BTCC » 3 September 2006
Round 24: Neal leads historic Halfords 1-2-3.
After the drama of race two at Knockhill, Team Halfords came to the fore in the final race of the eighth round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship as Matt Neal led the team's first ever clean sweep of the podium.
The dramas earlier in the afternoon meant a depleted field lined up on the grid, with Jason Plato, Mike Jordan, James Kaye and Adam Jones all unable to take part due to damage sustained in the second race, and Mark Proctor starting from pole position alongside Neal thanks to the reverse grid regulations.
On the start, Neal got the best start to get ahead of Proctor into the first corner, and the Fast-Tec driver was soon under pressure from Jason Hughes in the Kartworld Racing MG ZS, who dived round the outside of him at the Real Radio Hairpin to go second. Proctor was quickly swallowed up by the chasing pack as Hughes set off in pursuit of Neal's Honda and was closing the gap to the leader before technical gremlins started to affect his race and he was passed for second place by Gareth Howell.
The Safety Car was called on yet again when Richard Marsh put the Team Farecla Peugeot into the gravel, with Neal leading from Howell, Hughes, Colin Turkington and Fabrizio Giovanardi. As Hughes' problems got worse, he was overhauled by the cars behind before retiring on lap ten, by which point the order at the front read Neal, Howell and Turkington from Gavin Smith, who had moved ahead of race two winner Giovanardi a lap earlier.
Also on a move, Gordon Shedden was scything his way through the pack after his race two retirement, and put his Honda Integra into fifth place with a move on Giovanardi on lap twelve, while a couple of laps later he was into fourth after passing the other Astra Sport Hatch of Smith at the Real Radio Hairpin. By that point, the order at the front had changes, with Turkington having moved ahead of Howell into second place, the Northern Irishman then going about trying to find a way past Neal into the lead. Howell reclaimed the place on lap 16 only to lose it again a lap later and on lap 18 Turkington was ahead – launching a superb late move at the Hairpin to get ahead of Neal.
In the see-saw battle at the front, Turkington's lead lasted only a lap as he was slow out of the Hairpin to allow Neal back in front and Howell followed him through at SEAT to go second. Unfortunately for Turkington, the sluggishness out of the Hairpin was an indication that all was not well with the Team RAC car and, having also dropped behind Shedden into fourth, he retired with a battery problem.
With the cars behind unable to match the pace of the Halfords Integra, Neal, Howell and Shedden ran in formation to the finish, Shedden getting ahead of Howell and leading briefly before Neal resumed his place at the head of the pack to take a win that sees him open his championship lead up to 53 points with just six races left to run. Shedden and Howell followed the defending champion home, with Turner, Smith and Giovanardi rounding out the top six.
Rob Collard, after another weekend beset by bad luck, was seventh ahead of Proctor, an ailing Dave Pinkney and Martyn Bell – who scored points in two races in a single weekend for the first time in the Geoff Steel Racing BMW.
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