WINS FOR NEAL, COLLARD & PLATO IN BTCC BRANDS HATCH SEASON-OPENER Matt Neal, Robert Collard and Jason Plato shared the wins in today's opening three rounds of the new HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch - an event ...
WINS FOR NEAL, COLLARD & PLATO IN BTCC BRANDS HATCH SEASON-OPENER
Matt Neal, Robert Collard and Jason Plato shared the wins in today's opening three rounds of the new HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch - an event broadcast live across the UK by the ITV4 television channel. And with his VX Racing team-mate and reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi suffering a day of disaster it is Neal who leaves the world-famous Kent circuit leading the Drivers' standings ahead of Team RAC BMW driver Colin Turkington as the BTCC's 2009 calendar now moves on to the high-speed Thruxton track in Hampshire on Sunday 26 April.
Neal won race one but only by fighting back through the order after losing his pole position advantage at the start. Collard's victory in race two - the first-ever in the BTCC for his Airwaves BMW team at, of all places, its home track - was achieved following a fierce tussle with Turkington. Plato's win in race three then came after officials demoted Airwaves' new signing Jonathan Adam, who had crossed the line first, back to second following an incident between the pair during the opening laps. Notably, Plato's victory marked the first for the Chevrolet name in the BTCC for the first time since 1975!
Nobody today, however, was as consistent as Neal - in addition to his race one win he collected third place finishes in races two and three. But by picking up three strong results himself with third, second and fourth, Turkington is just six points behind with Collard only a further three adrift. Giovanardi is a lowly seventh after two non-scores from the three races, but Neal is far too experienced an operator to become complacent.
Neal, from Worcestershire, said: "OK, Fabrizio has had a bit of a stinker today, but he's normally the master of steering clear of trouble so if it can happen to him it can happen to any of us. Furthermore, it's not just him I need to worry about - there are at least another six drivers who are genuine title contenders. Just look at how strong those BMWs were today. For now, I'm just really pleased with how my season has started and with the Vectra's performance."
Although he lost the chance of a win in race two to Collard, Northern Irishman Turkington was still satisfied with his results. The 27-year-old, from Portadown, commented: "It would have been nice to win that race but most importantly we've taken a healthy dose of points and we're leaving Brands with the strongest start to a season I can remember."
Collard, meanwhile, saw his own opportunity to perhaps come away ahead of Neal dashed in race three when he lost valuable places - and points - in a tangle with Turkington's team-mate Stephen Jelley. But the Hampshire man remained upbeat as the calendar moves to his home circuit in three weeks' time. "Sure, I could have been right up there with Matt on points had the incident in race three not happened, but it's been a tremendously strong start for the team. I feel we are right in the hunt and obviously I'll be looking for similar results in front of my home crowd at Thruxton."
For Plato, the 2001 champion, fourth position in the championship is perhaps much more than he expected at this stage, considering he only struck a deal to race the RML team's Chevrolet four days ago. The 41-year-old from Oxford said: "Last Wednesday morning I'd resigned myself to the fact I'd be spending today fitting a new bathroom in my house! But then came 'the call' and I was suddenly packing my race kit into my bag. The RML team has worked miracles all weekend and we're still figuring out what really makes the car tick. We've had zero testing before this weekend so to get a win is beyond what we ever realistically thought was possible. It's a cracking result and gives us a huge lift as we look ahead."
Elsewhere, in the Manufacturer/Constructor Championship, Vauxhall/VX Racing has stolen the early initiative from the new Ford/Team Aon squad. It is the VX Racing name that also heads the outright Teams' table. The top three in the Independents' Trophy are Turkington, Collard and Plato, while Airwaves BMW, Team RAC and RML lead the way in the Independent Teams' standings.
BTCC Drivers Points after Round 1, Brands Hatch (provisional):
1. Matt Neal (GBR), 38 points
2. Colin Turkington (GBR), 32
3. Robert Collard (GBR) 29
4. Jason Plato (GBR), 22
5. Jonathan Adam (GBR), 16
6. Adam Jones (GBR), 14
=7. Fabrizio Giovanardi (ITA), 12
=7. Stephen Jelley (GBR), 12
9. Gordon Shedden (GBR), 11
10. Dan Eaves (GBR), 10
Manufacturer/Constructor Points (provisional):
1. Vauxhall/VX Racing, 62 points
2. Ford/Team Aon, 50
3. Honda/Team Dynamics, 40
Teams' Points (provisional):
1. VX Racing, 53
2. Airwaves BMW, 43
3. Team RAC, 42
4. Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing, 24
Independent Drivers' Points (provisional):
1. Colin Turkington (GBR), 37
2. Robert Collard, 31
3. Jason Plato (GBR), 23
Independent Teams' Points (provisional):
1. Airwaves BMW, 42
2. Team RAC, 37
3. RML, 26