Matt Neal Feels the Need for Speed – and All That Jazz – at Gurston Down Hillclimb

Matt Neal Feels the Need for Speed – and All That Jazz – at Gurston Down Hillclimb

30.04.2014: • Triple BTCC Champion Matt Neal samples a different type of Honda horsepower





•    Triple BTCC Champion Matt Neal samples a different type of Honda horsepower


•    In-house Synchro Motorsport Racing team takes Jazz and Civic to Gurston Down Speed Hillclimb's milestone meeting


•    Weekend off for Honda Yuasa Racing man, but competitive spirit still comes to the fore




Honda Yuasa Racing star Matt Neal turned his talents to a different form of motorsport last weekend, as he participated in Gurston Down Speed Hillclimb’s landmark 300th meeting behind the wheel of Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd (HUM) Synchro Motorsport Racing team’s Jazz.
 

The three-time Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Champion will continue his bid for a fourth series crown this weekend at super-fast Thruxton in Hampshire, but in the build-up to the resumption of the all-action BTCC, he travelled to neighbouring Wiltshire to compete at Gurston, a hillclimb that is unique in the mainland UK in that it begins by going down rather than up.
 

Neal’s ride for the meeting, however, was not his usual Civic Tourer BTCC race car, but rather a Jazz prepared and run by HUM’s in-house Synchro Motorsport Racing team in Swindon.
 

Following a brief acclimatisation tour in the morning to get his bearings on the course’s unforgiving layout, the 47-year-old completed two practice runs, a handful of passenger rides at lunchtime and two timed runs in the afternoon in distinctly inclement weather conditions – and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
 

“The BTCC can get very intense sometimes, so it was good to come to a more relaxed event like this,” Neal reflected. “It was certainly very different! I’ve taken my kids to Shelsley Walsh before, but I’d never actually driven up a hillclimb until now.
 

“There wasn’t much time to get to grips with it all, so I had to try to take everything on-board pretty quickly and I did scare myself a couple of times! The main thing that took me by surprise was how narrow it is. I was very tentative on my first run, especially as it was raining – I was very conscious of not wanting to beach the car on a bank, or worse...
 

“It was awesome fun, though, and I absolutely loved the Jazz. The passenger rides were enjoyable, too, seeing the looks on people’s faces at the end of the run – and some of them even gave me a few tips in terms of how to best attack the hill! I can imagine it being really picturesque at Gurston on a sunny summer’s day, and a really chilled-out family weekend. It was just a great experience.”
 

Whilst Neal took to the hill in the ‘pocket rocket’ Jazz, Synchro Motorsport Racing also brought a second car to the party in the shape of the latest Civic. Like its smaller sibling, it ran with a standard engine although with the addition of a paddle-shift gearbox.
 

Piloted by Team Principal Alyn James, the Civic’s excellent grip and traction countered the Jazz’s lighter and livelier chassis, enabling the drivers of the two cars to trade fastest times in class throughout the day.
 

Both attracted plenty of interest from spectators and fellow competitors alike, and James offered some insight into the ethos and background behind Synchro, which was founded in 1993, the year after HUM began car production.
 

The squad went on to compete in the BTCC itself in the early-to-mid 2000s as well as Britcar and a host of European 24-hour races, with further round-the-clock encounters at Zandvoort and Barcelona in the pipeline for later this year.
 



“The idea was to take a standard Honda road car and develop it for racing,” explained HUM Powertrain Product Development Manager James. “It gives the engineers a platform from which to learn and demonstrate the strength of our products, and endurance racing offers the guys the opportunity to really get stuck in with things like pit-stops.
 

“Everybody in the team works at the factory – you can’t be more of a ‘factory team’ than we are – and when you join, your grade within the business doesn’t matter. Synchro develops people, and by assuming management roles within the team, they gain in confidence and can take their newfound experience back to the factory with them to help them progress professionally. What’s more, all of this takes place in our spare time, so it really is a labour of love!”
 

James joined the Synchro Motorsport Racing team the day after he started working at HUM 14 years ago, and began racing as a complete novice in 2011. Although ultimately, he had to narrowly give best to Neal in the Gurston Down showdown, he admitted that it had been a fascinating day in the ‘office’.
 

“It was the first time I’d ever been to a hillclimb, and none of us really knew too much what to expect,” he confessed. “It was certainly different to anything I’ve been used to before. It really brings out your competitive side, and next time we come, we will definitely have to properly prep the cars beforehand because they were set-up for two-hour endurance races rather than a 40-second sprint!
 

“I’ve known Matt for a while, and he really got into the spirit of the occasion. HUM helped Honda Yuasa Racing early on in the development of the new Civic Tourer BTCC race car, and they have been extremely supportive of us in return. As an amateur team, it’s fantastic for us to have that kind of reciprocal relationship with such a professional outfit.”
 



Synchro Motorsport Racing will host the second annual Dave Allan Trophy Race at Castle Combe on 26 May, in memory of the team’s late BTCC driver. The race is open to saloons, sports and GT cars. You can follow Synchro on Facebook here and on Twitter here.





Russell Atkins , photos Robb Webb Photography and Gurston Down Speed Hillclimb

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/matt-neal-need-for-speed-gurston-down-hillclimb-all-that-jazz---122551.html

30.04.2014 / MaP

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