Matt Neal and James Thompson took a win apiece in their Vauxhall Astra Coupés 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.
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.
''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.