Matt Neal wins magnificent opener
Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal came out on top of a breath-taking battle in the opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Knockhill.
An action-packed 27 laps of frenetic racing included myriad of incidents and overtakes throughout the order, but it was the most experienced driver on the grid who managed to keep out of trouble and win his first race for more than a year.
Sam Tordoff held on to the lead off the line and fended off an early challenge from Exocet Racing’s Rob Austin, whilst the Hondas of Andrew Jordan and Gordon Shedden were fighting it out for the final podium position. Neal settled in behind the lead quartet as a titanic tussle developed behind him.
The MG of Jason Plato defended valiantly from Airwaves Racing’s Mat Jackson, who in turn had championship leader Colin Turkington all over his rear bumper. By mid-distance Jackson and Turkington had swapped positions no fewer than three times as Plato held on ahead.
Things kicked off at the top of the order when slight contact between Austin’s Audi and Shedden’s Civic Tourer sent the former tumbling down to fifth but further drama was to follow on lap 14. Jordan and Shedden rekindled their earlier battle and when the two cars went side-by-side on the exit of Butcher’s the seemingly inevitable happened. Contact left Jordan in the gravel and out of the race while Shedden was able to continue in fourth.
Neal, who had sneaked through to second due to the action ahead, was immediately attacking Tordoff’s MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save machine for the lead. He didn’t take long to make his move either, completing a tidy and clean pass at the final hairpin on lap 19.
Almost simultaneously behind and Turkington’s championship advantage was reduced when the Ulsterman’s race ended in another quite incredible moment. Having finally jumped both Jackson and Plato into turn 1, Turkington’s BMW 125i M Sport slid wide on the exit of Duffus Dip. He returned to the circuit with the MG and Ford Focus side-by-side immediately behind him. Three into one simply wouldn’t go on the approach to the Scotsman and Turkington’s eBay Motors car was tagged into the gravel.
A safety car was called and Tordoff’s car grounded to a halt shortly after with an unknown mechanical fault.
Incredibly this left Austin and Shedden back in second and third respectively but neither could do anything about Neal who streaked away to a deserved victory. The first two finishers were running the Dunlop Sport Maxx soft tyre and it was also the first laps led by Neal in the new-for-2014 Civic Tourer. The delighted triple champion said, “I did think about backing things up to try and let ‘Flash’ by Austin was too quick behind me and I really needed that win. The soft tyre worked really well, as it always does, but it was quite an unexpected result. We thought the Civic Tourer would struggle here so to get a double podium is fantastic.”
“I want to win today – that’s what I’m here for,” said Austin while Shedden claimed “That was the most eventful podium I’ve ever had in my life.”
Jackson claimed fourth ahead of Plato, whilst the WIX Racing Mercedes of Adam Morgan completed the top six after an incredible drive from 17th on the grid. Tom Ingram took seventh ahead of Aron Smith, Dave Newsham and Nick Foster in what was another manic midfield battle, which included the Toyota of Glynn Geddie until he was tagged out of contention at the final hairpin.
The only other eye-catching moment was an airborne Proton of Daniel Welch, who baulked up early to avoid the Audi of Robb Holland after he had endured contact with Chris Stockton’s Chevrolet Cruze. Welch’s attempts ultimately failed as he bounced across the kerbs and was merely a passenger as his car hit the Audi A3 ahead of him, putting both of them out of the race.