Independent hero Matt Neal took his first win of the year in an exciting Sprint Race battle which saw the top nine runners separated by just seven seconds after 25 frantic laps.

Matt Neal overcame a 30-kilogram weight deficit to fend off Tom Kristensen and Rickard Rydell to score an immensely popular victory in front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd at Brands Hatch.

The Team Dynamics driver took the lead when first pole man Rickard Rydell and then Honda's Tom Kristensen fell foul of slower cars around the tight Brands Hatch Indy circuit. Rydell led initially from Kristensen and Neal until lap five when the Swedish star half spun on oil laid down at Clearways. Neal then continued to pile on the pressure until lap eleven when the Danish driver made contact with Class B frontrunner James Kaye and was slowed momentarily. In a flash Neal had barged his way past, the pair running side by side down the front stretch until the Nissan driver swept ahead into Paddock.

Related Articles

The action was non-stop right up until the end of the 25-lap event with Rydell and Kristensen relentlessly pressuring Neal who stoutly held his line for the remaining 14 laps. His final margin of victory was just six tenths of a second over Kristensen and one second over Rydell, both of whom made late race attempts to wrest the Englishman's lead away as they encountered traffic.

Behind the leading trio Alain Menu took fourth place after rising from seventh on the grid in the first two laps. The Swiss star was unable to get on terms with the leaders despite being just three and a half seconds behind Neal at the flag, cutting the gap between him an points leader Anthony Reid in the process.

Reid was unable to capitalise on his front row grid position and fluffed his start, allowing Neal, Kristensen and Yvan Muller through by the time the field reached Paddock for the first time. The Scottish driver then ran wide at Druids and dropped to the tail of the Super Touring field and could only recover to eighth at the flag in one of his worst performances of the season.

After Menu had disposed of Muller he was able to fend off the Vauxhall driver for the rest of the race despite some very committed driving from the French star. James Thompson completed the top six after a steady run from eighth on the grid while the ballast laden Gabriele Tarquini in the third Honda was only ninth behind Jason Plato and Reid.

With nine Class B contenders in action, the tiny 1.2 mile circuit seemed very crowded with the smaller cars indulging in some great wheel to wheel dicing whilst at the same time keeping an eye out for the fast approaching Super Touring runners.

Championship protagonists James Kaye and Alan Morrison led the battle in the early laps with Kaye gaining the upper hand after a robust move on the Peugeot. The second 306 of series debutant Toni Ruokonen also joined in the fun, as did the Alfa Romeo of Tom Ferrier in a fantastic four way dice.

Kaye looked to have the Peugeots' number until he was collected by Kristensen and nerfed into the gravel. The Barwell driver would eventually retire with damage sustained in the incident while Ruokonen dutifully followed his team leader home for a great result for the Vic Lee run outfit.

Ferrier followed on at a respectful distance ahead of series regulars Mark Lemmer and Marc Nordon who completed the finisher's three laps adrift in the best Class B event of the year, an excellent advertisement for next year's series.

However the man of the moment was Neal whose team are rapidly become the most popular combination in the BTCC paddock. The lanky Englishman towered over the comparatively pint sized Rydell and Kristensen on the podium as the title picture became ever closer with five races to go.