuit when I was cutting my teeth in circuit racing and I covered a lot of miles round there which have left me with some fond memories.”

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Neal admits he is happy to be carrying less success ballast for this weekend’s meeting, having dropped to fourth in the championship, 31 points adrift of leader Andrew Jordan, as a result of contact with Rob Collard in the third race at Thruxton.

“I’m looking forward to returning, and it’s nice that I’ll be a bit lighter going into qualifying after what happened in race three at Thruxton,” added Neal. “Going back to the International Circuit means we’ll have another couple of corners and braking zones where we can exploit the Civic Tourer’s chassis, too.

“The BTCC is so close at the moment that every last bit counts – we’re not looking for tenths-of-a-second anymore, we’re looking for hundredths. We’re still working on this car, but its handling is improving all the time and I’m confident we turned a bit of a corner with it during the Thruxton weekend, which hopefully will translate across to the remainder of the season. There’s still plenty left to play for.”

Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden is looking forward to the Cheshire event, pointing out that he considers it to be one of the highlights of the BTCC season.

“Oulton Park is invariably one of the best weekends of the year in terms of its atmosphere and the number of fans that come along,” said Shedden. “It’s a great track, too, and 2014 will be the first time most of the drivers on the grid have raced on the full layout. That makes for a different challenge and another unknown to throw into the mix.

“We’ve tried a lot out on the Civic Tourer; some of those ideas have worked whilst others haven’t. We still need to extract a little bit more performance, but we’ve been pretty strong round Oulton in the past and even with the ballast, I’d still expect us to be well inside the top ten.

“We’ve had a great start to the season and now we need to keep on consistently racking up the points. Historically, my championship bids have been built on terrible starts followed by massive comebacks. It’s nice to be so close to the front at this early stage of proceedings – and that can only bode well for the rest of the year.”

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