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Watch out Lewis - I'm on my way; motor racing.

Byline: Richard Williamson

IT WAS my first time behind the wheel - but already the speedometer was hammering its way towards 100mph.

Not that my instructor seemed flustered. In fact, he seemed so unconcerned that if he had he popped on his slippers, thrown his feet up on the dashboard and started reading today's Daily Post it would have come as no surprise.

Reeling off instructions as if we were doing nothing more adventurous than driving the local vicar to Sunday evensong, my tutor calmly delivered the advice needed to safely negotiate the impending corner.

"No need to change gear ... stay in fourth ... smooth on the brake now ... turn in for the apex ... now get the power on."

All wise words - if a somewhat unexpected exhortation to speed up during the course of a first driving lesson.

But then this was a lesson with a difference. The man in the passenger seat was Matt Neal, one of the country's top racing drivers.

The 43-year-old has twice won the British Touring Car Championship and is locked in a titanic battle to take this year's crown.

Normally he can be found behind the wheel of a Honda Civic stripped barer than a page three model and with considerably more oomph under the bonnet than the road-going version we were in.

But that didn't stop him wringing the very most out of his non-racing car with a few rapid laps before handing the keys over to me and putting himself at the mercy of my driving skills.

Which is probably why he kept up a constant stream of tips and advice as we hurtled between corners.

"Driving fast is not about ragging the car," he said. "But driving smoothly. Often the drivers who don't look like they are going quickly are the ones putting in the best times. The drivers who look spectacular with sideways slides through corners aren't always the quick ones."

I doubted whether anyone watching from the side would confuse me with anything involving the phrase 'quick driver' but under Matt's patient tutelage I started to find sleeker, speedier lines through corners, trusting that the technology surrounding me would overcome my dithering feet across the pedals. The seconds started to tumble from my lap times before my brief taste of life in the fast lane was all too soon at an end as we peeled off the circuit and back down the pit lane.

Not that I'm quite ready yet to take on the rough and tumble world of touring car racing.

Neal, twice touring car champion in 2005 and 2006, admits the bumper to bumper racing can get quite feisty at times.

"There is a lot of bumping and shoving; it is all part of the gamesmanship," says Neal, who includes martial arts as part of his exercise regime. "The stewards are there to ensure it does not overstep the mark, but it is all part of touring car racing, which is very close."

At six feet, six inches tall there might seem a simple answer as to why father-of-three Neal does not squeeze himself into a single-seater racing car, but the man who made his BTCC debut back in 1991 admits: "I was drawn to the combative nature of the racing. It is very close and very exciting and no quarter is given."


Matt Neal tries to get the better of Robert Collard at Thruxton
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 8, 2010
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