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Honda tops Manufacturers’ table and takes positives from Brands opener

Honda sits atop the BTCC Manufacturers’ standings alongside BMW following the season-opening Brands Hatch Indy weekend, with Matt Neal narrowly missing out on a podium for Halfords Yuasa Racing on the final lap of the last race of the day

Changeable weather was the order of the weekend, as has proven to be the case on multiple occasions over the last few years at the Kent circuit. The FK8 Honda Civic Type Rs of Neal and team-mate Dan Cammish secured sixth and seventh on the grid after a challenging qualifying session in which the track steadily became more damp.

Race one saw half the grid gambling on Sport Maxx slick rubber with conditions drying. Both Halfords Yuasa Racing cars stuck to BluResponse wets, as did the majority of the first half of the 30-car field. As it transpired, the rain eased considerably and those who’d bolted on the Dunlop dry tyre reaped the rewards, scything through the pack.

Cammish endured a difficult race one, taking the chequered flag in 15th position, his Civic Type R caught at one point by a spinning rival. Neal, meanwhile, finished the best of the ‘wet-weather’ runners in eighth spot, overtaking five cars that had started in front of him.

The second encounter proved a frustrating one for both Honda drivers as they fought to overcome the frenetic midfield battle on the tight Indy circuit. Neal lost ground off the line but recovered to take 11th while Cammish staged a recovery to finish just behind his team-mate.

Neal was drawn as the reverse-grid pole-sitter but lost ground at lights out. Stephen Jelley in the Team Parker Racing BMW stole a march and fired into an early lead, but by lap seven, Neal had overthrown the 1 Series to take the race lead. The Honda’s soft ‘Option’ Dunlop rubber began to fall out of favour as the laps rolled on, though, and Neal found himself in a scrap, falling into the clutches of Tom Chilton and Rory Butcher – as well as Jelley.

Contact occurred with the latter and just as Neal looked to have manfully held onto a podium position, his rear suspension gave way under load at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend following that coming-together. He dragged his crippled machine across the line to salvage eighth place – enough to put Honda at the head of the Manufacturers’ Championship at the end of the weekend.

Cammish endured a frustrating race three. Also on the soft option tyre, he was caught up mid-pack, finishing 14th.

“Brands Hatch turned into a frustrating weekend through no fault of our own,” said Matt Neal – Halfords Yuasa Racing driver and Team Dynamics Director. “The soft tyre did make things more challenging in the final race but I think I could have defended my position. However, after I suffered contact I could feel the damage immediately, and unfortunately the suspension gave way just one lap too early. On to Donington Park!”

“I was pleased to play my part in securing Honda the manufacturer award in race one,” added Cammish. “But the conditions beat us. Once I was shuffled into the midfield pack it was so hard to pass on the tight Indy circuit. We clearly have a lot of speed in the car and that’s a positive to take out of a frustrating weekend.”

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