Team Dynamics Team Principal Matt Neal says he is concerned the new hybrid system being utilised in the British Touring Car Championship this year will be ‘detrimental to racing’.
The new hybrid system will replace the traditional success ballast previously used in the BTCC this year, with drivers gaining up to 15 seconds of additional power in the races depending upon their position in the previous race.
However, after initial testing with the new system developed by Cosworth Electronics, Neal has expressed his concerns over the gains which can realistically be obtained by the additional boost, likening the gain to five car lengths, or just thousandths of a second.
“You want the honest truth? You get a maximum of 15 seconds deployment per lap, and we compared the data of using and not using it at Snetterton, with eight seconds of deployment, and it was worth two metres at the end of the straight – it’s pathetic,” said Neal to TouringCars.Net.
“I said that to Alan [Gow, BTCC Chief Executive], who went ‘really’? And he sent it to Cosworth, who said, ‘no, no, it’s five metres’. And they came back with the data of two laps compared. One was an out lap of not using it and one was using it. And that was five metres – which is a car length.
“Now you’ve lost the weight and I think it’s going to be detrimental to the racing. It will end up like World Touring Cars. I think it will play to the rear-wheel drive [strengths].”
The experienced BTCC racer, who will oversee Gordon Shedden and Daniel Rowbottom’s campaign in 2022, was also frustrated at the inability to compare data with previous years.
“It’s been challenging – it still continues to be challenging for a lot of us. Not just the hybrid, but the new Cosworth systems around the hybrid. I just don’t think it’s ready.
“The problem is that with the new system they’ve given us, along with all the other teams, is that you can’t compare any data with previous data, so you’re starting from scratch.
“You can’t now compare a lap from today with a lap from last year or the year before, or five years ago, which we’ve been able to do – because nothing is interchangeable.
“It’s almost like someone who has designed the system hasn’t been involved in racing.”
Neal believes that the hybrid system has been introduced more to appeal to car manufacturers than as a genuine alternative to improving the on-track action via the previous ballast system.
The 55-year-old, who has also commentated on the inaugural season of the all-electric ETCR series, also admits he is worried about where the future of motorsport will be in the medium term.
“It’s a box-ticking exercise. It’s been done almost to keep the manufacturers interested, but the manufacturers aren’t interested anyway. Anything other than total EV [electric vehicle] they’re not interested in.
“There’s a development of synthetic fuels, and you’ve got to say that’s the big hope we all rest on, but again it’s a gesture.
“I am a bit old school. I need some convincing. But pure EV racing I don’t feel is the way forward for motorsport, which makes you worry where motorsport is going to be not only in ten years’ time but in five years’ time.”
Aside from the new hybrid system, Neal explained that he had come close to returning to driving in the championship this year, but that a deal with a key sponsor had not worked out.
Had the deal come off, which would have involved a loaned TOCA BTCC Licence [TBL] from TOCA, it would have been his final year in the BTCC, but now that he is facing another year out of the driving seat he admitted that his racing days in the BTCC have likely finally come to a close.
“That was one of the options and we were talking to a sponsor where we got very close,” added Neal. “It didn’t happen, either for me or Henry [Neal, one of his sons].
“We were trying to do a deal with a sponsor where I would do the first year and Henry would do the second year. But the cost of upgrading, with the hybrid systems, is just ridiculous. With that cost on top, all the maths just didn’t add up.
“Being realistic, it’s probably the end, but I’m not saying no. Alan [Gow] wanted to do a big thing about me retiring at the end of 2020, but I said no, because I wanted to leave the door open.
“My stepping back was Honda pulling out, because that really kicked us, so I never wanted to say never again, but I’ve got to be realistic about it.
“Despite what people might think I’ve never been comfortable in the limelight and Alan said ‘you’ll want to do a big thing’ but I’m quite happy to just slide off and do my own thing.”