Matt Neal and James Thompson took a win apiece in their Vauxhall Astra Coup?s today after two storming opening rounds of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). A crowd of 18,500 were treated to two incident-packed races as the 2002 BTCC season kicked off in style at the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit.

Sprint Race:

Matt Neal made his Egg Sport debut in style at Brands Hatch today by winning the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship. With the race lengthened to 19 laps after a first lap incident brought out the Safety Car, Neal chased Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller for the first 15 laps, before the Frenchman slowed with a puncture - putting Neal clear at the front.

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''I'm speechless!'' said Neal. ''I didn't want to do anything silly in the race, but wanted to let Yvan Muller know I was there - but he was solid as a rock. Warren Hughes was really quick early on and giving me some stick. I made a abominable start - the Safety Car really helped me.''

Behind, Dan Eaves took second for Team Halfords, the Peugeot Coupes showing their pace. ''The team has worked really hard,'' said Eaves, ''the Peugeot is in a position to win now.''

A superb drive - almost - from Paul O'Neill saw him tear through the order to be glued to the Eaves bumper on the final lap - only to end up with his Egg Sport Astra deep in the Clearways gravel. That meant Tom Chilton - youngest ever BTCC driver - took third on his debut with his Barwell Motorsport Astra.

''I feel absolutely awesome!'' said Chilton. ''The race was crammed with things going on - I can't believe I'm here.''

Tim Harvey had been safely in fourth place before pulling off third going off with a lap to go, allowing the recovering Anthony Reid to claim the position in his MG ZS EX260.

MG team-mate Warren Hughes had made a storming start from eighth on the grid to emerge from the first corner third, while Reid was tipped wide at Paddock and into the gravel at the exit - rejoining at the back of the field. Hughes held third before much of the race before pulling off at the exit of Druids with a puncture, while Reid clambered back through the order.

''I got tapped from behind,'' said Reid. ''From there on it was a salvage operation - the car was working really well and it's great to race.''

James Thompson's weekend continued to disappoint the Yorkshireman - his Astra repeating its qualifying trick of expiring trailing oily smoke. Thompson pulled off on lap two when in the safety car queue.

Both Hondas pitted with problems, while the pair of Protons each suffered punctures to the front left-hand wheel.

The Production Class battle was equally exciting - Norman Simon giving Edenbridge's BMW's their first win, while behind Rob Collard claimed second - the best result in his Clio. The two GA Motorsport Alfas clashed with a Honda on the opening lap - bringing out the Safety Car for four laps.

In a rule change from last year, the success ballast will be applied to the leading cars before today's second race - meaning Neal will run 15kg heavier later this afternoon.

British Touring Car Championship
Sprint Race - 19 Laps:

1 Matt Neal GB Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra 33mins35.811secs
2 Dan Eaves GB Team Halfords Peugeot 406 Coupe - 4.137secs
3 Tom Chilton GB Barwell Motorsport Vauxhall Astra -5.405secs
4 Anthony Reid GB MG Sport and Racing ZS EX260 - 11.727secs
5 Yvan Muller F Vauxhall Motorsport Astra - 41.761secs
6 Norman Simon GER Edenbridge BMW 320i - 1min21.481secs**
7 Rob Collard GB Collard Racing Renault Clio -1min22.331secs**
8 Spencer Marsh GB Beacon Motorsport Honda Accord 1min26.820secs**
9 Aaron Slight NZ Barwell Motorsport Vauxhall Astra 1min46.331secs
10 Jim Edwards Jnr. GB Team B&Q Jet York City Honda Accord - 1 lap

Fastest Laps:

Yvan Muller F Vauxhall Motorsport Astra 1min33.267secs 101.23mph Mark Thomas GB Beacon Motorsport Honda Accord 1min39.301secs 95.09mph

** denotes Production Class

Feature Race:

James Thompson ended his weekend with a win, heading Vauxhall Motorsport team-mate Yvan Muller across the line to win the Brands Hatch Feature Race. For Thompson who had been sidelined in qualifying and the Sprint Race with engine failures, it was an impressive victory that saw him drive through the Touring Class field - making the most of his ballast free Astra.

Thompson made the most of a second Safety Car period to take the lead from Muller, and though the Frenchman briefly challenged, it was Thompson who led a works Astra one-two across the line. A strong drive from MG's Anthony Reid saw him home third in what was yet another action-packed BTCC race.

The Safety Car first emerged on the opening lap after Paul O'Neill was pitched into the barriers on the way into Druids, Tom Chilton - third in the Sprint Race - also going out at that corner.

Muller initially led from Matt Neal's Egg Sport Astra, Thompson gaining places, but Tim Harvey slipped his Team Halford's Peugeot inside Neal at Druids on lap five as the Safety Car went in, and two laps later Muller was the first of the leaders to stop.

MG Sport and Racing's Warren Hughes was in third when he looked to be coming on on lap 10 - only to lock up in the pit-lane entrance and continue, the team bringing Anthony Reid in from fourth the next lap.

A second Safety Car period lasted for four laps - seeing the race length extended to 25-laps -with Hughes leading having not yet stopped. When the second MG did pit, it left Thompson ahead to take the win.

Anthony Reid took his MG ZS EX260 inside Tim Harvey at Paddock Hill Bend to take third, and was closing on Muller in the final laps.

The Production Class saw a superb win for Rob Collard, his Clio now showing its pace after a host of problems last season. He was chased hard by the Edenbridge BMWs, Tom Boardman taking second in class.

British Touring Car Championship
Feature Race - 25 Laps:

1 James Thompson GB Vauxhall Motorsport Astra 45min20.934secs
2 Yvan Muller F Vauxhall Motorsport Astra - 2.294secs
3 Anthony Reid GB MG Sport and Racing ZS EX260 -3.303secs
4 Matt Neal GB Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra -4.050secs
5 Andy Priaulx GB Honda Racing Civic Type-R -10.322secs
6 Phil Bennett GB TSP Proton Impian -11.728secs
7 Tim Harvey GB Team Halfords Peugeot 406 Coupe -21.674secs
8 Warren Hughes GB MG Sport and Racing ZS EX260 -35.040secs
9 B>Rob Collard GB Collard Racing Renault Clio -57.845secs**
10 Tom Boardman GB Edenbridge BMW 320i -1min02.323secs**

Fastest Laps:

Yvan Muller F Vauxhall Motorsport Astra 1min33.262secs 101.24mph James Kaye GB Synchro Morosport Honda Civic Type-R 1min38.379secs 95.97mph

** denotes Production Class