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Matt Neal surprised to have closed on championship lead

Matt Neal says he was surprised to have closed in on the championship lead in the British Touring Car Championship races at Rockingham, with the Honda driver now four points closer than he was going into the meeting.

Finishing in the top ten in all three races, Neal gradually improved over the course of the weekend, going from finishing eighth in race one, to sixth in race two and then finally fourth in race three.

Even though the Honda driver missed out on a podium finish, his consistency means that he has reduced the gap to points leader Sam Tordoff from nine points to five leaving the Northamptonshire circuit.

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“The first races two were proper hard work and then we managed to salvage a good result in the last race with the hard tyre,” said Neal to TouringCars.Net. “We somehow closed the points [gap] but I don’t know how.”

Neal admits that he found the first two races to be challenging, making no progress from his grid position in race one before gaining just two places in race two – his only improvement in any of the races.

“The first two were hard work,” added the triple champion. “I was just trying to stay out of trouble, keep my nose clean, get my head down and see where we ended up. I thought race three was going to be much harder on the hard tyre but it worked really well considering.”

In race three Neal allowed team-mate Gordon Shedden through to challenge race leader Árón Smith for the win. He then lamented the late-race safety car period, which brought the Subaru of Colin Turkington into the mix.

“I thought he [Shedden] could have a fair crack at Smith,” continued Neal. “It was a shame that with the last few safety cars it brought Turkington back into the mix, because I had a good gap on them.

“I managed to gap [Mat] Jackson for a bit, and he had Turkington behind him, and then they pulled the safety car and it brought Turkington right back into the mix and there was no way that I was going to really hold him off on the softer tyre.

Looking ahead to the next round at Silverstone in three weeks’ time, Neal believes that the circuit will favour some of the other cars more than the Civic Type R.

“Silverstone probably won’t suit us, because there’s not enough corners. We’re breathing down [WSR’s] neck, so we only need them to crack a little bit and we’ll be right on them. You never know.”

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