25 April 2004
Neal takes victory.
Matt Neal took the first race of the day at Brands Hatch in the British Touring Car Championship after an action-packed race that saw a startline accident take Jason Plato's SEAT out of action.
The start of the race saw Colin Turkington on pole, but no Michael Bentwood beside him, the VX Racing Jr driver having not made it onto the grid in his fine second place on the grid due to starter motor problems.
Once the lights went off it was great starts at the front from Matt Neal, who had no car in front of him due to Bentwood's absence, and Rob Huff in the lead SEAT. Huff in fact made it into the race lead up into Druids, but behind him on the grid there'd been all manner of action.
Huff's team-mate, Jason Plato, was off to an abysmal start and this trigger a great deal of avoidance action, some of which wasn't successful. Plato was tipped from behind by Justin Keen in the ETCC BMW's first BTCC race.
Fortunately Plato's speed wasn't too great, but the image was severe enough to render the SEAT out of action for the rest of the day. Also embroiled in the incident was John George in the gas-powered Honda. George was off to a flyer from the start, but was soon on the brakes to avoid the cars in front. George was then collected by the unlucky Bentwood, who's car had been started to see him start from the back of the grid.
“It's just one of those things,” said Plato once he had surveyed the damage. “There's t*****s out there and we've got a very destroyed SEAT.”
With the cars moved from danger, and all the drivers intact, the grid circulated behind the safety car. Leading the pack was Rob Huff from Matt Neal, James Thompson, polesitter Colin Turkington, Yvan Muller, Carl Breeze, Luke Hines, Tom Chilton, Shaun Watson-Smith with Dan Eaves rounding off the top ten.
With the safety car returning to the pits, and with the race distance now changed to 27 laps, there was still time for plenty more action at the Kent circuit. Right from the first corner Matt Neal was right with Rob Huff, attacking hard.
Two laps later and Neal was through, and James Thompson was trying hard to push his way through too, but ultimately fruitlessly. Neal pushed hard and was half a second ahead come crossing the start-finish line in the lead for the first time, and had extended that to 0.8 secs next time round.
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