Neal takes victory
25 April 2004
Matt Neal took the first race of the day at Brands Hatch in the British Touring Car Championship after an action-packed race that saw a startline accident take Jason Plato's SEAT out of action.
The start of the race saw Colin Turkington on pole, but no Michael Bentwood beside him, the VX Racing Jr driver having not made it onto the grid in his fine second place on the grid due to starter motor problems.
Once the lights went off it was great starts at the front from Matt Neal, who had no car in front of him due to Bentwood's absence, and Rob Huff in the lead SEAT. Huff in fact made it into the race lead up into Druids, but behind him on the grid there'd been all manner of action.
Huff's team-mate, Jason Plato, was off to an abysmal start and this trigger a great deal of avoidance action, some of which wasn't successful. Plato was tipped from behind by Justin Keen in the ETCC BMW's first BTCC race.
Fortunately Plato's speed wasn't too great, but the image was severe enough to render the SEAT out of action for the rest of the day. Also embroiled in the incident was John George in the gas-powered Honda. George was off to a flyer from the start, but was soon on the brakes to avoid the cars in front. George was then collected by the unlucky Bentwood, who's car had been started to see him start from the back of the grid.
“It's just one of those things,” said Plato once he had surveyed the damage. “There's t*****s out there and we've got a very destroyed SEAT.”
With the cars moved from danger, and all the drivers intact, the grid circulated behind the safety car. Leading the pack was Rob Huff from Matt Neal, James Thompson, polesitter Colin Turkington, Yvan Muller, Carl Breeze, Luke Hines, Tom Chilton, Shaun Watson-Smith with Dan Eaves rounding off the top ten.
With the safety car returning to the pits, and with the race distance now changed to 27 laps, there was still time for plenty more action at the Kent circuit. Right from the first corner Matt Neal was right with Rob Huff, attacking hard.
Two laps later and Neal was through, and James Thompson was trying hard to push his way through too, but ultimately fruitlessly. Neal pushed hard and was half a second ahead come crossing the start-finish line in the lead for the first time, and had extended that to 0.8 secs next time round.
Fastest man on the track, however, was Anthony Reid. The WSR driver had visited the pits twice under the safety car and the team were looking under the bonnet both times. Reid would take to the track again but ultimately was to complete a mere 15 laps.
Down in seventh Tom Chilton was planning his assent through the field, and it was to be a rather robust course for the Arena Motorsport driver to the podium. Chilton picked off Carl Breeze and Yvan Muller without too much contact, but Colin Turkington received the full force of Chilton's insistence heading up into Druids. The pole-sitter was tipped into a half-spin whilst Chilton continued forth.
“It was a mega battle,” said Chilton of his race. “My start wasn't great – I didn't stall it but it wasn't what you'd want. It was mayhem on the first lap and I moved back. That got me fired up and no-one was going to stop me. If they turn in on me that's their problem.”
James Thompson was to discover this on the very last corner heading to the chequered flag when Chilton pushed past to take the final position on the podium.
Matt Neal took the first victory of the season for an Independents team in his Honda Civic, leading from the very strong SEAT of Rob Huff across the start/finish line. For Huff it was a well-needed change in fortunes from two weeks ago at Thruxton.
“I'm well happy with that,” said the SEAT man after the race. “We needed to come here and get a good result after Thruxton. I'm pleased with that.”
For Neal it was his first time to take a race win as an Independents driver since he took the £250,000 bounty at Donington all those years ago. “It's nice,” said Neal. “Thruxton was a hard weekend for the Hondas so it's nice yo bounce back. I'm not sure whether it was luck or judgement on the start. I tried to get all the bad luck out of the way on Saturday. I was surprised at the pace of Huff – I pushed for a few laps at the start, then backed off for a bit before pushing again to try to make him loose his rhythm, but the bugger was still there at the end!”
1. Matt Neal
2. Rob Huff
3. Tom Chilton
4. James Thompson
5. Yvan Muller
6. Colin Turkington
7. Shaun Watson-Smith
8. Dave Eaves
9. Luke Hines
10. Rob Collard