Shedden v Neal: who knows the other best?

  • Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal – Halfords Yuasa Racing drivers in the British Touring Car Championship – have been teammates on and off for ten years.

    They first shared a garage in 2006, when Team Halfords were running the Honda Integra Type-R in which Neal secured successive BTCC crowns.

    Since then they have racked up dozens of race wins and countless more podiums together, and with five championship titles between them they share more accolades than any other line-up on the grid.

    That’s not to say that it’s all been plain sailing though. One race at Oulton Park in 2011 ended in disaster as Neal locked up in the final corner, putting them both in the gravel as rival Jason Plato coasted through to take victory.

    Luckily neither felt the need to throw a cap at the other, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

    Such a measured response in that situation could only come from two drivers who know each other well enough to put their mistakes behind them.

    But which driver knows the other better?

    Shedden and Neal can fight for track supremacy every time they get behind the wheel, but in order to settle this battle we were going to need a highly tuned, all-encompassing set of questions.

    So before qualifying for last week’s season opener at Brands Hatch, TG sat down with them both to thrash it out over the following Mr-and-Mrs-style quiz…

  • What is your teammate’s favourite track?

    MN: “He’s obviously got to choose Knockhill because of his background and everything, but if it wasn’t Knockhill I would say it’s Bathurst. Because he’s been there and he’s experienced it, and it is one of those really intimidating but awesome circuits there are in the world if you’re lucky enough to drive on them. He’s had the experience a few times now so I’d probably say that.”

    GS: “Yeah, it’s definitely one of my favourites. He’s probably about right with that. I kind of like the old school circuits, the ones you could start with a blank bit of paper and design now, you know? Ones that have got a bit of undulation, a bit of commitment, blind corners with some randomness about them… All those kind of circuits are great.”

    TG: And what is Matt’s favourite circuit?

    GS: “Probably Donington because of the memories that it holds, I would say. Bathurst is a place in a million: he’s raced V8s down there and allsorts. Seeing as he plumped for two, I’ll plump for two which will be Bathurst and Donington.”

    MN: “Donington is obviously very special: first BTCC win which was a mega day. Here [Brands Hatch], then internationally Bathurst or the old Nurburgring circuit, again because they’re a little bit sketchy to drive. It is a bit intimidating, and that’s what we all want really.”

    Score after Round 1: Matt Neal 1-1 Gordon Shedden

  • What does your teammate drive home in?

    MN: “A Type R, obviously.”

    GS: “A Type R. He’s got a red one; I’ve got a blue one!”

    TG naïvely anticipated a fuller answer than ‘The company car Honda gave us’. Oops.

    Score after Round 2: Matt Neal 2-2 Gordon Shedden

  • What would your teammate be if he wasn’t a racing driver?

    GS: “A comedian, obviously! [Laughs] Given his size he would have been a rugby player I think if he hadn’t started in cars. He still tries to pick up as many rugby-style injuries as he can at the minute even though he’s racing… broken hands and broken this and broken that, so he is a little bit accident prone. But yeah, he would’ve made a good rugby player.”

    MN: “Yep, I would’ve been a rugby player. Definitely.”

    TG: And what would Gordon have done?

    MN: “I don’t know, but I reckon he’d have been a golfer. Because he is pretty damn handy, and he’s a proper bandit. We’ve gone on promotion days with sponsors and everything saying ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ like a dimwit, but just hoses the floor with everybody. He’s very capable.”

    GS: “As a kid I would’ve loved to have been a fighter pilot. That would have been good. I mean I can get in enough trouble on the ground, imagine what chaos you could cause up there. Another couple of dimensions when you’ve got up and down to go at as well, let alone forward, back, left and right. That would have been pretty cool. I couldn’t have been a golfer: he only thinks I’m good because he’s rubbish! So it’s kind of relative.”

    Score after Round 3: Matt Neal 2-3 Gordon Shedden

  • What is your teammate’s favourite hobby?

    MN: “Probably cycling. He does a lot of cycling, he goes to and from work which is a fair distance for him. Drivers think they’re quite good at it. We were talking to some of the lads down in Monaco the year before last: Di Resta, Jenson and all that lot. They go on these four-hour rides, and Chris Froome lives down there as well. So they’re going out for a few rides with Froomey, and up some of the steep hills they’re sweating away, and he’s got both hands off the handlebars, one hand on each of their backsides giving them a push!”

    GS: “Yeah, I do a few miles on the bike everywhere I go. I like my motorbikes as well. I do some track days and things on my bike, but Honda get a bit nervous when the season starts when I’m out on a motorbike.”

    TG: And what is Matt’s favourite pastime?

    GS: “Fighting. He does a lot of mixed martial arts for fitness, so at 6ft 7, 100 kilos and a double black belt… he’s not the kind of person you want to meet in a dark alley when he’s in a bad mood.”

