Matt Neal secured a hat-trick of podium finishes at Brands Hatch – including the first win of the year – to secure the early championship lead in the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Neal, champion in 2005 and 2006, made a poor start from pole position in the opening race of the weekend and slipped down to third place but he battled his way back past Rob Collard and Colin Turkington to take a victory which was also the 100th BTCC success for Triple Eight, the team behind Vauxhall's works effort.
“It was a dream start to my season, but I had to fight for it,” he said. “I was relieved when Andrew [Jordan] was behind me, but when he had a problem, Turkington was back behind me and then Fabrizio got stuck in the mix which was good. He started coming on strong at the end which was a bit worrying.
“My car was excellent, although like others, it was sliding around a fair bit.”
Despite another poor start to race two, Neal was able to take another podium finish with third place and then repeated the feat in the final race of the weekend after failing to find a way past the Chevrolet of big rival Jason Plato through the closing laps.
However, the triple podium leaves Neal at the top of the championship standings, with a six point lead over Turkington after the first three races of the year.
“If you'd given me that at the start of the weekend, I'd have taken it with both hands,” he said. “We have been tweaking the car all weekend and in the last race, the car was beautiful – I could have gone on for another 20 laps! I thought I could have had Jason and he looked like he had his hands full a bit, but I was happy to take third rather than do something stupid trying to find a way through.
“It's been a while since I could say I was leading the championship and long may it continue. There are only another nine rounds to go!"