NEAL ON BRANDS HATCH POLE POSITION WITH RECORD LAP

Matt Neal has qualified on pole position for tomorrow's first round of the new HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season at the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent - a result that he said was "totally unexpected".

Worcestershire-based Neal (pictured) set a qualifying lap record of 48.857 seconds to beat Vauxhall team-mate and reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi into second spot by just 0.020s. Airwaves' Robert Collard and Team RAC's Colin Turkington - both in BMWs - qualified third and fourth fastest behind them.

Completing the top six were, on his first appearance for VXR, Andrew Jordan and, for his BTCC debut, Airwaves' Jonathan Adam. Former champion Jason Plato, making a late appearance in the RML team's Chevrolet Lacetti, was ninth fastest.

The scene therefore is set for three action-packed races tomorrow that will all be broadcast live on ITV4 during a mammoth broadcast that runs from 11.45am-6.00pm.

Neal, the 2005 and 2006 BTCC champion, commented: "I'm thrilled but it's totally unexpected. I really thought Fabrizio and the BMWs would maybe be ahead. We all know the BMWs, with their rear-wheel-drive, are much better off the start so my strategy tomorrow will be to stay in front of them into the first corner. If not, then to get them back as soon as possible or I think they've got it."

Italian Giovanardi, this year aiming for three titles in a row, added: "I did two fast laps and thought there was no real point in fighting too hard with Matt. It was more important to save our tyres for tomorrow. And I'm happy for him - he is my friend! I think what he says about the BMWs is correct, but I won't go crazy to stop them. It is only the first race, after all..."

Collard, from Hook, Hants was similarly reserved, even though he knows that his BMW should have an advantage off the line. He said: "It'd take a brave man to overtake Fabrizio and Matt into the first corner. I'm not one for theories like that. You can only really call it when the lights go out and you set off so let's see what happens. Right now, I'm delighted for the team. We're top BMW and we've proved our times in testing last week and practice this morning were no fluke."

-credit: btcc.net