Sunday, October 21 2012
Matt Neal has won a tense first race of the final Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship round of 2012, narrowly beating Andrew Jordan and pole man Tom Onslow-Cole. Team mate Gordon Shedden's title hopes were strengthened as he finished ahead of chief rival Jason Plato.
Jordan made a poor getaway in the wet, just holding off Plato and Shedden as the cars headed into Paddock Hill for the first time. Meanwhile Onslow-Cole was pulling away from the field as Neal held station in second, but with Jordan threatening Rob Collard's BMW, the focus was initially on the top two contenders, who were now nose-to-tail.
Shedden was being forced to show his hand early as Aron Smith and Dave Newsham were sizing him up from behind. Then the MG, a real handful in the wet, ran wide at Westfield, letting the Honda through, with Newsham now in place to attack.
Meanwhile up front Neal stole the lead from Onslow-Cole at Paddock Hill, and Jordan was now on the BMW's tail. Collard was almost out of sight in fourth place, but in full view of a charging Shedden, exposing Plato's pace, who was being swamped. Newsham and Smith were soon past, whilst Mat Jackson was ready to demote him to ninth place.
By lap five it was an all-Honda fight for the lead as Jordan took second place but with Ollie Jackson off at Druids, the safety car was scrambled. Also on the move was the championship leader, now past Collard and ready to take advantage of the closed gap to Onslow-Cole.
However at the restart it was Onslow-Cole who was on the move, now on Jordan's tail, giving Neal some respite, as Newsham and Smith squabbled in front of Plato. This aided the latter as the Vectra fell back, but he was still three places behind his championship quarry.
With Newsham cleared, Smith attacked Collard and was now after Shedden, who was unable to keep pace with the cars in front. The championship pendulum swung as Plato was now picking up his pace just as Smith took fourth place from the Scotsman. However Newsham then powered past the MG, restoring the status quo.
As the race approached its closing laps, Shedden was struggling to hold off Collard and Newsham, but the Vauxhall attacked the BMW, giving the Honda vital breathing space. Plato could only watch and hope, his MG powerless to respond.
Up front Neal held off Jordan and Onslow-Cole to take the win and keep his hopes alive. Behind the Redstone Focus of Smith, Shedden was able to escape Collard and Newsham, who crossed the line together.
A pleased Neal was asked if his healing broken hand caused him any issues. "It was easier in the wet as it's less violent in the car," he said. "It was a bit treacherous out there as there was a lot of oil down on the track, so I was relieved to see the flag. There were strong points for both of us - before the race I said to Flash (Shedden) 'we've got to shake and bake!'"
Plato's eighth place dampens his own ambitions, as he is now 18 points behind the leader and only two ahead of Neal. With Jordan unable to win, he can now focus on the Independents' title. Race two will take place at 13:57.
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Race 1
1, Matt Neal, Honda Yuasa Racing Team, Honda Civic, 17
2, Andrew Jordan, Pirtek Racing, Honda Civic, +0.526s
3, Tom Onslow-Cole, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, +1.040s
4, Aron Smith, Redstone Racing, Ford Focus ST, +6.698s
5, Gordon Shedden, Honda Yuasa Racing Team, Honda Civic, 11.082+s
6, Rob Collard, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, +11.925s
7, Dave Newsham, Team ES Racing.com, Vauxhall Vectra, +11.944s
8, Jason Plato, MG KX Momentum Racing, MG6, +14.301s
9, Will Bratt, Rob Austin Racing, Audi A4, +25.050s
10, Jeff Smith, Pirtek Racing, Honda Civic, +27.407
Championship top four positions
1, Gordon Shedden, 375
2, Jason Plato, 357
3, Matt Neal, 355
4, Andrew Jordan, 320
Tickets for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship on 21 October are available on the gate for £30, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.