VIEW FROM THE COCKPIT

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INSIGHT VIEW F ROV THE COC

Was Super TouPeg beffer than s BTCC? Maff Nears not so sure… A two-time BTCC champion, 6ff 6in Maff Neal from Stourbridge has seen it all. He made his debut in 1991 as a 24-year-old at the wheel of a BMW M3. Since then he has missed just one season and started more than 400 races. The bulk of those have been undertaken with his father Steve’s team, but he has also had works drives with Mazda, Peugeot (very briefly), Vauxhall and Honda. In 1999, he won £250,000 as the first Independent to win a race, and only Jason Plato and Andy Rouse

can beffer his current tally of 41 victories.

What is the biggest difference between now and then? The playing field is more level than it was in the Super Touring days. Back then, the Independents weren’t given the same tyres or engines as the works teams. You were two seconds a lap off the pace even before you’d turned a wheel. Ironically, I’m seeing the reverse of that now: I’m driving a manufacturer’s car (Honda Civic) and the cards are being stacked in favour of

the Independents.

How have you maintained your motivation? The buzz from driving fast is not what it was. And I don’t think I could go back to what I was doing in the ’90s, striving for a top 10 position. Working with a team is what I get off on, performing well in every race, not making mistakes, which is difficult given the physicality of the racing. Testing in the Super Touring era was unlimited; we were out every week. Now we’re only allowed four days once the season has started. That means that

experience counts for a lot. I enjoy that.

Is the racing different? The new cars have much less aero. The final Super Touring cars were pretty much formula cars in that you couldn’t run too close to the car in front because you’d lose your downforce, the balance would go and you’d ruin your tyres. You can run nose to tail with today’s cars, which is much beffer. They’re more robust, too. They were a bit too fragile by the end of the Super

Has the atmosphere changed? I don’t think the racing has lost out. We’ve always had close baffles with a lot of gamesmanship between the drivers. But I think we miss the rivalry between the major manufacturers, the cheering and the booing. Aggro is what puts bums on seats. I guess that’s what Jason (Plato) and I

provide now.

Any regrets? I would have liked to do more international stuff, but it’s easier to raise sponsorship for the BTCC because its promotion is so good. That said, although the total viewing figures are high, I think we suffer from not being on one of the main UK channels (it’s shown on ITV4). TV makes the series, feeds the fans. We did well to hang on to it when

the championship was at its lowest ebb.

Touring era. The new turbo engine is also a step in the right direction.