MATT JAMES’ PERFECT 10 OF THE ’10S: Hondas Implode
Throughout the next fortnight, Motorsport News Editor Matt James will continue to reveal his top ten memories from the last ten years of the British Touring Car Championship. Today’s memory: the iconic moment Matt Neal took teammate Gordon Shedden for an excursion onto the gravel at Oulton Park.
When: June 5, 2011
Where: Oulton Park
Team management is never an easy role. Sure, the men at the controls are the ones who have to make the split-second decisions which can have a huge influence on the outcome of the race, but it is the men at the helm of the squad who ultimately carry the can. Never has the responsibility of that role become more apparent to me than at Oulton Park in June, 2011.
Gordon Shedden was set to claim his third win of the season at the controls of his Team Dynamics-run Honda Civic Type R. He was measuring his pace with team-mate Matt Neal riding shotgun behind on the greasy damp surface as the laps ticked by. Surely nothing could stop this Honda rout?
On the very last corner of the very last lap, Neal got a strong run out of Druids and thought he saw a chance. He chucked his hatchback up in the inside of his team-mate, but locked up on the wet surface and cannoned into the side of Shedden.
Both skittered through the gravel and although Shedden eventually made it across the line in sixth place, the damage had been done. Worst of all for them both, their arch-nemesis Jason Plato had nipped through to rob first place in his RML-run Chevrolet.
ITV’s Ben Edwards had to apologise to any viewers who might have overheard Neal’s x-rated admonishment of himself for the crash as his machine was running towards the tyre wall.
It was immediately an iconic image, similar to the Toyota-based Julian Bailey-Will Hoy clash at the British Grand Prix support race in 1993. Or the Andy Rouse-Hoy crash at Brands Hatch in 1992.
The team personnel were crushed, and team owner Steve Neal (Matt’s father and an ex-BTCC racer) gathered the crew in the garage before race three, and I was accidentally caught up in the middle of it.
He reassured the team that they were all performing at a very high level, they had a level of professionalism that remained undimmed by what had just happened out on the track and told them that they should all carry their heads high into the afternoon’s final race. It was just the rallying cry that was needed, it was appreciated and it was delivered at just the right time. It was proper leadership.
The drivers, who have a strong personal friendship, were curt but courteous afterwards and it was soon put behind them. And that ceasefire carried on until the end of the campaign, when Neal finished top of the points ahead of Shedden.