    MN: “Yeah, probably that or motorbike trail riding. I started racing, doing motocross. My first ever racing thing was a CR250, a Honda motorbike, 1984. So that was my indoctrination into motorsport.

    Score after Round 4: Matt Neal 3-4 Gordon Shedden

  • What’s your teammate’s favourite type of restaurant?

    GS: “He’d go for a curry. He’s a Brummie, what else is he going to have?”

    MN: “Yeah, a good curry.”

    TG: And vice versa?

    MN: “He’s not into curry, he’d probably go to a local pub and have a nice steak.”

    GS: “Yeah, I can do that. I’m dead simple with my food so literally a bit of steak on a plate would be fine.”

    Score after Round 5: Matt Neal 4-5 Gordon Shedden

  • Where would you teammate go on holiday?

    MN: “Wherever Jillian [his wife] tells him!” [Laughs]

    GS: “Yeah, ditto!” [More laughs]

    Score after Round 6: Matt Neal 5-6 Gordon Shedden

  • What will your teammate do after retiring?

    GS: “He’ll probably just spend his life giving me more grief! Slap me about the head a bit more and tell me where I’m going wrong. That’ll be a long time yet though, he’s got plenty left in him. He can worry about that in another ten years.”

    MN: “I don’t even think about that myself. The difficult thing is I’ve raced my whole adult life. In Formula One or so many other big things, they make a large amount of money very quickly. In BTCC it’s a nice living, and it’s a passion, but it’s not enough to retire on, so you keep working because you need to keep working.”

    TG: And what will Gordon do?

    MN: “I don’t think he’ll give up. He’s 37 now, so he’s got a long time left yet. He’s already Scotland’s most successful touring car driver ever. My first title wasn’t won until I was older than Flash, so man… He could rewrite the record books. They’re already being rewritten as we sit here now. It’s great to be able to be part of that legend.”

    GS: “If you set a target, then as soon as you achieve it, what are you going to do after that? So you have goals, but goals are different from targets. You want to be as successful as possible, but I also know that it will go in cycles. There’ll be peaks and troughs, and there will be years where for whatever reason it doesn’t go your way and years when it does. All I’ve said to myself is ‘When the opportunity is there, then make sure you take advantage of it.’”

    Score after Round 7: Matt Neal 5-6 Gordon Shedden

  • Who was your teammate’s idol growing up?

    MN: “Jim Clark.”

    GS: “Yep. Because Jimmy did everything. He was able to jump from a Formula One car to a touring car in the same day. Racing drivers notoriously always think that they’re the best, but in Jim’s time, all his peers were like ‘He’s the one. He’s got something. We don’t know what it is, but he’s the one that can do it all the time.’ So you can’t argue with that, I don’t think.”

    TG: And who was Matt’s favourite driver?

    GS: “Mansell.”

    MN: “Yep. Regardless of him being a Brummie, he was a fighter. For all his shortcomings of getting out of the car like he’s crippled and all the rest of it, he’s an absolute fighter and no matter what situation you put him in, he will fight tooth and nail for it. I like that. That was his style, and that’s why I think the British public got behind him at the time.”

    Score after Round 8: Matt Neal 6-7 Gordon Shedden

  • Would your teammate rather race F1 or WEC?

    GS: “Well he wouldn’t fit in an F1 car! Though it’d be nice to say you’d driven in F1…”

    MN: “A good friend of mine is convinced that his son is going to get to Formula One. They are convinced. So I said ‘Okay, there’s eighteen people in the world – out of seven billion people – in Formula One. Out of that, six are getting paid, probably. If you do get there, how long are you going to do it for? One year? Five years? How long is your career going to be?’ The ones who really last, the Alonsos, the Jensons, the Lewises, you could count almost on one hand.”

    TG: Which one would Gordon choose?

    MN: “The notoriety obviously is with Formula One. If you’d do it for the purity of racing, I think you’d have to go World Endurance. Because it’s still a race. One of them isn’t even a race any more. It’s a technology race.”

    GS: “Yeah. I’m struggling with F1 if I’m honest at the minute. Even as someone who’s into motorsport, I can’t force myself to sit and watch a grand prix. Because nothing’s happening. At least with WEC, like LMP1, you’ve got Porsche, Toyota, Audi… all properly going at it hammer and tongs. And that’s still exciting.”

    Score after Round 9: Matt Neal 7-7 Gordon Shedden

  • Tie-breaker: How many races has your teammate won?

    GS: “High 50s for touring car races, maybe 58? 59? That neck of the woods?

    Matt has won 56 BTCC races, putting Gordon three away from the correct answer.

    MN: “I think he’s won about 45 or something like that, as a guess. I’m not convinced I know the exact figure. And he’s done about 350 races so his percentage is a lot better than mine! But he’s had a good tutor…”

    Gordon had won 41 races prior to last weekend’s even at Brands Hatch, putting Matt out by four.

    Final score: Matt Neal 7-8 Gordon Shedden

    Shedden wins!

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