Neal takes race one at Silverstone
9 May 2004
by Andy Stobart
Matt Neal took the first race of the day at Silverstone in the British Touring Car Championship, leading over the line by some 3.5 seconds from reigning champ, Yvan Muller.
Neal had been off to an absolutely storming start from third on the grid to take the lead from Jason Plato, but his start was almost too good. Thinking his lead from his great getaway must have been better than it was, Neal was displaced down to second by that man in the SEAT.
“I got a cracking start,” said Neal after the race, “but I was caught unawares by that blooming SEAT again, it was so quick in the first corner that it caught me out.”
With Plato now in front it was now a case of Neal choosing his time to get back to the front, just like he did in the first race at Brands Hatch two weeks ago.
After battling with Plato and stalking his prey Neal took the lead on the fourth lap, and those behind attacking Plato meant Neal had a easy ride once in front. His first lap in the lead saw Neal take a 1.5 second lead, and he built this up to a 3.5 second lead for the chequered flag.
Plato, meanwhile, had found himself in the clutches of Thompson and the pair indulged in some side-by-side action, which Plato ultimately won. The dicing duo were closed down by the hard-charging Yvan Muller who clearly was far happier with the Astra than he had been on Saturday.
Muller was past Thompson then set about closing in on his old foe, Jason Plato. Plato was dispatched on the eighth lap, and Muller made distance away from the SEAT man, but was unable to close on Neal up ahead.
Neal's pace was due to a set-up that suited the conditions perfectly. “We took at bit of a gamble with setup and boy was it beautiful – it was sweet as a nut,” explained a very happy Matt Neal after the race.
Muller had fared considerably better than he had yesterday, where he struggled in qualifying to end up eighth come the end of the thirty-minute session. “For sure it was good,” said Muller of working his way through the field, “Eight place wasn't the place I should have been, but I'm pleased with going from eighth to second”
Despite having their base weight increased by 25 kilos it was a good start to the three races at Silverstone for the SEATs. “I'm happy with third. We didn't have the pace for the win, I had too much understeer,” Plato explained. “There's no shame in coming third when you've had a great race.”
The 'other' race in the first race of the day is the race for tenth place, and pole for race two, which was where the real action lay in the second half. After a nudge from his team-mate, Anthony Reid, Colin Turkington found himself at the exciting place in the field and was under attack from Carl Breeze.
Reid had nudged Turkington on the first lap and on his way to a sixth place finish, whilst Turkington was, once again, the target for many other cars during the entirety of the race.
Breeze in the GA Motorsports ETCC Alfa was right with Turkington in the early part of the race and Turkington's car looked more and more ragged as he was attacked for, and defended, position. A sideways moment pushed Turkington further back, and to the magic tenth place, but now it was the attentions of James Kaye he had to contend with.
As the race neared the 16 lap mark so Rob Huff ahead suddenly slowed – a play for tenth and pole for race two perhaps? Turkington set about passing Huff ahead, but then the SEAT man was defending position. With Huff ahead and Kaye behind, Turkington found himself once more tipped sideways and through the grass.
Turkington recovered to take eleventh come the chequered flag – one place at the line, but a mile away on the grid for the start of race two from the pole that tenth place guarantees.
Nearly taking the pole he wanted on his, as it stands at the moment, one-off return to the series was Kelvin Burt. After qualifying down in sixteenth for the race, Burt slowly but effectively worked his way forwards. With the action ahead of him, Burt looked set for the pole for race two, but lost out on the run to the flag to come ninth with Huff taking the tenth place meaning a SEAT starts the race at the head of the grid once more in race two.
Charlie Butler-Henderson was looking strong in the early stages before coming together with the equally strong looking Rob Collard. “He came from nowhere and T-boned me, there's no way he was ever going to stop,” said Collard of the incident. “He rammed me on the front wheel and that was that.”
Vicki's brother saw things slightly differently. “I just went for the move,” he explained. “He left a door open and I went for it. Then he came back on me,” he said before the start of the second race of the day, before conceding, “it was maybe a bit of an over-excited move on Collard but I went for a move that was there and anyone would have gone for it.”
With race two about to start, Matt Neal finds himself in the busy middle of the pack. “It's a question of staying out of trouble, gain some places and get well placed for the third race.”
There's sure to be plenty of action on the way Matt.
Top ten: Silverstone - race one
1. Matt Neal
2. Yvan Muller
3. Jason Plato
4. James Thompson
5. Dan Eaves
6. Anthony Reid
7. Carl Breeze
8. Luke Hines
9. Kelvin Burt
10. Rob Huff