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Round 14: Neal wins landmark race
16 July 2006
Reigning MSA British Touring Car Championship title holder Matt Neal overcame an engine change to celebrate his 300th race in the series in perfect style with victory in race two at Croft.
In what proved to be a more uneventful race than the first one earlier in the day, Neal moved up from third on the grid to hunt down title rival Jason Plato – ironically in his 200th BTCC race – to secure the win that allows him to maintain his advantage at the top of the standings heading into the final race of the day.
At the start, Plato made the perfect getaway to lead the field into Clervaux for the first time, while behind him Neal managed to get the jump on James Thompson in the second SEAT to grab second. The two managed to slowly edge away from the chasing pack as a game of cat and mouse developed – Neal continually looking to get a jump of his rival but unable to find a way past. Despite looking like he would have to settle for second place, Neal finally saw his chance with just two laps remaining as he slid up the inside of the yellow and silver Leon into the final corner to take the lead and claim the win.
"That's for all the guys who rushed an engine change when we cracked a sump over the kerbs in the first race," he said afterwards. "They were debating whether to change it and at the last minute they put my faithful, lucky number five engine in and she was a beauty. I looked at Jason a few times and when he braked early and there was a chance with two laps to go, I didn't need to be asked twice."
Plato had to settle for second, but allied to his victory in race one he has still managed to outscore Neal with two of the three races run, while Colin Turkington claimed the final place on the podium for Team RAC. Turkington had been fighting with Thompson in the second SEAT for the position and was in the right place at the right time when Thompson ran wide at Sunny on the final lap – Gordon Shedden also moving past the race one runner-up in the process to claim an impressive fourth place finish from twelfth on the grid.
Thompson claimed fifth after out-dragging Gavin Smith down the start-finish straight, with the pair now lining up on the front row of the grid for the final race of the day under the reverse grid regulations. James Kaye produced a solid display to take seventh ahead of Tom Chilton, with the Honda Integras of Dave Pinkney and Mike Jordan rounding out the top ten.
The race saw three retirements, with Rob Collard tangling with Fabrizio Giovanardi early on – an incident which looks set to result in a penalty for the Team RAC driver – and debutant Erkut Kizilirmak also failing to make the finish, his Astra Sport Hatch pulling into the pits with just five laps gone.
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