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Opinion

Why the BTCC hopes a departing series giant will be 750 not out

OPINION: Matt Neal and father Steve have a tin-top heritage dating back to the 1960s, with their Team Dynamics squad at the heart of many a magic British Touring Car Championship moment down the years. Even if the squad will keep a behind-the-scenes involvement, its departure from the series on the eve of the season is a sombre moment that hopefully won't be permanent

Matt Neal, Computeach Racing with Halfords, Honda Civic Type-R.

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths / Motorsport Images

The lanky Midlanders have taken a step back from the British Touring Car Championship, and we can but hope that, as before, it’s a case of au revoir rather than adieu.

It’s fair to describe Team Dynamics, which will drop into a support role to One Motorsport in 2023, as the heritage team of the BTCC. While it hasn’t had the longest unbroken run of participation – that honour belongs to West Surrey Racing – there have been few interruptions since it joined the field in 1992 in its first incarnation as Rimstock Racing with the ex-Will Hoy 1991 title-winning BMW M3 for Matt Neal.

We’re now 750 BTCC race starts down the line for Rimstock/Dynamics, which is what Neal and father Steve, a star of the series in Minis in the late 1960s – how on Earth did a member of the Neal family ever fit in a Mini? – would certainly not have predicted when Neal Sr co-founded Dynamics. It acted as a shop window for his boy, National Saloon champion in 1991 with the beefy Nissan Skyline. And it worked, because Neal’s promising performances with the Dynamics BMW 318is in 1993 earned him a promotion to the factory Mazda squad for 1994.

Dynamics took a year out from the BTCC in 1994 while Neal raced – and rolled – the uncompetitive Mazda. It was also absent from 2001 until late in 2003. The series had switched from Super Touring machinery, but there was still a European championship – the forerunner of what eventually became the World Touring Car Championship – for the formula. Neal and Dynamics toddled off there in 2001 with their Nissan Primera and claimed a victory at Estoril to add to their BTCC history-making ‘first for an independent’ at Donington in 1999 and subsequent success at Brands Hatch in 2000.

When Neal returned to the BTCC as a driver for 2002 it was with the Vauxhall team run by Triple Eight, and Dynamics’ re-emergence did not come until late 2003 with an Astra Coupe. For 2004, sponsor Halfords and Honda machinery had arrived, Neal had returned, and the Dynamics era of BTCC success was kickstarted.

Of course, there was another two-year trip off piste to the Triple Eight Vauxhall line-up for Neal in 2008-09, but Dynamics was big enough to stand on its own feet before welcoming the (literal) prodigal son home in 2010.

Neal famously became the first independent to win a BTCC race in the Super Touring era at Donington in 1999 with his Dynamics-run Primera

Neal famously became the first independent to win a BTCC race in the Super Touring era at Donington in 1999 with his Dynamics-run Primera

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

While Neal had already claimed the BTCC overall title in 2005 and 2006 with the Integra Type R, the 2010s were the golden era for the team. Gordon Shedden, now established as a BTCC top-liner, was in the other car; Barry Plowman led the technical squad and engineered Neal, with Eddie Hinckley on duty for Shedden; Steve Neal remained at the helm, continuing to direct operations and chortle out his rumours for journalists to go and chase juicy stories. Now in Honda Civics, Neal Jr led Shedden to a 1-2 in the title race in 2011; the Scot turned the tables in 2012 in another 1-2 and then gained further crowns in 2015 and 2016.

“Through all the evolutions of the BTCC, Dynamics have been a mainstay,” points out Shedden. “They’ve been everything to me. Every single one of my BTCC victories has been in a Team Dynamics car. It’s been a huge part of my racing life.

“My first year was in 2006. Matt had just won the championship – the first independent [of the single-class era] to win the BTCC outright. That team was bouncing on the crest of a wave, and for Matt and Steve to take a chance on me, who’d just been racing in one-makes, was a massive thing.

“Being there to experience it and take the joy from a lot of parts of it has been amazing. My three titles were all incredible in different ways, and it’s been great to share it with such great people.

"Dynamics have been an incredible part of the championship, but equally nothing lasts forever – we saw that when Triple Eight closed their doors. But as far as I’m concerned it’s a hiatus" Alan Gow

“The success has come from a whole lot of different rulesets and very different cars – the weird and the wonderful, the first estate car to ever win a race in the BTCC [the Civic Tourer of 2014], the first NGTC car to win the title, so many amazing things that Dynamics have pioneered over the years.”

Shedden, of course, returned in 2021 after a three-year spell away. Hinckley had retired when Shedden left the UK scene (bound for the World Touring Car Cup) at the end of 2017, Honda UK pulled out at the end of 2020, and perhaps some of the old magic had gone.

Neal Jr’s attempts to procure an extra TBL entrants’ licence for 2021 were, he said, key to a commercial deal he had lined up that would enable him to continue driving alongside the returning Shedden and the incumbent Dan Cammish. What a line-up that would have been… But the vote didn’t gain enough support from rival teams, and Dynamics had to let Cammish go and replace him with the capable Dan Rowbottom and his Cataclean budget. Two years on, the departure of Rowbottom to join Cammish at Motorbase, and the last-minute pull-out of Halfords, were too much.

Shedden and Neal were a formidable double act in the early 2010s, finishing 1-2 in the championship in 2011 and 2012

Shedden and Neal were a formidable double act in the early 2010s, finishing 1-2 in the championship in 2011 and 2012

Photo by: Ebrey / Motorsport Images

Shedden adds that Dynamics was flat-out working on its participation until the 17 March cut-off for entries. “We were trying to save it until then, just one car to keep it alive, but even to run one car costs a lot,” he relates. He also says that during the winter there were “other [commercial] deals we couldn't take because of conflicts with Halfords”.

Series boss Alan Gow hopes Dynamics returns.

“If they are in a position to come back next year, we’d find a way to help make it happen for them,” he declares. “Dynamics have been an incredible part of the championship, but equally nothing lasts forever – we saw that when Triple Eight closed their doors. But as far as I’m concerned it’s a hiatus.”

In the meantime, a team with 126 wins to its credit (topped by Neal and Shedden on 52 apiece!) is lost to the BTCC grid. Gow has made no bones over recent years of his desire to trim the field by a few cars, but it’s probably fair to say that the cars he would rather shed are still there. No one wanted Dynamics as a casualty, even if, as we hope, it’s temporary.

It would be a real shame if the Dynamics name doesn't return to the grid in future

It would be a real shame if the Dynamics name doesn't return to the grid in future

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Team Dynamics Stats

Total BTCC starts: 750
Total BTCC wins: 126

Driver Starts Wins
Gordon Shedden 393 52
Matt Neal 620 52
Dan Cammish 87 8
Dan Eaves 60 6
James Thompson 18 3
Gareth Howell 29 3
Tom Chilton 30 1
Dan Rowbottom 60 1
Dave Pinkney 30 0
Matt Simpson 30 0
Alex Portman 16 0
Robb Gravett  14 0
Johnny Herbert 9 0
Ray Bellm 6 0
Andy Neate  3 0
Andy Wallace  1 0
Neal won Dynamics' first outright BTCC title with the Honda Integra in 2005, but that year was also notable for Dan Eaves claiming the first weekend hat-trick at Thruxton

Neal won Dynamics' first outright BTCC title with the Honda Integra in 2005, but that year was also notable for Dan Eaves claiming the first weekend hat-trick at Thruxton

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths / Motorsport Images

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