13 April 2008
Round 6: Neal returns to winners circle.
Matt Neal has taken his first win since the opening weekend of the 2007 season with victory in the final HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship race of the weekend at Rockingham.
The Vauxhall man survived treacherous conditions at the Northamptonshire venue to take VX Racing's third win of the campaign and his first with the Vectra since moving over from Team Halfords over the winter.
The race itself was being threatened with rain up until the field prepared to start the green flag lap, when the heavens opened and a heavy downpour hit the circuit. As teams rushed to prepare for the field coming round to the start, 13 drivers dived back into the pits to switch to wet tyres while the rest – including pole man Adam Jones, SEAT's Darren Turner and the three Vauxhall men – all lined up on the grid on slicks.
However, an out of position Tom Onslow-Cole led to the start being aborted and the entire field was then able to switch to wet tyres in time for the start, which saw all drivers able to return to the their correct positions to start the race.
When the race itself got underway, it was the BMW drivers who made the ideal starts, making the most of the rear-wheel drive to blast through the field. Indeed, Colin Turkington headed the field into Deene for the first time having started on the second row, with front-row men Jones and Tom Chilton behind him and Mat Jackson fourth having started eighth following his race two win. One person who didn't make the best start however was defending champion Fabrizio Giovanardi, who ran slightly wide at Yentwood and dropped outside the top ten.
Heading into lap two, the two works SEAT men found themselves embroiled in a battle for sixth place with Jason Plato sweeping ahead of Darren Turner on the oval but at that same moment, a message flashed on the timing screens to say that Plato – as well as Jason Hughes and John George – had been handed a 30 second stop/go penalty for having people working on his car on the grid beyond the allotted time. Lap two also saw Tom Onslow-Cole retire when he went off at Pif Paf, leaving the Vauxhall man with a long, wet walk back to the paddock.
The conditions were now so bad that standing water was becoming an issue at a number of corners, with Harry Vaulkhard and Michael Doyle both going straight on at Brook – a corner which incidentally had something resembling a brook running across it. Doyle was able to rejoin while Vaulkhard took a trip around the oval, picking up a lap penalty in the process.
On lap four, Jackson made a fine move for third on Jones on the high-speed run round Pif Paf while further down the top ten, Darren Turner suffered a trip across the gravel at Brook and dropped to the lower end of the top ten. Just how tricky conditions were becoming was summed up when Steven Kane suffered a spin exiting the pit lane, although luckily there was no-one coming round the high-speed turn one at the time to collect the Motorbase BMW.
Two incidents on lap eight however forced race officials to send out the Safety Car after both Turner and John George went off into the gravel. It meant Turkington's lead, which had gradually increased, was wiped out with Chilton behind – although with the lapped MG of Jason Hughes in between – Jackson third, Jones fourth and Shedden and Neal fifth and sixth; the latter from eleventh on the grid.
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